Feb 24, 2009

The 2009 Eaton SF Conference: Extraordinary Voyages: Jules Verne and Beyond

Things are heating up fast in the world of Steampunk academia. There are a number of papers being presented at the 2009 Eaton SF Conference (which is focusing on the work and influence of Jules Verne) on Steampunk. I'm looking forward to "Chums of Chance and Warlords of the Air: A Steampunk Genealogy for Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day" by Rob Latham, as I've been reading Pynchon's epic myself. I'll be chairing a paper session on "THE EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE IN OTHER MEDIA" which includes a paper titled "Oceans of Noise: Archetypal Readings of Jules Verne in The Abyss", which while not directly concerned with Steampunk, seems very intriguing nonetheless. I'll also be presenting a modified version of the presentation I gave at Steam Powered last fall, which is the presentation I'll be using Art Donovan's Shiva Mandala in. Here's the abstract for "Finding Nemo: Verne’s Antihero as Original Steam-Punk":
In the foreword to his annotated translation of Jules Verne’s Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), Walter James Miller suggests that Verne’s image was in need of rehabilitation due to the plethora of poor English translations his works have suffered. With the emergence of better translations, the same need for rehabilitation has emerged for Captain Nemo, the anti-hero of Verne’s underwater adventure tale. In the updated, post-colonial English translations of L’île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island), Nemo is revealed to be very nearly the antithesis of the Caucasian pop-culture iteration made famous by James Mason and most recently continued by Patrick Stewart and Michael Caine. In L’île mystérieuse, Nemo is revealed to be an Indian prince whose real name is Dakkar, a leader of the Sepoy rebellion against colonial rule in 1857. It is this Nemo, Verne’s original character, who embodies the essence of the Steampunk hero: the self-made inventor of the spectacular Nautilus, a rebel against imperial tyrrany, and an egalitarian humanist who makes no differentiation in race or creed. This paper will explore the various representations of Nemo in Verne’s novels, their film adaptations, as well as Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s hyper-faithful rendering of Nemo in the two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels, with the goal of rescuing the real Captain Nemo from Orientalist obscurity.

In addition, Jake Von Slatt sent me this call for papers for an upcoming edition of The Journal of Neo-Victorian studies - I'll be submitting something for sure, and I look forward to seeing what the rest of the Steampunk scholars out there bring to the table.

Feb 21, 2009

Steam Powered - The California Steam Punk Convention 2008

This was originally published at my other blog shortly after I returned from Steam Powered last November, but I thought it would make a good addition here at Steampunk Scholar. Plus, it explains the origins of my very own brass goggles, which have traveled with me to all my scholarly steampunk destinations.

