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"As a subculture, we are not the spawn of Satan"

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The New York Times profiles the weird world of steampunk,

a subculture that is the aesthetic expression of a time-traveling fantasy world, one that embraces music, film, design and now fashion, all inspired by the extravagantly inventive age of dirigibles and steam locomotives, brass diving bells and jar-shaped protosubmarines.

Whole thing here.

Though the article does refer to the great William Gibson, whose short story "The Gernsback Continuum" is a bona fide steampunk classic, it somehow fails to mention Bruce Sterling, whose own contributions to the genre are far from negligible. Contributing Editor Mike Godwin sat down with Sterling back in 2004 for a freewheeling interview that touched on everything from "Google blindness" to Islamic terrorism. Read it all here.

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  1. I don’t understand a word that was just said.

  2. I sound really old today…shouting out for Hank Williams and then having no effing clue what “steampunk” is.

  3. After what Barry Sonnenfeld did to Wild Wild West, it’s no wonder that people associate steampunk with Lucifer’s offspring.

  4. God-damn but that was a bad movie.

  5. Steampunk is the dumbest subculture out there and I hate that so many tech sites have a fascination with it.

  6. Hmm. The fathers of steampunk were Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter; Jeter coined the term as a joke, to describe some of the fiction the trio was writing. But only Blaylock gets a shoutout in the Times piece.

  7. Really, The Wild, Wild West series predates all of it.

  8. I’d just like to point out that Sonnenfeld is the scifi director equivalent of Brett Ratner. He was a great cinematographer, but he’s a travesty as a director.

  9. I’m not sure I understand the urge to make steampunk into all all-encompassing worldview of way of living, but I do enjoy the aesthetic. Of course, I also long for the days when men could wear fedoras with a straight face.

  10. OR way of living, that is.

  11. . Contributing Editor Mike Godwin sat down with Sterling back in 2004

    Does this make all of steampunk instantly “Godwin-ed”?

  12. The steampunk aesthetic is cool if it’s functional. Sticking big honking goggles with brass gears and screws on your face just to look cool, looks pretty stupid IMHO

  13. The Gernsbeck Continuum was 50s retro scifi visualization – the world beside our own that might have been if the pulps came true.

    You might have been thinking of the Difference Engine, a steam and coal infotech revolution that might have been had Babbage succeeeded in creating his mechanical programmable computer.

  14. Fer cyin’ out loud. I just can’t keep up with every fucking miniscule sub-culture that pops out any longer.

    I haven’t read any steampunk, but the idea bores me to tears just thinking about it.

    Charles Stross and John Scalzi; now there’s some good readin.’ And damn you Peter Hamilton, you pedantic windbag, sucking me into every damn 900-page, mutli-volume novel you write!

  15. I was just thinking that myself, R. Gernsback was more of a tribute/homage to a previous subculture.

  16. Wouldn’t Jules Verne be steampunk by definition.

  17. No mention of China Mieville yet? That’s the only steampunk I’ve read, but quite good.

  18. After what Barry Sonnenfeld did to Wild Wild West, it’s no wonder that people associate steampunk with Lucifer’s offspring.

    Selma Hyack looked awesome in that movie, the rest of it not so much.

  19. I’d just like to point out that Sonnenfeld is the scifi director equivalent of Brett Ratner. He was a great cinematographer, but he’s a travesty as a director.

    I thought Get Shorty was very good, and I enjoyed the second Addams Family movie. Things started to go downhill when he did Men in Black.

  20. The Larklite motif of 19 century European empires going to the moon, mars, and venus was interesting in the 90s, but you don’t see much of it these days.

    There was even an RPG of it.

  21. You are more tolerant than me, then, Jesse. Get Shorty was massively overrated and both Addams Family movies were totally weak.

    At least Sonnenfeld isn’t as bad as Will Smith (hiiissssss), his frequent collaborator. He doesn’t go about utterly destroying classic scifi, he just does it badly.

  22. After what Barry Sonnenfeld did to Wild Wild West, it’s no wonder that people associate steampunk with Lucifer’s offspring.

