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  1. #1
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    Steampunk: Growing healthy or dying on the vine?

    This Halloween I put together a steampunk costume, and did the usual party rounds. In all cases, few or none of the people I met knew what I was; and when I told them I was a steampunk inventor, the inevitable question was "what's steampunk?" (Mind you, I was very popular on the explanation circuit.) I didn't win any awards for best costume, but I believe that if there had been a category for Most Obscure Cultural Reference, I would have walked away with it.

    This made me wonder about the claims by some that steampunk is a growing genre, becoming more popular every day... maybe within the SF world, but I'd have to say, certainly not outside of it. Yes, there are books, but they seem to only turn up when you specifically search for them. And the relative failure of every steampunk-y movie of the last few years hasn't helped its cause.

    But have any of you seen something different out there? Is there a sign that steampunk is indeed growing into a healthy offshoot of SF, destined to become as popular as other subgenres (like horror) someday?

    And if it does... what form will its most popular stories take? Will they all be stories of airship wars? Steampunk-tech-armed detectives and science-heroes? Romances behind the difference engines? Great races between intrepid vehicle inventors? Or incredible journeys into the outer-aether or inner-seas by uber-genius engineers?

    Where do you think steampunk is going?

  2. #2
    Registered Uber megaphage's Avatar
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    I've always thought of steampunk more as a style, rather than an SF sub-genre. Somewhere between techno-goth and Victoriana with a bit of Doc. Emmet Brown thrown in for good measure (i hope this is not an insulting image). In that respect the culture has grown more popular from what I've seen on the internet, but I've never had a conversation about it with anyone or seen anyone in the real world openly flaunting it.

    I have a book that I think is from the genre but I'm wary of reading it for some reason. It has a picture of a soviet air ship on the front.

    Being a niche within a niche which has a strongly associated style I think it will struggle to ever become much more popular, but I see no reason why it shouldn't go on for ever and develop as a genre within it's own fanbase.

  3. #3
    Way Too Human
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    I don't recall seeing any steampunk novels in any "must read" list lately (forums, amazon recommendations, etc).

    However, I do know that Rush's latest album, Clockwork Angels is a steampunk concept album. The story told by the album has been novelized by Kevin J. Anderson. It will be available to me (N. America) on 11-3-12.

    I'll probably read the novel just because of what it's based on. Rush is my favorite band, being the greatest band on Earth.
    Last edited by Lazerus; November 2nd, 2012 at 12:23 PM. Reason: Add omitted words

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Steven L Jordan View Post
    [...]But have any of you seen something different out there? Is there a sign that steampunk is indeed growing into a healthy offshoot of SF, destined to become as popular as other subgenres (like horror) someday?

    And if it does... what form will its most popular stories take? Will they all be stories of airship wars? Steampunk-tech-armed detectives and science-heroes? Romances behind the difference engines? Great races between intrepid vehicle inventors? Or incredible journeys into the outer-aether or inner-seas by uber-genius engineers?

    Where do you think steampunk is going?
    I don't have a clue on any of this. I will say that I saw two TV shows on network TV during the 2010-2011 U.S. TV season use Steampunk conventions as background. One of them was Castle and I can't recall the other. There was also a piece on Steampunk on a Sunday morning news magazine show on CBS last spring. And Warehouse 13 keeps plugging along on the SYFY cable station, and it has a Steampunk-like vibe to it.


    Randy M.

  5. #5
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    There was an interesting re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz as steampunk in Tin Man a few years ago.
    Certainly, if you look at the bookshelves, it is quite popular: from Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century novels to RUSH (another fan here, Lazerus!) and even authors like Gail Carriger, who combines steampunk sensibilities with vampires and werewolves, it's popular on the shelves. But beyond that: hmm. Probably not.
    Mark

  6. #6
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    I hate to say it, but I thought Tin Man turned out to be forgettable (at least, I saw it and don't remember a thing beyond a few of the actors). And I agree that, although there are books that do a good job with SP, there haven't been any TV shows or movies that have "made it." (Warehouse 13 includes a steampunk look to some of it, but not all of it, making it a sort of hybrid program encompassing steampunk, horror, mythology and history.)