I am tired, sore, and disoriented as I step into the lobby of the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale, CA in the early afternoon of Halloween. On the ride from the airport in a shuttle vainly trying to find my destination despite phone calls to 411 and the assistance of a GPS, I saw a school playground (three times in our circuitous wanderings) where children were dressed as the requisite ghosts and goblins. Aside from giving me a pang of guilt and regret for not being with my children this Halloween, I assumed such conventional Halloween sights would prepare me for the costumed pageantry of the California Steampunk Convention. I could blame it on a Gravol hangover, but I know that wasn't the case. It was sheer culture shock, to cross over the threshold of this typically modern hotel and be greeted by a man in a pith helmet and full expedition gear. I stammered a greeting in return before passing by the registration table (not yet open) where three ladies sat, dressed in variously elaborate Steampunk garb. There's a part of my brain reminding me this is what I came here to see, but I cannot help but feel like a man in a tuxedo at a nude beach.
I've come to the California Steampunk Convention for research, a reality which will be construed as a joke or "in-Steampunk-character" statement over the weekend. My interest in Steampunk began in a paper I wrote on Alternate History during my M.A. coursework, titled "Difference Engines and Other Infernal Devices: History According to Steampunk" by Steffan Hantke in Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Prior to this formal introduction, I was aware of Steampunk through the graphic novels by Joe Kelly, as well as through a childhood love of Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." My decision to write on Steampunk for my PhD dissertation was based on a number of reasons, most of them mercenary: if you're going to write 300+ pages on something, it should be of personal interest; it's nigh to impossible to find something in literary studies that hasn't already been done or done to death; the faculty member I wanted to work with was enthusiastic about the topic; and, because no one else has written extensively on it within the academic community, it gives me a way to distinguish myself and vie for publication of the finished work.
Hence my sudden interest in field research in the San Francisco Bay Area. While working on my program of study for a scholarship application, I googled Steampunk and San Francisco, since I was aware of the blossoming art movement there and got Wired magazine's article on the upcoming convention. Given the big names who were going to be in attendance, I determined to find a way to get there. Knowing it would be a tough sell to the University's various travel granting committees to just attend, I inquired as to whether or not the event needed any academic "experts," in the hope I could procure a presentation. A paper presented at a conference or convention lends credibility to a travel research application. I hoped for one: they granted me three--my own panel, and two round tables. I was elated to say the least. With both travel plans and a decent grant application secured, I looked forward to the weekend with anticipation.
My arrival challenged my sanguine traits to their maximum. Contrary to popular belief, I am not extroverted by nature. I was a professional people person and learned my skills for that work. They do not come naturally to me. I hid behind my mother's leg as a child, and was frightened to go ask for ketchup in fast food restaurants. I had secured interviews with several of the big names in attendance for the weekend, and planned to have informal conversations with convention attendees, but upon arrival, doubted if I could go through with it all.
Thankfully I had a very helpful "inside" contact. About a week before the convention, I was introduced via email to Natalie Rantanen, aka Lady Monroe of La Legion Fantastique, San Francisco's Jules Verne improv group. Again I googled, wondering what the hell a Jules Verne improv theatre group would do, and found that they assume characters from Verne's novels as personas for events such as Dickensfair, a "theatrical re-creation of 19th-century London, with all the color, charm, and merriment of Christmas" during the setting of the Christmas Carol. Natalie wondered if the Legion could "crash" my presentation, which was on Verne's famous anti-hero, Captain Nemo. With my own penchant for theatrics and performance (the very thing which leads people to think I'm naturally outgoing), I agreed without hesitation, provided they would permit an interview. As it would turn out, my interaction with the Legion went beyond interview.
Natalie sat down with me shortly after my arrival and assuaged my anxieities about attending as an outsider. She gave me the rundown on the local Steampunk community, on their political leanings as a group (largely leftist), their connection to the Goth movement, BDSM community, and how the convention was a meeting of many different worlds. She introduced me to other members of the Legion, who took me under their wing into the vendor's area. By the time I returned to my room to get dressed for the evening's festivities, my anxiety had been replaced once again with anticipation.
Friday night had a magical, almost surreal quality to it, given that it was done in a grand ball style, complete with an opening march which paraded a plethora of wonderful costumes, followed by a dance to the music of a brass band. The strains of the music wafted throughout the common areas, and when placed alongside the Steampunk and Neo-Victorian costumes, created an immersive environment which I surrendered myself to in the hopes of blending in and participating, as opposed to lingering on the fringes and observing. Aside from the costumes, one might assume it was a party like any other, given the laughter and lineups for liquor, but there was a level of performativity that lent an aspect of spectacle to the evening. Everywhere one looked there were costumes that drew the eye and demanded to be photographed, or commented upon. The level of detail on these costumes ranged from vests slapped over regular dress clothes (plus requisite brass goggles) to elaborate Victorian dresses blending lace with laser light accoutrements or Steampunk recreations of pop culture such as Wonder Woman or the Ghostbusters, or in the case of Legion thespian Ryan Galiotto, a Steampunk Hugh Hefner. Dressed in my own modest Neo-Victorian costume, I was able to drift through this carnevalesque celebration as participant, not the pedantic poseur I had assumed I might. While I was definitely still neophyte, my association with the Legion allowed me to step into conversations and gatherings I would have been remiss to have joined.
