Friday, December 02, 2011

The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermere with S.U. Chambers

Steampunk is a fairly new movement within science fiction and fantasy, one that hopes to recapture the hope and whimsey that characterized the very beginning of the industrial revolution, the hope and idea that mechanization and new inventions would be be able to lift humanity up out of the scramble for power and struggle of living a workaday life and somehow make our lives more uplifted and easier, before it became obvious that those same machines could be used to marginalize people, to push them down into the dirt and junk.

To do that, Steampunkers create a world of Victorian-esque gentlemen and Lady adventurers, slightly mad scientists, constructors of mighty machines and airships with as much style as substance. But as for why people get into Steampunk, the answers are as varied as the people who are into it. Some do it for the roleplaying aspects, others as an idea for stories, while others love the style and the look of Steampunk, while others are there to make Steampunk pieces for others, with goggles, rayguns and so on showing a love of this Victorian-esque style mingled with the future as in the rayguns.

The book examines the roots of steampunk, where it arose and when and why. Although the modern day steampunk vision is fairly new, it has its roots in the 1800's and the works of Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells and the incipent genre of science fiction. But reinvigorated by authors and illustrators of the 1990's Steampunk burst back onto the scene, getting people interested in steam-powered technology.

Not all of it strictly about inventions powered by steam, but includes technology involving exposed, often outsize gears and inventions that parallel the creatures we see in nature made over into iron and steel creations that work in a similar fashion to the actual animal. But the movement has gone beyond fiction and drawn art to include (non working) ray guns constructed to suit the Pseudo-Victorian aesthetic, wire-frame goggles that are both enhancing to vision as well as headgear, corsets with exposed wiring and decorations meant to evoke gear-driven machinery and so on.

I found this book fascinating, both about the history and origins of steampunk and the people who espouse it and work to bring their mental visions and creations to life. Places like WETA Worskshop have even had their creations included in modern videogames like Team Fortress 2. But there are places where artists have constructed all sorts of creations at many times larger than life size, just to infuse a place with a sense of wonder similar to how people felt about the future in the Industrial Revolution.

This book has it all, lots of text and tons of evocative pictures. My favorites were spilt between some of the large-sized creations of Steampunk rocketships, the image of dozens of steampunk ray guns, and the images of the types of people who inhabit the steampunk world by choice- all in costumes of their own making.

I loved this book and found it a real hoot to read. I found the pictures amazing and inspiring, and everything about the book added to the overall feel, from the cover to the sepia-tones photos of real life steampunks in costume. And yet there was nothing ridiculous about the pictures, each one was beautiful, awe-invoking or inspiring, and often all of these at once. If you like Steampunk, or just want to understand it, or just like looking at pictures of alternate worlds, you'll definitely want to take a look at this incredible book. Highly recommended.

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