All Aboard for the Moon on Simpson's Electric Gun - The following article appeared in the July 12, 1908 edition of the San Francisco Call newspaper. Not unlike modern science journalism, a relatively modest ...
5 days ago
Verne’s novels had been speculative when they first appeared, and many of them remained so for nearly a century. They were adventure stories, yes—but built almost entirely around elaborate prophecies of future technology. When those prophecies were fulfilled (as they were in the case of books like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days) Verne’s novels didn’t seem futuristic anymore, or even quaint as they do to us today, but simply dated… hopelessly dated, and about as dated as any book could ever hope to be. Some of them languished in this condition for over 40 years—just old-fashioned Victorian curios, brick-a-brack on the shelves of literature’s antique store. But by the mid-1920s these books were passing into a new phase, a state of being wherein the very datedness itself had acquired a fascination. And this was the genius of the stroke: I think we can say with confidence that the producers of The Mysterious Island were the first filmmakers in history who’d ever dared, with a breathtaking flash of invention, NOT to update a hopelessly out-of-date book. They took Jules Verne’s daring predictions about the day-after-tomorrow and turned them into something else entirely—into a huge, elaborate alternate universe story. They created a 19th century of the imagination, where British Imperialists reached the Moon 75 years before Neil Armstrong, and electric submarines prowled the deep while Buffalo Bill was still prowling the West.Unfortunately, despite a pair of novel sound sequences, the film was a failure at the box office. It would be many years before another one of these deliberately Retro-Victorian Scientific Fantasies graced the silver screen. In the mean time, only a handful of films made any attempt in that direction, such as the period-set Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) with Bela Lugosi, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) with Boris Karloff and King Solomon’s Mines (1937) with Paul Robeson.
Zeman lets out all the stops. This is a live-action black and white movie — but it uses every camera trick and every form of animation known in 1958... Methods include stop-motion, paper cutout, drawing and painting animation, drawn foregrounds and backdrops, dissolves, miniatures and models, double exposure (probably in-camera and superimposition), still images, traveling and stationary mattes — they're all here. There were at least eight people watching; someone yelled out at one point "There are at least seven different things going on in this scene!" (I counted eight.) And all this before the invention of blue screens!... There are lines drawn on sets, and even on people, to keep the original steel-engraving feel. The scenes of ships of the water have been treated with some sort of light, striped screen (probably cloth, probably double-exposed) that makes the moving waves of real water take on the appearance of the engraved lines in a 19th century drawing of the sea. There's a scene of a train coming down a track — the train is drawn; the wheels and the tracks are animated; the (real) engineer stands on an open platform in the engine's cab and (real) people lean out of the (drawn) passenger car. (It's so simple and powerful it takes your breath away.) Actors walk through back-projected sets; at the same time they're walking behind animated full-sized paper cutouts of spinning flywheels and meshing gears, all this in front of a painted set in the middle-background. For maybe five seconds of screen time. There's a scene of an animated shark attacking a real diver in a model set with painted water.This masterful mix of animation techniques resulted in films that not only brought Verne to modern day audiences, but looked like an original illustration from his novels come to life. Zeman has often, and rightly, been referred to as the heir of Georges Melies. Like Melies, Zeman did not create Science Fiction... He recreated genuine Scientific Romances.
Dear Locus,Michael Berry, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1987, confirmed it:
Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I'd appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it's a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in ‘the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate’ was writing in the ‘gonzo-historical manner’ first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.
Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steampunks,’ perhaps...
Jeter, along with fellow novelists Tim Powers and James Blaylock, seems to be carving out a new sub-genre of science fiction with his new book. Whereas such authors as William Gibson, Michael Swanwick and Walter Jon Williams have explored the futuristic commingling of human being and computer in their ‘cyberpunk’ novels and stories, Jeter and his compatriots, whom he half-jokingly has dubbed ‘steampunks,’ are having a grand time creating wacko historical fantasies.This antiquated reimagining of Cyberpunk set 100 years in the past rather than 100 years in the future had its antecedents in the works of Ronald Clark, Christopher Priest, Philip Jose Farmer and Michael Moorcock. Moorcock's 1971 The Warlord of the Air began charting the territory, followed by his sequels in the collectively titled A Nomad of the Timestreams. Harry Harrison's 1972 novel A Transatlantic Tunnel Hurrah followed suit, as did comic writer and artist Bryan Talbot with The Adventures of Luther Arkwright in 1972 (to which he returned in 1999's Heart of Empire) and a stint on Nemesis the Warlock in the mid-1980's. Philip Jose Farmer introduced his "Wold Newton Family" - a pastiche that linked a good number of Victorian and Pulp characters to a fictional meteor impact at Wold Newton - with the pseudo-biographies Tarzan Alive in 1972, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life and The Other Log of Phileas Fogg both in 1973. As early as 1967, during the Atomic Age of Retro-Victorian film, historical biographer Ronald W. Clark drew many of the figures he wrote about into an alternate reality tale of a 19th century atomic bomb in Queen Victoria's Bomb.