The next morning I dressed in regular clothes for my first round table panel, and was a little surprised to find that the majority of attendees had more than one costume for the weekend. Corsets, top hats, black powder pistols and brass goggles (and monocles) still abounded, but I was content to be in jeans and t-shirt. My roundabout was on Technology in the Victorian Era, and although I was apprehensive of coming across as knowledgeable in this area, it turned out that between myself and the other panel members, we actually had something very cohesive to say. Following this roundtable, my day was a blur of interviews with Phil Foglio, the co-creator of web-comic/graphic novel "Girl Genius"; Weta Workshop designer Greg Broadmore, creator of Weta originals Rayguns as well as the Dr. Grordborts' accompanying mythology; and Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, editors of the Steampunk Anthology; as well as impromptu conversations with convention attendees launched from my conversations with the so-called experts. The information I gleaned in both interviews and conversations proved to be greater than I'd hoped for. In a slight ironic twist, I also found myself being interviewed for a Steampunk podcast called Steampunk Spectacular. By the end of the day, I was, to quote Greg Broadmore, "shattered."
I dragged myself to my feet and staggered outside to wait for a bus shuttle to take me to the Abney Park concert. As I exited the hotel, I recognized a mother and her college age daughters I'd seen the night before. I'd requested a photo at the time, impressed as I was with their costumes, but they were indisposed, and promised to track me down for a photo opportunity later. I made a joke about never getting the photo, took the lost opportunity to procure one, and ended up spending the evening adopted in Samaritan-like fashion to attend the concert, which was a delight, since these events are never as much fun when one is without one's wingman.
While I'm still uncertain as to how the opening band encompassed a Steampunk aesthetic, Abney Park deserves their self-imposed appelation of Steampunk band, and I would argue, Steampunk music. It's one thing entirely to dress in a pseudo-Victorian fashion and claim you're a Steampunk band, but Abney park's pastiche of modern industrial ala Rammstein, 80s goth, world music and symphonic elements are melifluous expressions of the Steampunk aesthetic: archaic meets modern and makes something new. Beyond their Steampunk attributes, it must be noted that Abney Park achieve something very rare; they are consummate performers as well as musicians, engaging their audience in a familiar banter between songs, owning the stage environment, and ultimately causing the audience to forget how spartan and lackluster the light show was. Abney Park would be interesting to watch illuminated by nothing but white lamplight, and are a delight to listen to, even when the mix (as it was) is muddy and uneven.
I thought Sunday would be the day that my experience would somehow wind down, but I could not have been in greater error. My own presentation, the one which La Legion Fantastique would be in attendance at, had been gnawing at the back of my mind all weekend. The idea of involving the Legion interested and intrigued me, but we had reached no consensus on how to play this involvement out save that they would be there for the entire session, as opposed to barging in near the end. When I woke Sunday morning and went down to shop for a gift for Jenica, I discussed with Ryan Galiotto the possibility of doing the presentation in costume, and more importantly in character. He endorsed and encouraged the idea, and having bounced it off a few other Legion members shortly before the presentation, committed to the character of Dr. Gottfried Gotthammer, here at the Steampunk Convention to present his research on Captain Nemo.It turned out to be one of those moments where you make all the right choices. While I didn't hold character the entire time, the opening moments where I did seemed to create the right pedagogical space for the convention. I was able to speak with the members of the Legion in attendance in character, in this secondary world where Verne exists as historian and biographer, not fiction writer. Even after I dropped my accent and character to make discussion accessible, the Legion remained firmly locked into that Steampunk reality, with Nemo himself as living footnote to discourse. The conversation that ensued was instructive for me as much as anyone else in the room--I had speculated certain things which the community corroborated, adding to the potential academic journal article I hope to have written before the year has ended. And while this was all icing on the cake of my expectations, the presentation of honorary membership into La Legion Fantastique and the requisite brass goggles had the effect of transcending expectation to the point of placing me on a high which has yet to wear off. In short, the trip could not have been more successful short of a seance to channel Verne himself.
Another round table, a flurry of conversations, a final photo with the Legion, and by six o'clock, the Domain hotel was once again merely another place to rest the night on El Camino Real. The secondary world evaporated like the steam of the movement's namesake, and I found myself with the same sort of post-event-malaise I'd experienced as a teen going to weekend retreats or conventions. It has been a very long time since I've experienced that sense of loss, especially given my desire to return home and see my family. As my plane ascended the next morning before dawn, my mind was already working out the particulars of how I could return for next year's convention, what I would want to present on, and most importantly, how I can get some kick ass boots to go with my costume.

