Monday, February 24, 2014

It Aint Just About Victorian England Anymore


The Airship Ambassador, Kevin D. Steil turned an idea into a reality, and that's how Steampunk Hands Across the World was born. "Hands" is a month-long celebration of steampunk reaching all around the globe. Through blogs to videos to live events, it's been an amazing adventure forging new friendships with other steampunks from other parts of the world. And that's really what Steampunk Hands Across the World is about.

Jeni Hellum. Photo by Anna Fischer
Steampunk itself might have originated as a British-Victorian form of aesthetic expression, but it has evolved well beyond it's Eurocentric beginnings. For some "purists," they don't like the idea of such an evolution. But for the rest of us, such a progression is inevitable.

I say its evolution is inevitable because the people demand it. As the love for the pure aesthetics and beauty of steampunk spread all over the world, enthusiasts of the genre began to look at their own societies and cultures. After all, the 19th century happened all over the world, right?

Despite the cultural differences of steampunk across the world, there's still many common threads:

1) The exploration of global colonialism. Beyond the British Empire's expansion, you also have French,
Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Germany, Russia, China, Japan, Mexico, Latin/South America, The Ottomans, Persia, etc. The 19th century is the beginning of a truly global society, and with that, there came a lot of societal/political upheaval and conflict.

2) Industrial and technological explosion. The true revolutionaries of the 19th century were inventors and scientists who dared to dream...and being those dreams to life. Gas lighting, steam powered locomotives, electricity, the telephone, the typewriter, the sewing machine...all of these were invented during this time period. And it changed the way the world worked forever.

3) Focus on the PUNK aspect of steampunk. With all the global revolution, there was also a dark side to all this progress. The 19th century also saw a lot of oppression. The powerful became more powerful, and the "punk" aspect of the genre focused on those on the fringe of society who challenged modern conventions. Punk can refer to the downtrodden, the enslaved, or the rebels fighting the powers-that-be for equal rights and opportunity.

Steampunk is taking history and turning it on its head. It's science fiction at its finest, because it relies on the power of "what if."

With the genre moving beyond Victorian England, it allows us to fully explore our own world today. By looking back at history and throwing some of the futuristic elements into the mix, what we're really doing is making statements about our contemporary world in an effort to understand ourselves.

And steampunk can be a bridge to that understanding.

-- Jay Noel

38 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Just think where it can go when you add in all the cultures of the world.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thanks - I've never really understood the basics of steampunk.

Marian Allen said...

Super post, Jay! I'm all excitified!

Matthew MacNish said...

I think it's much better being inclusive with it rather than limiting it to England and English culture.

Jay Noel said...

Alex: Possibilities are limitless!

L. Diane: Glad I could help.

Marian: Me too!

Matt: It not only makes for more interesting stories, it allows people from all over to relate to them.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Love this! And I 100% believe your ideas about the inevitability of this expansion... and the richness it will bring to the genre. Steampunks are already open and creative - this is exactly the kind of thing they seek out.

Michael Coorlim said...

I've had a great deal of fun researching and extrapolating non-Eurocentric steampunk. So far I've used the Lacandon Maya people of the jungles of Mexico and the Ottoman Empire in my series. The next book will focus on the nascent Republic of China. These cultures let me focus on some of the larger-scale geopolitical struggle that puts the 'punk' in 'steampunk.'

Sally-Ann Livingston said...

Your last line really hit home for me! Steampunk is a shared, multidimensional story and it is through stories that we can come to understand ourselves. History (Herstory, Ourstory) provides us with a context that we creative Steampunk types can use as a raw material, honouring those lives past by listening to their stories and hopefully learning from them. We can move beyond, then, with humour, imagination and a deeper compassion for others, no matter where (or when) they live. Are we all not cogs in the same divine machine?
Sally-Ann aka The Navigatrix

Jay Noel said...

Susan: You're right about steampunks being so open. That's why I love this celebration, as everybody has been so incredible in letting us into their worlds.

Michael: I will check out your work. Sounds right up my alley!

Sally-Ann: Yes, we're all cogs in the same machine. Just takes a little effort to connect with others.

Michael Coorlim said...

Jay: Here's a link: http://www.galvaniccentury.com

Robin said...

What I like about the steampunk that I have read (which is limited) is that the writers attempt to use the advances to change the world for the better.