There is no getting away from the man who invented steampunk. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) may not be mentioned by name anywhere in The Anubis Gates (1983), but his shaping presence can be felt everywhere in the populous chortling shadows of the London of 1810 to which the twentieth-century hero of Tim Powers's time-travel fantasy travels, never to return. It does not much matter that Powers sets his tale in a time Dickens could never have directly experienced, and of which he never wrote, because novels like Oliver Twist (1837-1839), which depicts a London not dissimilar to that explored by Brendan Doyle, are a kind of apotheosis of the supernatural melodrama popular at the beginning of the century, so that Dickins's Fagin and Powers's Horrabin share a common source in gran guignol. Similarly, the Gothic fever-dreams of such writers as Monk Lewis or Charles Maturin can be seen to underpin the oneiric inscapes of the greatest achievements of Dickens - Bleak House (1852-53) or Little Dorrit (1855-1857) or Our Mutual Friend (1864-65) - those novels in which the nightmare of London attains lasting and horrific form, though it is almost certainly the case that Eugene Sue's The Mysteries of Paris (1844) developed the "Mysteries" plot - in which the City becomes an almost animate and deeply theatrical edifice - in a more directly useful and definite manner. For Dickens, that nightmare of London may be a prophetic vision of humanity knotted into the subterranean entrails of the city machine, while for Powers the London of 1810 may be a form of nostalgia, a dream theatre for the elect to star in, buskined and immune; but at the heart of both writers' work glow the lineaments of the last world city.Though Clute teasingly lauded Gibson and Sterling for the "tough job" of "making London in 1855 worse than it was in fact", he and his Encyclopedia of Science Fiction co-author Peter Nicholls picked up very early on the fact that there has always been a strain of nostalgia to Steampunk. The gilded fairyland of our ancestors which Walt Disney banked on was still present beneath the layers of Dickensian soot and grime. Clute continued:
Between Dickens and Powers, of course, much water has flowed down the filthy Thames. Between steampunk - a term which can be used to describe any sf novel set in any version of the previous century from which entropy has been banned as a metaphorical governor of the alternate industrial revolution of choice - and the desolate expressionism of its true founder lies what one might call Babylon-upon-Thames-punk. Fin de siecle writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and G K Chesterton attempted to domesticate Dickens's London by transforming it into a kind of Arabian Nights themepark capable of encompassing (and taming) all the strangenesses that an Empire in pullulant decline could possibly import. Even H G Wells was sometimes capable of quasi-Dickensian sentiment (as in novels like Love and Mr. Lewisham ) about the London he more normally wished utterly to destroy. That this enterprise of domestication was deeply suspect, most writers of Babylon-upon-Thames-punk knew full well, and as a result much of what they wrote gave off an air of bad-faith complacency, uneasy nostalgia, weird inanimation. It is from their doomed enterprise (and from other sources as well) that contemporary steampunk authors like K W Jeter and Powers and James Blaylock and others have borrowed not only a vision of a talismanic city, but also (it must be said) some of the complacency and diseased nostalgia of the epigones who thought to tame Dickens.
...Powers has invented a tale of paradise, where entropy lies down with the lamb and the steam yachts always run on time. In The Anubis Gates he has written a book of almost preternatural geniality, a book which it is possible (rare praise) to love. Let us all, it suggests, co-inhabit the Christmas London of Brendan Doyle, and gape like children at the pageant of the world-stage of his triumphs. We do. He is having the time of his life. We join him.Nicholls articulated what this fantastic London signified for Steampunk authors:
...in essence Steampunk is a US phenomenon, often set in London, England, which is envisaged as at once deeply alien and intimately familiar, a kind of foreign body encysted in the US subconscious... It is as if, for a handful of sf writers, Victorian London has come to stand for one of those turning points in history where things can go one way or the other, a turning point peculiarly relevant to sf itself. It was a city of industry, science and technology where the modern world was being born, and a claustrophobic city of nightmare where the cost of this growth was registered in filth and squalor.Tat Wood, writer for the sometimes Steampunk prefiguring TV series Doctor Who, suggested that "Americans, especially in the era of Reagan, believed time and space to be interchangeable and West = Future, hence the genuine belief of American tourists that Britain is still physically in the 19th century." London, and by extension the British Empire and the Victorian Era, was a temporal, historical and physical ground zero at which the Industrial and pre-Industrial ages met, be it in the hordes of former English rural farmers migrating to London or wealthy Londoners vacationing along the mountainous rail lines of India and Canada.