A video from Steam Powered

Feb 18, 2009

The Five Year Mission explained

The topic of my thesis is the recent rise of Steampunk, a term for a subgenre of science fiction which supposes an alternate history of the world wherein 19th century technology achieves 21st century capabilities. It is a world that might have been had Jules Verne been an inventor rather than a writer of fiction. In these alternate histories, airships, submarines, and even computers are constructed long before they were in reality. The genre ostensibly belongs to a category of writing Fredric Jameson calls “postmodern fantastic historiography” conjuring up a world of mixed ontologies, which conveys “the feel of the real past better than any of the facts themselves” (368-69).

Context. A reading list of Steampunk works contains a diverse assortment of writers: from Steampunk pioneers Tim Powers and James Blaylock to celebrated postmodern fiction writer Thomas Pynchon; children’s writers such as Philip Reeve and Kenneth Oppel. It spans genres, moving from its ostensible home of science fiction into horror in Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, to fantasy in Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass, to political commentary in Theodore Judson’s Fitzpatrick’s War, to graphic novels which suppose alternate, “gaslight” settings for popular characters such as Superman and Batman. In the visual medium of film, the wide range of genres in which Steampunk elements appear is equally varied: consider the period drama The Prestige contrasted with action film Van Helsing. Given this wide array of works employing Steampunk elements, it is my contention that the designation “Steampunk” is less a narrative classification based solely on technology than it is a visual aesthetic containing particular key elements. Steampunk has moved beyond narrative constraints and is now a form of fashion, an approach to visual art and home decor, and even serves a taxonomic function for pop-music artists such as Abney Park and Vernian Process. It is the appropriation of Steampunk as a music “form” which most clearly demonstrates that while Steampunk has literary origins, its current realization is as a multi-media aesthetic. Abney Park and the Vernian Process have very little in common musically; but the musicians in both groups dress in a neo-Victorian manner, sharing a visual aesthetic, not musical articulation. This aesthetic as manifested within a cultural phenomenon which reads Steampunk works, views Steampunk film, dresses up in Steampunk fashion, or adorns its homes with Steampunk décor is not seeking a futuristic eutopia, but what Timothy Unwin calls a retrotopia, “a nostalgic turning back to an age of innocence … and a revival of that past in the present and the future” (339).

Contribution to the advancement of knowledge. To date, the only in-depth scholarship on Steampunk has been an article in Extrapolation by Steffen Hantke, and by association, Dana Shiller’s dissertation and journal article on Neo-Victorian fiction. Both writers are concerned primarily with how Steampunk and Neo-Victorian writing affects the historical discourse as it regards the era the works are set in, whereas the objective of my inquiry will be to examine the role of this retrotopic longing in Steampunk’s aesthetic, the mythologized representation of the Victorian-era society, to examine the evolution of the debate on Enlightenment as manifested in the postmodern fictions of Steampunk, specifically in relation to the ideas of progress, science and humanism.

Corpus and Methodology. I intend to pursue this project through textual analysis, firstly in the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, writers cited as progenitors of Steampunk, to ascertain what aspects of Steampunk culture have emerged from these 19th century writings, and perhaps more importantly, what was left behind. I will also research a number of key Steampunk texts related to the Victorian era: the seminal Steampunk works of Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter, as well as newer additions to the genre such as the young adult fiction of Phillip Reeve. Moving beyond traditional forms of text, I will examine roleplaying games such as Castle Falkenstein, which is as much novella as rulebook with its storyline of a computer technician’s journey through time and space into a parallel Victorian world. I will also explore filmic Steampunk expressions, from the box-office flops such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Wild, Wild West to the brilliant French film City of Lost Children and Japanese Anime Steamboy.

