Friday, January 8, 2010

Full Steam Backwards

I recently finished a wonderful steampunk urban fantasy and in a possibly misguided attempt to make everyone want to read it, I'm going to talk about steampunk today.

For those of you not in the know, a quick definition:

steampunk n. - 1. a subgenre of science fiction using quasi-Victorian technology based on steam power and clockwork rather than combustion engines, nanotechnology, or any other modern technology—in other words, the sci-fi that Jules Verne and H.G. Wells wrote 2. a subculture involving faux-Victorian costumes with lots of metal, cogs, and goggles (from steam + -punk; c.f. cyberpunk)

I'm not going to be writing this in Victorian-era English, but if you want to imagine me speaking in an over-the-top British accent, go ahead.

Let's start with the one and only Difference Engine, a.k.a. a clockwork calculater that didn't take off. National Public Radio did an article* a while back, covering the working model installed in the Computer History Museum. (If you click that last link, you'll find photos and a video.)

With a Difference Engine at hand, the Victorians may have been able to realize this hexagonal London**, or they may have been able to invent sound-locating technology*** before WWI. Then again, maybe they wouldn't have, or maybe they would have even without a Difference Engine. Who knows?

Other intriguing historical links, more of the researchy variety: 60 seminal Royal Society papers, online****; predictions on the future of warfare, from 1924; and a scarily predictive article on the future of Christmas shopping, from 1909*****.

Of course, steampunk's something of a reality. Just ask the US military, who want to deploy an airship in Afghanistan, or the gentleman who designed a "Teslapunk"urinal.†

And I think I'll leave you with three galleries of concept art—and one final link.

  1. Very awesome artwork on io9
  2. artistic gasmasks††
  3. modern Dubai, photographed in 1857††† 

Gail Carriger, the author of the aforementioned awesome novel, has a section of her site dedicated to steampunk links. Check 'em out!

Um, yeah… So this post didn't really have a point except for dumping links. I promise I'll do better on that front!

* Futurismic
** io9
*** Gizmodo
**** Boing Boing
***** io9
†† io9
††† io9

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