    I find myself thinking that the first successful steampunk movie might propel SP into popular interest. The question is whether that successful SP movie will ever be made... someone with serious production chops would have to give it a shot, with enough of a budget to pull it off... and without an established following, it's kind of hard to figure out how that would happen. Maybe if a SP novel made it into widespread runaway success, ala 50 Shades.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Steven L Jordan View Post
    [...] (Warehouse 13 includes a steampunk look to some of it, but not all of it, making it a sort of hybrid program encompassing steampunk, horror, mythology and history.) [...]
    That's a fair summary, although I'd add "screwball comedy" to the list -- well, it attempts screwball comedy and frequently misses the mark.

    It's strange to think that the most successful steampunk movies and TV shows are probably 45-60 years old now: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island, The Time Machine, (movies); The Wild, Wild West (TV).


    Randy M.

  8. #8
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    There have been attempts (albeit generally bad ones!) to get films with steampunk elements in the cinema. I loved Sky Captain, and could be persuaded that its pulp style, with dirigibles, rockets, robots *might* just skirt in there. I enjoyed it: many didn't. I also enjoyed Steamboy and there's Castle in the Sky, although they are cartoons.

    But how about Sucker Punch?

    I think the trick would be to have a movie with elements of steampunk in it, so that you can say, 'If you enjoyed this, then try....'

    Anyone any suggestions as to steampunk books that would make great movies?
    Mark

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    [...] Anyone any suggestions as to steampunk books that would make great movies?
    Well, proto-Steampunk, Michael Moorcock's The Warlord of the Air could be terrific. Perhaps less likely to be adapted well, K. W. Jeter's Infernal Devices, although with the right director and production team the humor in it could make for a fine adventure movie.

    Less likely to be filmed, but potentially a hoot if it was, Kage Baker's Nell Gwynne's Scarlet Spy.


    Randy M.

  10. #10
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Forgot Warlord of the Air! Oswald Bastable, and airships! Would love to see that as a movie...
    Mark

  11. #11
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Steampunk is just kinda silly, and sometimes borderline ridiculous. Or just ridiculous. Sky Captain is a pretty good example of why the genre is disregarded -- it's just glitz on top of a fundamentally mediocre stock story (sorry, as a viewer I felt like my intelligence was being insulted by the story, and the visuals struck me as mere visual porn designed to distract me from the mess I was witnessing). And for the SF fan, it's more fantasy than science.

    Rankin's Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse was fantasy more or less, but still steampunk. The steampunk dressings were a neat aspect, but even then, the story was largely ridiculous. It was like an episode of Community -- just a collection of pop culture references and borrowed story tropes, from the noir detective and femme fatale to farm boy saves the world Bildungsroman. It was just so... obvious.

    So, as you may gather, not a fan. I don't see it ever being much more than a niche interest.

  12. #12
    A chuffing heffalump Chuffalump's Avatar
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    Stephen Hunt writes steam punk that I've enjoyed. Starting with The Court of the Air (I think). He has steam powered calculating engines, rubber towers held up by pneumatics and steam men, sentient robots that run on coke. He also includes elements that border on dark magic.

    I can see where Fung Koo is coming from as the steam punk aspects are often window dressing, rather than essential to the story but.....it is cool......and fascinating......so long may it live. Good steam punk should be even better on the big screen since it's the visualisation of the technology that is so.....cool.

  13. #13
    I like SF. SF is cool. Steven L Jordan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo View Post
    So, as you may gather, not a fan. I don't see it ever being much more than a niche interest.
    For you.

    However, it has been demonstrated on more than one occasion that audiences are willing to lap up with a spoon some of the most ridiculous productions ever devised. I mean, how silly are superheroes? Yet, Batman and Superman have done well in the box office, The Incredibles was incredibly popular for a bunch of characters Disney just invented, and the Marvel characters individually and as a group have (mostly) kicked ass.

