Saturday, 25 September 2010

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded (2010)

Due for an October release, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is the sequel of sorts to the 2008 anthology Steampunk. I qualify it as a sequel "of sorts" because a wide gulf exists between the two which makes them a unique document of pop-culture history.

The first Steampunk anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, still laboured under the definition of Steampunk as a literary genre. It deliberately set about reprinting stories by the pioneers of that literary genre, such as Michael Moorcock, James Blaylock, Paul Di Filippo and Neal Stephenson. These works were prefaced by a trio of essays charting the genre's development through literature, film and comics.

Steampunk II, edited by the same, engages Steampunk post-genre. The aforementioned gulf is that of its development from a genre to a scene, on one side of which are the older authors whose writings shaped a literature and on the other are the newer authors writing to a subculture. Not only are the stories different - including a number of what the Vandermeers call "steampunk tinker" stories that are literary paeans to the scene's DIY fashionistas - but the essays moreso reflect this transition.

The Vandermeers begin with a crude overview of Steampunk that is only as accurate as necessary for a scene that neither wants nor needs a comprehensive history. Well, unless you're Mike "Steampunk Scholar" Perschon, who asked to republish the History of Steampunk piece deleted from this weblog (and got one of my tiresome rants in the process). The only relevant historical essay was that submitted by Jake Von Slatt. As his greatest invention is the Steampunk scene itself, he speaks credibly when he declares that "Steampunk is part of this Maker Movement..." The idea of Steampunk represented in this anthology does owe more, as he implicitly suggests, to the existence of Radio Shack and Make Magazine than to a genuine interest in the Victorian Era or Scientific Romances. At this juncture, I'm not even sure why he chooses to belabour any kind of idealistic, romantic fantasy about how "The Victorian era was the last time that the typical high-school-equivalent education... gave the graduate all of the tools that he or she needed to understand the technology of the time." [citation needed]

Gail Carriger attempts to link the reading of Steampunk fiction with the wearing of Steampunk costumes, to irrelevant effect. She concludes her essay with what is supposed to be an affirmative note, but in the course of it articulates the fact that fashion scene rose independently and has nothing to do with the Steampunk genre. Following Carriger's and Von Slatt's pieces, there is a "roundtable interview" on The Future of Steampunk in which various and sundry of the scene's Internet celebrities comment on how they would like to see it further overwritten with their own values and interests.

The included fiction is a grab-bag of established authors slumming out a few Steampunk stories and a few aspiring ones who owe their success to writing for the scene. Of greatest value for readers who actually enjoy Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances is the first English translation of Danish author Vilhelm Bergsøe's 1870 short story Flying Fish 'Prometheus' (A Fantasy of the Future). "Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolutions" is not in store, according to the Vandermeers, but an anthology translating and/or reprinting the lost and out-of-print volumes of Scientific Romances of the 19th century would be a welcome new course after Steampunk II.


baralier said...

Dear Cory, I for one am glad your History of Steampunk is back on the web. It gives me something to point to when arguing about "punk" having nothing to do with steampunk or how the definition has changed.

Sometimes it's like hitting your head against a brick wall, but after a while the pain wears off and you don't feel it any more.


Piechur said...

Steampunk is dead. Move along folks, nothing to see here, show's over.

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly horrified at the idea that a follow-up volume should be reprints of the kind you suggest. If we ever did a Steampunk III, it would reflect other, fresh approaches to Steampunk, including the growing multicultural manifestations of Steampunk.

I'm very disappointed in your point of view.


Cory Gross said...

Ah, but I didn't say "follow up"... I said "welcome new course" ^_^

I, probably more than anyone else writing today, am totally cognizant of the fact that the actual Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances are not the same thing as Steampunk. I personally find the former more interesting than the latter and see a real utility for an anthology of the sort I mentioned. I tried to affect that with my Voyages Extraordinaires Anthology blog, and was further inspired by the entry in Steampunk II.

It would be way more interesting and fresh, to me, to actually read 19th century Sci-Fi from Eastern Europe and China and Japan than to read an African-American or Asian-American describe their character's goggles. Steampunk isn't fresh... we get it, they've got gears on... but untranslated 19th century Sci-Fi is a near uncharted territory for us in the West.

Niko said...

Ah, Cory, I would buy the anthology you envision.

Here's hoping some editor somewhere will read your post and think it's a great idea, too. Or maybe you should propose it to a publisher . . .

Cory Gross said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence! An anthology of up-to-the-minute Steampunk stuff has its place, but an anthology of Scientific Romances... excerpts and short stories from the well-known canon, heretofore untranslated works from the world stage... not only has a place but would be of inestimable value.