As for moving beyond Victorian England... yeah, I think that was inevitable. Just imagine a steampunk story taking place in the least evolved sorts of places. Iran, Iraq, anywhere in the Middle East women are still not "free" so setting a story there would really put history on its head... and isn't that the point?

I really think this genre is going to take off soon. The day isn't far off when everyone will know what steampunk is.

The Desert Rocks & Intangible Hearts said...

Sounds like poetry....

David P. King said...

Glad to see steampunk is making its way around the world and fusing with its cultures. How cool is it that you have a hand in this, Jay (enjoying your book so far, btw)? :)

Jay Noel said...

Michael: Great! I will visit soon!

Robin: That's a great point. I think the Middle East is a fascinating setting for steampunk. But apart from the cultural upheaval, you bring up how steampunk can also shed some light on women's rights.

Eve: Thanks!

David: Cool! Glad you're enjoying it so far.

M Pax said...

I'm glad it's becoming more multi cultural. That will keep it fresh and interesting :)

Cherie Reich said...

I'm glad the evolution is happening in steampunk. True, I love Victorian England as much as the next person, but it makes it more exciting to introduce other cultures.

Marian Allen said...

Here's your guy:
http://josephrobertlewis.com/

Jay Noel said...

Mary: Always gotta push the boundaries!

Cherie: I do too. I love everything about Victorian England. But it's always good to seek new things outside a genre's origins.

Marian: Thanks. I will check it out.

mooderino said...

I can't think of any reason why steampunk should stay in Victorian Britain, the scope shold be as far and wide as the imagination allows (which is pretty far and wide).

mood
Moody Writing

Christine Rains said...

I didn't think steampunk would stay Victorian British either. I love seeing all the different and original takes on this genre. Have a great week, Jay!

Tammy Theriault said...

now all we need is for you to have the wife model us some steampunk couture! STAT!!

DEZMOND said...

ooh, I wouldn't mind reading a steampunk novel set in my town or country :)

Rusty Carl said...

Well said, I have tended to avoid steampunk because of the eurocentricity it implied. Not that I have anything against the Victorian era or anything, but it feels like a time and place that's a bit over exposed. Now, I am interested in this more global wave of steampunk. It just feels like something newer and with more storytelling possibilites.

Jay Noel said...

Moody: You'd be surprised by how many hardliners are out there. Got into a debate with one just yesterday. He didn't consider anything outside of Victorian true steampunk.

Christine: I'd like to continue to see it evolve...not just as an aesthetic, but as literature

Tammy: Ha!!!

Dez: Funny you should say that....I might be cookin' up some steampunk someday in your neck of the woods!

Rusty: I'm also interested in seeing where other authors take the genre. I'm currently reading a Middle-Eastern-inspired steampunk novel.

Elise Fallson said...

I'm glad to see steampunk spread around the world, that's how it'll grow in richness and creativity. And 'Hands' sounds like one heck of a celebration, how fun it would be to partake in such an event!

Crystal Collier said...

LOVE it! I'm always like squish-huggy-happy when I come across a cultural twist on a familiar genre. It's epic learning about other cultures, and especially when tied together with history and attitude. Here's to the pioneers of this genre!

farawayeyes said...

Great to learn more about this genre. I love the juxtaposition of it. It only makes sense that it has to grow beyond is riots

farawayeyes said...

That should say riots not riots. The sheer innovative as of Steampunk seems to dictate that it would keep
Moving forward and around the globe.

farawayeyes said...

ROOTS - sorry about this I'm working off a 'dumb phone'!

Mark Noce said...

Interesting, I didn't realize the evolution of this genre, but it makes sense. Just like literature, it has to spread its wings to all continents.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

You make me want to write something "steampunk." It sounds exciting.

Chris said...

Hi Jay, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

Mr. Shife said...

Excellent, informative post, Jay. Thank you. I'm one of those who doesn't quite get steampunk but this really helps. Have a good one, buddy.

Carol Kilgore said...

Great article! And boundless opportunities for your imagination to play :)

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zhochaka said...

I'm a little wary of some of the possible choices. Looking at contemporary Victorian fiction, not every outsider is a Kipling, though it's easy to look at his work and see the potential for Steampunk, with railways, telegraph. and steamships hitting India. And there are aspects of India today, hitting the news, that are easy to turn into Steampunk.

But I'm an outsider, and I am no Kipling.

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