There will be an element of cultural study in the examination of how Steampunk is appropriated as aesthetic beyond narrative, by engaging online communities, such as the Brass Goggles web forum to contact and interview people immersed in the subculture of Neo-Victorian Steampunk. In the fall of 2008, I will be attending and presenting at Steam Powered: The California Steampunk Convention, where I will be afforded to opportunity to view Steampunk enthusiasts in a focused social gathering, to interview artists and publishers promoting Steampunk works, and attend an Abney Park performance. I have already secured face-to-face interviews with several key presenters and artists at this convention.

Finally, my project will examine how Steampunk playfully engages new historicism and possible world theory through its assumption of the virtual nature of history and that ultimately all human experience is a form of fiction. The rejection of a Steampunk metanarrative and the array of aesthetic applications points toward malleability of human experience, which is realized in the aesthetic expressions of Steampunk enthusiasts who engage in the manipulation of reality wherein the possible world Steampunk narratives posit become the actual world these Neo-Victorians inhabit.

Feb 17, 2009

Hemlock - by Tyson Ibele

Many thanks to Nathan Thomas, who forwarded this video to me. I think it's an excellent followup to the last post about defining Steampunk, since it is actually a myth with a Steampunk look. As Tyson Ibele states at Vimeo, "Here's a film I made for the latest CGSociety challenge...the theme was to adapt an ancient myth to steampunk stylings. I chose the myth about the fountain of youth for my topic." Steampunk aesthetic. Mythic narrative.

Hemlock from Tyson Ibele on Vimeo.

Feb 16, 2009

Towards a Definition of Steampunk - Wikipedia.

Here's Wikipedia's definition of Steampunk:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles or analog computers; these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.

Steampunk is often associated with cyberpunk and shares a similar fanbase and theme of rebellion, but developed as a separate movement (though both have considerable influence on each other). Apart from time period and level of technological development, the main difference between cyberpunk and steampunk is that steampunk settings usually tend to be less obviously dystopian than cyberpunk, or lack dystopian elements entirely.

This is an excellent description of the literary phenomenon as exemplified by Stephen Baxter's Anti-Ice, James Blaylock's Homunculus and Lord Kelvin's Machine, and K.W. Jeter's Morlock Night and Infernal Devices, to name only a few examples. For a decent starting list of Steampunk works, check out this wikipedia article.

Jess Nevins has suggested that the Eddisonade literature of the late 19th and early 20th century can also be cited as progenitor to literary steampunk, along with the works of Wells and Verne. Part of my own research so far has been to investigate how Verne acts as a grandfather to Steampunk. While I don't have time to go into detail in this post (still working on my coursework for my PhD, so my articles must remain brief until May), I am very strongly of the opinion that Verne is the grandaddy of Steampunk: Wells, on the whole, relates only to Steampunk by virtue of the time in which he wrote. He lacks the retrotopic vision of Verne which Steampunk has appropriated for itself. I don't know enough to comment on Nevins' idea regarding the Eddisonades, but as he is one of the current experts on fantastic Victorian litrature, I'd be slow to ignore what he has to say.

Now, the problem, as many people who are afficianados of the aesthetic will tell you, is that the term "Steampunk" has little or nothing to do with "punk." At least, not in the same way Cyberpunk actually had something to do with music and anti-establishment ideologies. While, as stated above, Steampunk and Cyberpunk share the theme of rebellion, the way in which that theme is treated is very different. While one could posit a "type" of Cyberpunk hero, it would be more difficult to distill the protagonists of Steampunk works into the same. And what is evident very early on is that there is very little "punk" in Steampunk literature.

I recently wrote a paper on the Star Wars Steampunk works, which I'm currently shopping around to literature journals for publication. As a result, it won't be showing up in its entirety here for some time. However, in the meantime, here is an excerpt related to this discussion:

However popular Steampunk has proven as a label, it lacks a commensurate utility. While both literary and cultural manifestations of Steampunk are concerned with steam technology, there is disagreement as to what the ‘punk’ signifies. While other foreign language wikis of Steampunk are direct translations of the English wiki entry, the French wiki is entirely original, and begins by stating that Steampunk is often translated “futur à vapeur,” literally, future with vapor.
The conflation of “vapor” with steampunk is appropriate. As The Encyclopedia of FantasyEF) notes, “[t]here is a growing habit whereby almost every fantasy which deals with the Gaslight Period is labeled steampunk” (390). The EF suggests that the term steampunk be limited to “what are in effect historical technofantasies…books which fit directly into the form developed by Tim Powers, K.W. Jeter and James P. Blaylock from models derived from Michael Moorcock, Christopher Priest and others – books whose principal plot-driver is technological anachronism” (391). This entry in the EF references K.W. Jeter, the man who coined the term “steampunk” in what seems to have been an offhand and informal comment. Jeter was likely making a joke, referencing the genre he had been best known for at the time, which was cyberpunk. While cyberpunk clearly contains elements of “punk” as the word relates to the late 20th century music and culture movement, “[t]here's really not much punk in steampunk” (von Busack). It would be fair to say that steampunk often contains a counter cultural aspect, a counterfactual ethos resisting Imperialism, which the rebellious implications of the term “punk” do not encompass. However, the term has stuck, and while there have been numerous attempts to define steampunk as a term, a fixed definition remains largely elusive, ephemeral as the vapeur of the French translation suggests. Even though the OED has defined steampunk as “science fiction which has a historical setting (esp. based on industrialized, nineteenth-century society) and characteristically features steam-powered, mechanized machinery rather than electronic technology; (also) such writing as a subgenre of science fiction” (OED online). Yet both the OED and the EF entries are only defining steampunk as a literary phenomenon. In neither text is there mention of the art or culture movement, save a passing reference in the OED to post-literary steampunk manifestations such as Wild, Wild West (1999). In an online forum thread, Jeff Vandermeer, science fiction author and co-editor of the Steampunk anthology explains that ““I think the key to understanding the subculture is to realize it did not come to steampunk through the literature. Instead it arose largely independent of it and is closely allied with the DIY culture” (darkfantasy.org). This is not to say that the steampunk subculture owes no debt whatsoever to the literature. In a personal interview at Steam Powered, Jeff and his wife Ann, the other co-editor of Steampunk discussed how the subculture arose from the visual steampunk aesthetic found in films and graphic novels, which themselves were inspired by the steampunk literature. The irony of this situation as Jeff Vandermeer noted, is that the resurgence in steampunk fiction has been driven by this subculture. Consequently, Jeff concludes that there is no way to determine a working definition of steampunk.
Stefan Hantke limits steampunk as a form of alternate history, but notes that steampunk is unique in its consistent interest in Victorianism (246). However, this consistent interest does not result in consistency: “Victorianism, what little there is of it in the conventional sense, appears not as a historical given but as a textual construct open to manipulation and modificafion” (248). Steampunk is not an attempt to recreate the past, or even to perform counterfactual thought experiments. The neo-Victoriana of steampunk is not so much indicative of a narrative genre as it is of a textual or visual aesthetic. Jeff Vandermeer used the terms “Tool box” and “Delivery Device,” to describe this steampunk aesthetic.
It is because of the problematic nature of the very term Steampunk that I was led to suggest that the term  refers less to a literary subgenre of science-fiction, than to an aesthetic which can be applied to different media, plotlines, and even genres. Consider Gail Carriger's forthcoming novel Soulless, which is described as "either Jane Austen does paranormal, or PG Wodehouse does steampunk." Austen wrote romance. Wodehouse wrote comedy. Gail is likely to be classified as steampunk, which will fall short of a full description of her novel.

Perhaps the best term for what Steampunk has become is pastiche. But it isn't a narrative pastiche so much as a visual pastiche. Steampunk fans seem to want things to look a certain way, as opposed to play out in a standard templated plot-line or collection of literary tropes.

At any rate, I come to no conclusions today, simply because this blog is an ongoing investigation. It is one part annotated bibliography, one part virtual sounding-board for those who are interested in the discussion, and one part outlet for my urge to purge through writing.

Works Cited:

Clute, John. "Steampunk." The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New Jersey: St. Martin's Press. (1997): 895-96.

Hantke, Steffen. "Difference Engines and Other Infernal Devices: History According to Steampunk." Extrapolation. 40 (1999): 244-254.

VanderMeer, Ann and Jeff. Personal interview. 1 November 2008.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Weblog comment. 25 October 2008. "Blog for a Beer: Steampunk." K. Tempest Bradford. Dark Fantasy.