I think Steampunk denigrates cyberpunk merely by it's association with it. Cyberpunk is at the hard end of science fiction, realistic depictions and intense focus on future technology. Steampunk is so much at the soft end it's falling out of the science fiction genre altogether leaking into fantasy.Much literature of the genre - like the acclaimed Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council by China Miéville or the anti-C.S. Lewis His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman - explored the frontiers of "Fantasy Steampunk" in the late 1990's and early 21st century. Joining them was painter James Gurney and his Dinotopia saga, including Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time and Dinotopia: The World Beneath.
The Victorian era was really the last era in which a high school graduate was given the complete set of scientific concepts to fully understand the technology of the age," von Slatt says. "Because of this, 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.This admitted co-option led to a debate between older and newer fans over the extent to which a DIY and Punk ethos was necessary, required or even wanted of Steampunk. The view that they were, championed by "makers" such as Jake von Slatt and Datamancer and media such as Steampunk Magazine, won out in short order and the dynamics of Steampunk as a subcultural movement were regimented.
Steampunk is a re-envisioning of the past with the hypertechnological perceptions of the present. Unfortunately, most so-called “steampunk” is simply dressed-up, recreationary nostalgia: the stifling tea-rooms of Victorian imperialists and faded maps of colonial hubris. This kind of sepia-toned yesteryear is more appropriate for Disney and suburban grandparents than it is for a vibrant and viable philosophy or culture.They continue:
Too much of what passes as steampunk denies the punk, in all of its guises. Punk—the fuse used for lighting cannons. Punk—the downtrodden and dirty. Punk—the aggressive, do-it-yourself ethic. We stand on the shaky shoulders of opium-addicts, aesthete dandies, inventors of perpetual motion machines, mutineers, hucksters, gamblers, explorers, madmen and bluestockings. We laugh at experts and consult moth-eaten tomes of forgotten possibilities. We sneer at utopias while awaiting the new ruins to reveal themselves. We are a community of mechanical magicians enchanted by the real world and beholden to the mystery of possibility. We do not have the luxury of niceties or the possession of politeness; we are rebuilding yesterday to ensure our tomorrow. Our corsets are stitched with safety pins and our top hats hide vicious mohawks. We are fashion’s jackals running wild in the tailor shop.Speculation suggests that part of the reason for this idea was that much of the new audience for Steampunk came from a background of alternative and counter-cultural movements such as Punk, Goth-Industrial, and DIY hobby groups, rather than from a background in Science Fiction and role-playing game fandom (and thus marginalizing, consciously and unconsciously, the latter). However, as a direct consequence of Steampunk gaining popularity as an alternative, counter-cultural movement, it gained the notice of the mainstream media and cultural consciousness. Google Trends, an engine that tracks searches for and instances of a term on Google over time, records an exponential rise in the term "steampunk" over 2007 and into 2008. Steampunk was regularly featured in Wired, Boing Boing, Gizmodo, Forbes, Spin, the New York Times, and other newpapers, television programs and talk radio outlets.
Steampunk is a re-envisioning of the past with the hypertechnological perceptions of the present. Unfortunately, most so-called “steampunk” is simply dressed-up, recreationary nostalgia: the stifling tea-rooms of Victorian imperialists and faded maps of colonial hubris. This kind of sepia-toned yesteryear is more appropriate for Disney and suburban grandparents than it is for a vibrant and viable philosophy or culture.After that initial lob over the bow of what Steampunk had been, they continue:
Too much of what passes as steampunk denies the punk, in all of its guises. Punk—the fuse used for lighting cannons. Punk—the downtrodden and dirty. Punk—the aggressive, do-it-yourself ethic. We stand on the shaky shoulders of opium-addicts, aesthete dandies, inventors of perpetual motion machines, mutineers, hucksters, gamblers, explorers, madmen and bluestockings. We laugh at experts and consult moth-eaten tomes of forgotten possibilities. We sneer at utopias while awaiting the new ruins to reveal themselves. We are a community of mechanical magicians enchanted by the real world and beholden to the mystery of possibility. We do not have the luxury of niceties or the possession of politeness; we are rebuilding yesterday to ensure our tomorrow. Our corsets are stitched with safety pins and our top hats hide vicious mohawks. We are fashion’s jackals running wild in the tailor shop.It is a lot of dramatic talk amidst an overuse of the first person plural pronoun. The flaw of it is in the question of exactly what good has Punk really been to anybody. Where does Punk weigh in the balance compared to legitimate movements in criminal, social, economic and environmental justice? One would be perfectly justified in asking who has really done more good, a million Punk bands or a million black men marching on Washington? A million people "raising consciousness" at Burning Man or a million people organizing to secure universal suffrage and universal health care? Did Steampunk actually gain any viability and vibrancy in the deal?
