Are you a fan of steampunk? And what exactly is it? Guest blogger and award-winning author A.R. Meyering, creator of The Dawn Mirror Chronicles (and who specialized in Victorian/Neo-Victorian Literature in college) delves into the importance of steampunk and why it matters.
Fans of this genre will enjoy her latest release The Hunter’s Bond, as well as the other novels in The Dawn Mirror Chronicles.
Steampunk, put lightly, is a fringe genre. Images leap to mind—elaborate DIY gizmos, outlandish costumes, and that eccentrically brilliant handful of people who crave historical fantasy come to life. During my study of Neo-Victorian literature during college, a professor once described steampunk as a genre that boasted “machines that exist far before their time, all which are on the brink of falling apart.” It was a throwaway line during a lecture, but I personally found it to be an illuminating description of the genre.
As of late, steampunk has been creeping further and further into popular culture, flavoring otherwise unrelated games, music, and movies with its eye-catching designs. Where fans may have learned to recognize it for its token gears and antique flair, I regularly see curiosity in those who wonder what the hell steampunk actually is. Just glue some gears on it and call it steampunk, right?
What Is Steampunk, Anyway?
Steampunk, in its simplest form, is any type of fiction that features two distinct elements: anachronistic technology and a 19th century aesthetic. That’s really just a fancy way of saying highly-advanced inventions in a Victorian (give or take a few decades) setting. At least that’s how it began to be defined after it was coined in the 1980s by science fiction author K.W. Jeter. I believe the beauty of steampunk is how many die-hard aficionados you will meet who will whole-heartedly argue these points. For all intents and purposes, however, steampunk is a flight of science fancy centered on this time period during which steam-powered machines seemed to be the way of the future.
Steampunk has many fascinating offshoots, such as cattlepunk, a similar genre set in the wild west of the United States, dieselpunk, a mid-20th century variant, and clockpunk, where the trademark cogs so often associated with steampunk might actually feel more at home.
The amazing thing about steampunk, to me, is that it feels like it belongs to the fans more than many other genre of fiction. The spirit of steampunk is ingenuity blended with imagination—it’s that surviving spark of nostalgia mixed with the brave urge to burn recklessly into the future. Steampunk is its own type of music; it’s a warm community of retrophiliacs, of people who create magic out of spare parts, of inventors and artists and dreamers. However, for all its whimsy, there is an undercurrent of darkness that runs throughout it—an unflinching social critique that highlights the monstrosity of the 19th century.
History Happens in Patterns
And no matter what we do, we are doomed to repeat it. 19th century British folks, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites, were somewhat fixated on romanticizing medieval Britain through art and literature, despite its undeniable brutality. I suspect that our modern day Neo-Victorian subcultures look back on the 19th century with the same sort of confused, aching belief that we have lost something special to the past, that we can idealize it to be cleaner and rosier than we want to believe it was, and that we can amend its missteps with our modern outlooks on life and society.
Essentially all of us will look back on the economic and social inequity of 19th century Britain and agree that it was shocking, to say the least. Who wouldn’t recoil when faced with the realities of the lower class struggling to survive in the industrial revolution? At the horror of British imperialism? At a world where the atrocities of slavery were commonplace? Who wouldn’t take issue with the fact that aristocrats earned around 1,200 times as much as soldiers? Of the devastating spread of disease and the reality that it took until the year 1875 before the government stepped in to protect the health of the masses—resistance to this reform came largely from the factory owners who would be taxed to pay for it. And this hardly grazes the surface of the abject suffering that the majority of people lived through in the 19th century, all while a handful of well-to-do families built up the facades of grandeur and austerity that popular culture readily associates with this time period. All while these same well-to-do families rationalized their behavior through flimsy, racist pseudo-science and the nearly unchecked ambition to guard their ill-earned wealth.
Starting to Sound Familiar?
For all of its flaws and eccentricities, I believe that Steampunk’s historical context features a great potential for meaningful social critique. Instead of trying to ignore the unfortunate truths of the past, they can be addressed and discussed. Steampunk is a bizarre sort of abstract microcosm of our own society, all wrapped up in a quirky package, and it matters because it is a way we can recognize the glaring flaws of bygone times—flaws that are still very much a problem in today’s world—without the interference of our contemporary egos.
It matters, also, because it simultaneously fixates around just the sort of hopeful spirit that ushers in the anachronistic, before-its-time brilliance that leads to a better world. I say, let’s keep dreaming about clanking, aether-run airships en route to the stars because it shows us not only where we have been, but where we are going.
About The Hunter’s Bond
A storybook life ended in one bloody night…
Left injured, alone, and penniless, noblewoman Beatrice Langford can only think of exacting revenge on the ones who took everything from her. After getting a job as a barmaid from tavern-owner Miles Creedy, she soon discovers his dark secret. Following Creedy into the underworld of crime and vigilante punishment, she is tempted by an opportunity to learn skills deadly enough to carry out her vengeful plan. Beatrice may need to sacrifice everything in order to succeed, including her humanity.
From award-winning author A.R. Meyering comes this prelude to the final installment of the steampunk fantasy series The Dawn Mirror Chronicles.
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