    Vampires? Werewolves? Come on.

    James Bond (pre-Craig, anyway)? Right.

    And how long have mindless sitcoms ruled the airwaves?

    So, clearly "kinda silly" isn't enough to relegate something to the perpetual niche pile. Steampunk has as much potential to break out in movies and TV as any other niche product, given the right material and the right producers.

    Edit: I'd tried to post earlier to say that Sky Captain wasn't Steampunk, it was Pulp. I loved the movie, too... it was fun to watch (call it visual porn... fine). But SP doesn't have to look like Sky Captain or Sucker Punch to work (in fact, the relative failure of those movies would suggest avoiding that sepia treatment would be a good idea).
    Last edited by Steven L Jordan; November 3rd, 2012 at 07:50 AM.

  14. #14
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    For me, absolutely.

    Superheroes, as well as vampires and werewolves, are something categorically different, aren't they? Superhero stories basically set up a superability as a literal incarnation of a human conundrum. Batman is human revenge and justice writ large. Superman, in his original form, is justice against tyranny -- a prevalent threat of pre-WWII, North Americans were wrestling with the question of involvement in foreign conflict, and our split identity and loyalty as post-Colonial citizens. Today, these morality plays persist because the same, or similar questions linger, and the modified man -- or modified setting -- gives authors an opportunity to examine an issue that is core to humanity.

    Vampires and werewolves, and most of the fantastical brood, are much the same -- human impulses incarnate. We witness their effects under the microscope in the extreme.

    Steampunk is different. It's almost alternate-history historical fiction, which does an interesting take on what if things went differently, but then its mixed with the whiz-bang technology interest of early pulp SF, and degrees of magic, and I can never quite see a purpose being applied to it. It strikes me as a sort of arrested development in technology. The big mechanical spider creature in Wild Wild West may be cool looking, but considered as SF, it's ludicrous. At the height of the steam-powered industrial era, the most complex mixes of clockwork and steam power could barely keep an elaborate It's A Small World After All amusement fair piece working -- and it didn't need to blow crap up, too! Such tech at the steampunk level often barely passes a cursory hardness test. There's a degree of implausibility I find hard to get over in a lot of cases.

    Sky Captain was more plausible technologically speaking (it's been dubbed "dieselpunk" -- meaning, halfway between the eras depicted in steam- and cyberpunk), but as a film story (and it matches my admittedly limited exposure to written steampunk) it was just your standard adventure fare a la Indiana Jones. The trouble I had with it, personally, was that the falseness of the setting made the story ring false. It was like watching outright fabrication on top of outright fabrication, and neither one did much of anything to explore any sort of human theme at all. It was just titillation (yes, IMO) -- pure spectacle, and that was it.

    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, comic and movie, again I found more style than substance -- again, the metafictional use of existing characters a la Community to borrow story and tropes. Blah, just seemed lazy rather than inventive. And again the glitzed up technology overshadowing story.

    The Rocketeer, comic and movie, was better overall, IMO -- again, more diesel than steam era, like Sky Captain. It's less about the punk side... which may be more my issue. The punk side of the equation revels in the fashion, and its that part of it I see as most empty. A "steam" story, sans punk, might be more to my taste...

    Suckerpunch was amazing, IMO -- but I wouldn't call it steampunk. Not even a little bit. There's no steam in it at all! Nor diesel. It was like an action version of The Cell (which I also really liked), which also isn't steampunk. The Cell mixed with Scott Pilgrim. Still, really just a psychological thriller.

    I also really disliked Firefly/Serenity -- cowboy spacepunk.

    So yeah. My issue must be the punk.

  15. #15
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    I've enjoyed Cherie Priests Clockwork Century stories though they contain a very healthy dose of horror (zombies created by a mysterious yellow gas). Her portrayal of a very extended American Civil War fought with dirigibles, walking mechanical war machines, crude but effective submarines, and armored trains bristling with heavy weapons are an intriguing alternate history as well as her warped underground Seattle city within a walled off zombie zone.

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