The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,This same pattern is reflected on a much smaller scale in the development of Post-Punk and Goth out of Punk, and more recently of Emo out of Hardcore. One can only sustain being angry about structures so long before it becomes emotionally and spiritually unsatisfying, or even damaging. After Punk failed, sputtered and died, which it did, it is understandable that the Post-Punks would seek out more dynamic, nuanced and multifaceted experience. Perhaps "post-Steampunk" will be more interesting, and I wonder if "Scientific Romanticism" is as "pre-Steampunk" as I suppose and not a form of "post-Steampunk". Thankfully one suspects that most people identifying with Steampunk have their head on straight about it, keep the objects in context and approach it more as a fun and interesting diversion or exploration of internal emotional and spiritual themes than as a desperately important revolutionary movement. Most are surely decent people, with only the voiciferous few making one sick to their stomach.
Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game
They burst their manacles and wear the name
Of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain!
O Liberty! with profitless endeavour
Have I pursued thee, many a weary hour;
But thou nor swell'st the victor's strain, nor ever
Didst breathe thy soul in forms of human power.
Alike from all, howe'er they praise thee,
(Nor prayer, nor boastful name delays thee)
Alike from Priestcraft's harpy minions,
And factious Blasphemy's obscener slaves,
Thou speedest on thy subtle pinions,
The guide of homeless winds, and playmate of the waves!
And there I felt thee! -on that sea-cliff's verge,
Whose pines, scarce travelled by the breeze above,
Had made one murmur with the distant surge!
Yes, while I stood and gazed, my temples bare,
And shot my being through earth, sea, and air,
Possessing all things with intensest love,
O Liberty! my spirit felt thee there.
The man walked across the desert.Now, some of you may be thinking, "but it's so pulpy!" And you'd be right. But it's good pulp, unlike Unnatural History, which began with the line, "The jangling of the doorbell rang through the echoing space of the entrance hall" (5), and then proceeded to describe said doorbell ringing, rebounding, and reverberating through a massive house. Nothing wrong with it per se...but by comparison?
And the desert destroyed the man.
The sun was a dragon that breathed fire on his neck and his back. Each grain of sand beneath his feet was a branding iron. He wanted to cry, but the desert had stolen his tears. Instead, his eyes wept blood.
In his left hand, he clutched a sash of silk, red stained black with spattered gore. His right hand gripped a sword. The knuckles on both hands were white and straining, almost bulging through the burned skin. He couldn't have opened his hands if he'd wanted to. But he didn't want to.
All the man wanted to do was die.
The wedding had been three days before. (5)
|The male figure on the left has blades under each gun, which had me considering all sorts of alternate weapons - in a world where the Elves reforged Narsil, putting blades on the undersides of pistols seemed a cakewalk. This lead to the idea that the Elves made prettier, more efficient pistols as well. They were the first race to produce repeating pistols with cartridges, not ball-and-powder.|
|What's more steampunk than a bald guy with a really big-ass hammer? He's ready to work hard, and pound the shit out of orcs.|
|This figure and the one below are gun-mages, and it got me thinking about the idea of weapons that could fire spells as bullets. We never saw the actualization of that idea until the very last games, but it was an idea born from looking at the miniatures.|
|This became the outfit for a half-orc character (just having those in Middle-Earth is a testament to how much we altered the secondary world), who was a master of explosives. While he died in a gunfight before we saw the full realization of the concept, the idea of a gas-masked Zorro-like figure had a lot of romance and concepts built into it.|
|What was interesting about this figure is that it gave birth to an idea of a staff with a lightbulb on it, which was a focal character concept later in our campaign.|
|Hero with sword AND goggles. The world took shape through figures like this one.|
|And this fellow, in conjunction with the Gun Mage, got me thinking Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which lead to the development of the Rangers of the North, the Faradrim, into the Gunslingers.|