With the Steampunk Doncaster convention swiftly approaching (June 15th and 16th) I’ve been super busy and so flaking ont he blog posts. I apologise. But I’m back (again) and this time to offer you an insight into a brilliant Steampunk Author swiftly becoming a personal and professional favourite.
A very nice man is Jonathan Green. Not only has he been working hard on several writing projects which hail him as one of the hardest working people I’ve had the pleasure to meet, but he’s also a brilliantly prolific author. His Steampunk series Pax Brittania deserves a lot of recognition as well as your awe and allegiance. And here he is to talk to you about that most pertinent question…
What is Steampunk?
By Jonathan Green
Ask twenty steampunks what ‘Steampunk’ actually is and you’ll probably end up with twenty-one different definitions, if not more.
The thing is Steampunk – as in the genre, or movement, or flavour (if you prefer) – is all things to all people. For some it’s all about the books, for others it’s about the costumes and crafting, and for others it’s the good manners and friendship that are trademark characteristics of the dedicated followers of Steampunk themselves.
In some ways, it’s easier to say where Steampunk has come from. The name was coined by the science fiction author K W Jeter in a letter he wrote that was printed in Locus magazine in 1987. However, the elements that form the familiar tropes of Steampunk include the proto-science fiction writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Victorian era itself, the work of fantasy authors such as Tolkien and the cyberpunk writers of the 1980s.
Genre-defining examples in literature include Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates and James Blaylock’s Homunculus, as well as The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula have helped bequeath the idea that Steampunk plays with the themes of metafiction, as well as throwing actual historical characters into the mix.
For me, Steampunk has to have that knowing nod to the past and the implicit understanding that the genre is populated with anachronisms. As a result, Jules Verne and H G Wells cannot be considered Steampunk authors although their work has influenced the direction and content of the culture, and continues to be a source of endless inspiration. I have played with elements created by both these great authors in my novels Leviathan Rising and Dark Side in particular.
Steampunk stories can be set during Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th century, or in the far future. (My Ulysses Quicksilver novels are set at the end of an alternate 20th century.) They can include elements of the supernatural (and often do) or even create alternate Tolkien-esque worlds with all manner of fantastical creatures and races insinuated into the social strata of the Victorian era. They can be pure, hard science fiction, although I tend to find that most of the ‘science’ in Steampunk is actually just another form of ‘magic’, used to help move the plot along and create interesting encounters for our heroes.
My own Steampunk creation, the world of Pax Britannia, draws on many influences, including 1960s sci-fi shows, James Bond, the works of the early horror writers, and arcade games of the 1980s, as well as Doctor Who. And that’s only just scratching the surface.
I shall look forward to debating with you what qualifies as Steampunk – as well as what doesn’t – over the weekend of 15-16 June, at Steampunk Doncaster.
What Steampunk most definitely is not, is gluing some cogs onto something and then calling it ‘Steampunk’. That, I think, we can all agree on.
London, May 2013
Great! Thanks for that Jonathan.
If you’re even a little bit intrigued by that, there are plenty of places online to continue the debate. But what’s even cooler is having that talk with Steampunks themselves! Hit the Steampunk Doncaster link on the right of the page for more details of the festival and hopefully come meet Jonathan and the other excellent authors in attendance!
Thanks for reading.