    Selma Hyack looked awesome in that movie, the rest of it not so much.

    Selma Hayek in a corset – Yes Please

  23. “It’s a new day.”

    And of course, by “new” I mean roughly 150 years old.

  24. I think the steampunk thing gained traction with the rise of the internet DIY community. Gizmos and gadgets fabricated by hand have a tendency to look Jules Verne/H.G. Wells-ish without much effort. That look sort took a life of it’s own.

    But really walking about laser pointers stuck to your goggles and an led encrusted tophat, seems an invitation to be kicked in the balls. I guess this is what happens when you get bored with the tricorder pda and Vulcan ears.

  25. Wouldn’t Jules Verne be steampunk by definition.

    Yes.

  26. I think steampunk is dumb because it simply takes modern technology and ideas and puts a superficial layer of brass knobs on it. It doesn’t explore new grounds, it doesn’t try to explain any complex scientific theories, and it doesn’t use science as a tool to explore the human condition and what it could be like if something were different. It’s crap pulp fantasy.

    JW is correct about Stross and Scalzi, although I would add Dan Simmons to that list as well.

  27. Just testing out my new custom blockquote tag I made using the BB Code Firefox Extension.

  28. WOO-HOO! I rule!

  29. Jules Verne is not steampunk because he extrapolated existing theories about science and technology far beyond what people were imagining in his day.

  30. I thought Get Shorty was very good, and I enjoyed the second Addams Family movie. Things started to go downhill when he did Men in Black.

    I liked MIB. It was kinda cheesy and campy, but that was the point. It’s not a serious movie, but still kinda fun to watch.

  31. A cute steampunk comic would be Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius.

  32. I dunno about a ‘subculture’ or ‘movement’ but aesthetically, this is wicked cool, along with some of the other stuff that guy has done.

  33. Although I concur that Salma Hayek in a corset anything nothing is better.

  34. Is the videogame Bioshock Steampunk?

  35. I think also some people using the victorian design ideas for ‘steampunk’ are actually seeking art deco design sensibilities, like in ‘sky captain and the world of tomorrow.’

  36. I know as much about steampunk as TDR, but it sounds like something hard to distinguish from the emos getting their butts kicked in Mexico City a few months ago.

  37. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics by Alan Moore and I-forget-the-artist’s-name would be steampunk and pretty awesome. Forget the movie.

  38. Pro Lib is correct: Wild, Wild West was the original precursor to modern steampunk, the movie was ok, kinda fun actually.

    The TV show combined the late 60’s fascination with Victoriana (think also of the Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines and just about any other movie in that period with David Niven) and James Bond movies with all that action and gadgetry.

    I loved that show when I was a kid.

  39. The Wild, Wild West was a fun show. Too bad the movie was such an abomination. I actually had hopes for it when I heard Kline, Branagh, and Hayek were involved, but I smelled disaster when they brought in Will Smith. Just so obviously not the right vehicle for him. And a rap song? For a western? What hath God wrought?

  40. Read BoingBoing for more info on steampunk, they do at least one item per day on the subject.

  41. just about any other movie in that period with David Niven

    Was he in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Thought that was Dick van Dyke, maybe that Terry fellow was in there too?

  42. Pro Lib

    Yeah, well it was supposed to be a vehicle for Smith–I assume studio politics was involved. Lost a lot of money too. Still Branagh was pretty good and I’d be happy watching Salma do nothing for 90 minutes.

  43. Really, The Wild, Wild West series predates all of it.

    What I would like to know is how 20,000 leagues under the sea not steampunk…or anything by Jules Verne?

  44. If only that movie had sunk Will Smith, but alas, his Scientologist career kept going, allowing him to abuse both Isaac Asimov and Richard Matheson. Note how he only picks on dead guys?

  45. Pro Lib is correct: Wild, Wild West was the original precursor to modern steampunk, the movie was ok, kinda fun actually.

    Huh? even if you forget the far earlier date of Jules Verne’s work “The Difference Engine” was published in 90′ while the Wild Wild West came out in 1999.