Contrary to the overstated horror of the idea, it would have cachet with Sci-Fi fans and literary types in general, let alone ones who specifically like 19th century work, and would doubtlessly find use in academic circles. One of the things that prompted the creation of the VEx Anthology were the periodic requests I get from educators and professors looking for recommendations for their classes.

Maybe I should look into pulling the VEx Anthology together into an actual manuscript and seeing if I can find a publisher, inbetwixt looking for a publisher for my own novel.

vonslatt said...

"(von Slatt's) greatest invention is the Steampunk scene itself"

Gosh Cory! XD

Jha said...

I rather like the suggestion for Steampunk III, although a blend of past and new fiction would be ideal, much like the first Steampunk anthology, which showed a nice range. But that would be a massive task and a single volume wouldn't do it justice.

Cory Gross said...

Sean, consider it a compliment. "...part of what I wanted to do was to co-opt the term 'steampunk' and imbue it with this DIY component. DIY wasn't part of the definition of steampunk... but I wanted it to be." Success!

Jha, I've actually decided to start working on that kind of anthology. Right now I'm scrounging through material I missed the first time around, including Victorian feminist Sci-Fi.

Anonymous said...

Jha: I'm not sure that's an accurate summary of the first volume, which mostly focused on stories from before the past decade. And there was no previously unpublished fiction in it, unlike Steampunk II. Unless you're talking about some other series.

Re the review, my other disappointment is the ridiculous and unprofessional snark, which seems more about territorialism on your part than anything else: "a grab-bag of established authors slumming out a few Steampunk stories and a few aspiring ones who owe their success to writing for the scene." Yeah, that's right. All of these established writers--please name the ones you think are slumming--took time out of writing the stuff they love to slum in Steampunk. Yeah, right. I'm also glad you can see into the minds of the aspiring writers here--names again, please--and have a good sense that they're being so cynically targeting.

The useful thing you could do here is post a list of the stories you think would be interesting for a retro-volume 3 instead of just talking in generalities. If you did, I might be able to guide you to a publisher. In other words, walk the walk.



Cory Gross said...

As I noted, I have already been at work on a horrifying anthology, so I'm happy to provide titles. So far I have...

George Griffith, A Honeymoon in Space (1901)
Jules Verne, Off on a Comet (1877)
Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World (1912)
Jack London, A Relic of the Pliocene (1904)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Poison Belt (1913)
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, The Mortal Immortal (1833)
Edwin Abbott Abbott, Flatland, A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884)
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1816)
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)
H.G. Wells, The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896)
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Scientific Ape (1889)
Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)
Michel Verne, In the Year 2889 (1889)
Hans Christian Andersen, In a Thousand Years (1853)
Edgar Allan Poe, The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (1835)
Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon (1865)
Edward Everett Hale, The Brick Moon (1869)
Garrett P. Serviss, The Moon Metal (1900)
Samuel Butler, Erewhon, or Over the Range (1872)
Garrett P. Serviss, A Columbus of Space (1894)
Edward S. Ellis, The Huge Hunter; or, the Steam Man of the Prairies (1868)
Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
Sir H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon's Mines (1885)
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness (1899)
John Buchan, Prester John (1910)
Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes (1912)
Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847)
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)
Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Sultana's Dream (1905)
Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman, Herland (1915)
H.P. Lovecraft, The Statement of Randolph Carter (1919)
Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days (1873)
Sax Rohmer, The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu (1913)
Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars (1912)
H.G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon (1901)
Edward Bulwer, Lord Lytton, The Coming Race (1871)
H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds (1898)
Garrett P. Serviss, Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898)
George Tomkyns Chesney, The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (1871)
H.G. Wells, The War in the Air (1908)
H.G. Wells, The Land Ironclads (1903)
George Griffith, The Angel of the Revolution (1893)
Jack London, The Iron Heel (1908)
H.G. Wells, The Sleeper Wakes (1910)
Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Lost Continent (1916)
William Morris, News from Nowhere (1890)
Richard Jefferies, After London, or Wild England (1885)
William Hope Hodgson, The Night Land (1912)
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895)
G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross (1909)
Mark Twain, Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven (1909)

And an essay on Sci-Fi films of the pre-war silent era. The only thing missing are more works from non-European cultures because I only have access to that which is freely available in translation. Otherwise I would, at the very least, be including several Japanese works. The list as is will probably get pared down, as I'm sketchy on whether I really want to delve into Gothic Horror, even though it's already a pretty general anthology of the fantastic rather than specifically Scientific Romances, and I see where there may be unnecessary repetitions.

As for the tone of my review, it is not the first time I've snarked on my own blog and it will by no means be the last. It must be from the numbing brain damage baralier mentioned. I'm not exactly sure what I'm being "territorial" about though.