Von Busack, Richard. "Boiling Point." Metroactive. 19 October 2008.

Feb 11, 2009

Gaslamp Fantasy, or Steampunk?


I was recently requesting an interview with a science fiction author who wrote a book which has been labeled Steampunk. In his response, he gave the standard dismissal of all who hate the term, Steampunk: "There's no punk in Steampunk." Punk or no, calling it Gaslamp Fantasy isn't going to diminish the popular usage of Steampunk to denote anything speculative, fantastic or fanciful involving airships and anachronistic technology with a 19th century aesthetic. I'll be exploring the possibilities of the term Steampunk (as well as the history of the term) here in the next month, but until then, here's a video I came across on MySpace which captures a lot of the whimsy and nostalgia which draws people to Neo-Victorian, Gaslamp Fantasies...or Steampunk.

Feb 9, 2009

Art Donovan's Shiva Mandala & my Nemo paper

Jake von Slatt posted this incredible image of Art Donovan's "Shiva Mandala" at The Steampunk Workshop. Jake quotes Art as saying the following about the piece:
My most most complex Steampunk work to date with influences of Hinduism, Freemasonry and ancient astronomy. 72" tall x 72" wide. Solid Mahogany, Solid Brass, Glass, Spun-Filament Fiberglass, Plaster, LED + Incandescent Bulbs, Acrylic Resin, Ultra Violet Tubes + Electric Motors.
My own interest in the piece stems from my presentation about Captain Nemo at last fall's Steam Powered Steampunk Convention in Sunnyvale, CA, where I underscored the importance of a more global approach to Steampunk art, particularly Indian, given the Victorian Orientalist fascination, and because India represents the steampunk value of resistance to Empire. Given that the centerpiece of the mandala is a "precise, hand made reproduction of an ancient Persian astrolabe," this image is a bit of serendipity come my way; I'll be presenting my paper on Nemo as original Steampunk, and this piece could serve as a visual interface to the various incarnations Nemo undergoes throughout Verne's works. The statue of Shiva could be his life as Prince Dakkar, which he effectively dies to (the skull in the cage as symbol of Death) and is reborn as Captain Nemo (as symbolized by the sextant-inspried craniometer, which also has Masonic connotations). His descent into the Maelstrom (the blue energy source) renders a second death and rebirth, after which he moves to the center of the mandala, as the benevolent mystery of Lincoln Island, where he finally finds redemption and inner peace (although I argue that Allan Moore's further false death followed by subsequent resurrection is a far more satisfying reading of the end of Nemo and the Nautilus in "The Mysterious Island.")

Of course, this is just an initial read. If Mr. Donovan is amenable, I'd like to use the images in my presentaion, at which time I'll do a more thorough analysis. The point of my paper is that Nemo is a character who is constantly reinventing himself in the pursuit of building identity, which is linked to how Steampunk performativity allows cosplayers to explore alternate identities in the pursuit of their own. As I put it in my paper,

Verne’s original character as embodiment of the essence of the Steampunk hero by virtue of the repetitive cycle of death and rebirth he undergoes throughout this alternate history: a subaltern victim of oppression and freedom fighter against imperial tyranny; the self-made inventor of the spectacular Nautilus, an artistic romantic fleeing a dystopic present into a retrotopia beneath the ocean; and an ecumenical and egalitarian humanist.

I'll be delivering the paper at the Eaton Science Fiction Conference in Riverside, CA in April.

For more information on the Shiva Mandala, go here to Art Donovan's blog, or to Scribd to see a document detailing how it was built.

Finally, a video which allows us all to visit the artwork in a virtual art gallery, courtesy of Vimeo.

Feb 3, 2009

La Main des Maîtres

La Main des Maîtres
Uploaded by -CaYuS-

For your viewing enjoyment, "La Main des Maîtres" is a French short film co-directed by three last year students. In four minutes with a mix of 2D and 3D animation, which visualizes a brief revolutionary moment in the lives of two young workers living in a neo-Victorian dystopia. You can read an interview with the creators of the film here at CGArena.
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