I just finished doing a webcast for Vintage Tomorrows (the archived version will be available by Monday here). It was a blast, but I wish we’d had more time for questions. I suppose there’s a downside to the fact that Brian and I both like to talk so much. That said, this here internet is a marvelous tool that allows me to time travel a bit and engage a bit with the online chat that happened during our presentation. Yay, transcripts. Whatever would I do without you? (Okay, easy answer: I’d forget a lot of things).
Since my kids are at school and I have a keyboard in front of me, I’ll take the liberty of chiming in—punking the chat, as it were. Here’s an incomplete but well-intentioned engagement with the conversation:
Creede—I agree on the music. If we could have steampunked the whole darn thing we’d’ve done it. The visuals from the book were unfortunately all we could muster. We’re already an odd-shaped cog in O’Reilly’s works, but they love that and have continually bent over backward to accommodate the eclectic nature of our work.
Otto & Maxim—Ditto. Our journeys did not take us to Russia or even Eastern Europe, and in the grander scheme of steampunk that’s a big miss. You can’t do everything in one project, but I’m really fascinated by what I’ve seen coming out of the former Soviet Union. There’s a particular perspective there that is missing from a lot of Anglo-European steampunk. I’m not sure I’m informed enough to characterize it perfectly, but it seems to me that there’s unique insight to be found when you’re surrounded by the remains of a dreamed future that never quite came to pass.
Speaking more broadly about “other cultures,” a great place to start is with Diana “Ay-Leen the Peacemaker” Pho’s blog Beyond Victoriana (as you know from her excellent comments throughout the transcript) and Jaymee Goh’s Silver Goggles. They’re great resources for the wider world of steampunk, and strong voices in the community that help keep us honest about the cultural questions that playing with the past raises.
Travis—I’ve been meaning to post a list of my favorite steampunk stuff for some time now. I’ll get off my rear and do that soon. Diana’s absolutely right to point you toward the Airship Ambassador. Mike Perschon, the Steampunk Scholar, has a great site as well, which ranks and recommends an increasingly vast array of steampunk literature.
Der Diesel—You haven’t gotten your shiny jumpsuit yet? You’d better get on that, or you’ll be left behind when we all climb into the big cannon to be shot up to the moon.
Creede—Agreed, steampunk is what steampunks do. The inverse is also true. I think that one of the most powerful things about steampunk culture is that it’s really more questions we all have in common than answers. I’m really glad to hear that your granddaughter is engaged as well. My daughters are a never-ending font of steampunk awesomeness (Mimi is the oldest; her younger sister is only now becoming old enough to get out there and dig in—not that there’s a bottom end age limit, it’s just that it’s taken a little time for my kids to get to the point where they can keep pace with all I have to do at a steampunk event). Let me know when you have built your steam-powered banjo. That is a truly awesome and deeply commendable endeavor. I doff my tarboosh to honor your noble effort. Also, although I’ve never been there personally (Brian has), I did hang out with Cory Doctorow for a weekend and would not be in the least surprised to discover that his office has already become self-aware and is striking out on its own. It would explain a lot, actually.
Maxim—I haven’t seen a mechanical computer with a mechanical display manifest in “reality” yet (at least not in the way that you imply), but the classic example in literature is The Difference Engine’s kinotrope, a mechanical pixelated screen. That idea blew my 20 year-old mind when I first read Gibson & Sterling’s classic. Tim Leary did not steer me wrong in sending me to read Bill Gibson’s books. As to steampunk being for geeks, sure… but that’s where cultural change starts—on the fringe. Do Justin Bieber, Tyra Banks, and Tori Spelling count as geeks? I have a kind of flippant theory that it’s the freaks and the French who really drive the engines of cultural change. French steampunk, btw, was way ahead of the Anglo curve. Some 1970s French graphic novels are now being issued in English by Fantagraphics Books (Jacques Tardi’s work in particular), but you might have better luck getting the original French stuff in Russia—I don’t know.
Calvin—I’ve got an essay on the “punk” bit in the forthcoming issue of SteamPunk Magazine (#9). A version of it is posted on my blog below (look for the picture of Oscar Wilde). There’s also a lot more in the book, including a great interview with Ann and Jeff Vandermeer that is particularly insightful on the “punk part.”
Der Diesel and Suzanne—Men keep steampunk just as (ack) “steamy” as women do. I’m not sure I answered the question in the podcast as well as I might have, but from what I have seen, steampunk provides an interesting (and largely safe) space for people of all genders to push the boundaries of how they present themselves. The conversation over this is just heating up (see how I avoided saying “building steam”… ‘course then I just said it. sigh.) I’ll underline Diana’s link for others here as a great place to start.
Otto—If you’re looking for a great group of makers in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area, get in touch with the Obtanium Works. You won’t regret getting to know those wonderful people, and their “art car factory” is nothing short of amazing. You can also find them on Facebook as the Neverwas Haul Traveling Academy.
Der Diesel—If I set my range free, will it come back to heat my chicken tea?
J John—Myst was one of Claire Hummel’s early inspirations. It’s absolutely tied into all this. Well-spotted.
Maxim, Diana, Joseph, and Jerrie—Great conversation. There’s a great bit in the book about this from my interview with Cherie Priest (about her grade school teacher in Texas History). For what it’s worth, I took great pleasure in pissing off the business majors in my undergraduate sections when I taught the history of the American Revolution. They wanted to hear about how great George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were, not about how womens’ networks of domestic trade facilitated communication between far-flung communities. Totally agree on the transformative nature of Industrialization (a sword with many edges, tho). War is always a huge motivator for technological and social change. Heck, World War II is as responsible for helping coalesce gay culture as it was for spurring the development of the technological thinking that brought about the Information Age (though I tend to agree with Jim Gleick on his point that it’s always been the Information Age, we just happened to figure that out in the wake of WWII—see James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, 2011). But to women’s history more generally, it’s fraught with tensions and contradictions. Like all history, but infused with an extra edge—gender hits deep cultural chords, and while it is a social construction like race or class, it has an emotional element that causes it to (perhaps) resonate more strongly. Of course, you can’t really untangle the threads of race, class, and gender. Finally, a great book recommendation on women and labor in early 19th century America: Jeanne Boydston, Home and Work (1990).
Danielle & Robert—the jet lag quote is from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (2003). Here it is:
“She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”
Joseph—Welcome to steampunk! You’ll have a blast (if you don’t, we’ll send in the mechanical kraken to crush whatever kills your buzz). Keep your wits about you. You’ll find use for them in surprising places.
Mark—It’s always a pleasure to hear your insights. I’d add John Ruskin to William Morris. Also, Bill Gibson turned me on to mid-20th century British neo-romanticism. Great stuff, what little of it there was. Sadly, those abstract expressionist bastards squashed it flat. Talk about imperialist thugs. Humphrey Jennings’ Pandaemonium 1660-1886: The Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers sits on my bedside table. It’s great snack reading—too rich for a straight slog but wonderful to nibble on.
Thank you all! You’ve given me a bevy of great stuff to look into and made me think. That’s the mark of time well spent.
Oh, and I’d be remiss in not linking to the websites of some of the amazing artists and organizations whose artwork is included in the book. In alphabetical order:
Burning Man, LLC
Molly Michelle Friedrich
Key West Literary Seminar
David Maliki !
Jake von Slatt
…and of course for more on the film, check out the Vintage Tomorrows website. We’ll keep information up to date as it comes in.
Cheers, and thanks again!