  46. Guy,

    That was Dick Van Dyke, pretending to be English again (or maybe he didn’t do the awful accent he had in Mary Poppins, can’t remember).

    Terry Thomas was the other iconic Englishman (for Americans) of the period and he was in “Those Magnificent Men . .. ” . Niven was actually in Around the World in 80 Days.
    Mixing up my iconic English Stereotypes.

  47. Guy,

    Dick Van Dyke + Benny Hill ? David Niven.

    joshua,

    I think Verne’s work lacked the “retro” flavor necessary for steampunk. As for your reference to The Wild, Wild West dating to 1999, well, my seconds will call on your seconds. As discussed above, the TV series that was sodomized to create the movie came first. It dates back to the 1960s.

  48. …allowing him to abuse both Isaac Asimov and Richard Matheson.

    At least Mike Patton saved I Am Legend a little but by providing the creatures’ growls…

  49. Uh, joshua, they are referring to the original TV series from the ’60s.

  50. Joshua,

    I was thinking of the TV show 1965-69.

  51. Matthew,

    He didn’t do the accent in that movie. He was an American living in England or an English guy with an American accent. Kind of like a French guy with an English accent, or a Russian guy with a Scottish accent.

  52. At least Mike Patton saved I Am Legend a little but by providing the creatures’ growls…

    You fail at I Am Legend.

  53. You mean Omega Man? My favorite part was when Heston shot people. Go to the grocery store, machine gun some mutants. Take a stroll through town, machine gun some mutants. See? Apocalypses aren’t so bad!

  54. Omega Man is so much like my most wonderful dreams, it’s scary.

  55. Steampunk’s OK, I guess, but I’m holding out for Flintstonepunk.

  56. Pro Lib,

    And then come back home to your swank apartment, drink expensive Cognac, and feel nostalgic about the past that was. Oh man, that would be awesome.

  57. Omega Man failed at I Am Legend too, but at least it was entertaining in its own right and took an interesting tack. And yes, Heston driving, seeing a shadow move, and blasting machine gun fire into a building, then wiping out mutants in his garage, is like Christmas morning.

  58. If only that movie had sunk Will Smith, but alas, his Scientologist career kept going, allowing him to abuse both Isaac Asimov and Richard Matheson. Note how he only picks on dead guys?

    According to Wikipedia, Richard Matheson is still alive.

  59. I did like Omega Man better than The Last Man on Earth, but still appreciate both actors.

    I like Will Smith’s work too.

  60. According to Wikipedia, Richard Matheson is still alive.

    For some reason, I thought he was dead. Why oh why didn’t he stop Smith?

  61. See, I’m all fine with nods to past styles in aesthetic formulations. But what struck me as suspect in the Times article is the whole bit about how these Steampunks use the “movement”, if we can safely call it that, to reconcile the ethical turmoil resulting from technological and scientific progress. They mention cloning, communications, and how the world seems so much smaller. They yearn for the world of yesterday when “adventure” was so much easier. The fact of the matter is that adventure was easier because peril was more bountiful, spatially as well as in the more mundane aspects of life (for instance, penicillin was a novelty). This was due to the fact that we had fewer of these so-called ethically dubious advances. So I’m worried that while superficially charming and seemingly innocuous, this whole steampunk thing in its more dogmatic incarnations has a substantial reactionary foundation to it.

  62. obligatory arcanum mention.

  63. At least Mike Patton saved I Am Legend a little but by providing the creatures’ growls…

    I did not know that. Just further proof that Mike Patton is one of the most underrated talents in popular music today.

  64. Fer cyin’ out loud. I just can’t keep up with every fucking miniscule sub-culture that pops out any longer.

    I kinda felt like that after I turned 40.

  65. I don’t know about the “movement” or sub-“culture”, but I do love the asthetic. Both my wife and I have a thing for ArtDeco, and I love the idea of new tech in old, artistic packages.

    For example, a brand new high tech engine in a ’56 Thunderbird body.

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