Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Steampunk: A Postscript

I like dirigibles but not steam-punk

Okay, so yesterday I mentioned—just in passing!—that I don’t like steampunk (I prefer the spelling “steam-punk” but “steampunk” seems to be the modern, accepted fashion). I’ve heard a thing or two—all very polite and pleasant things—from people who do like steampunk. So I’m going to talk about it for one more post.

First of all, I don’t actively dislike steampunk. I just don’t actively like it.

I believe I kind of shrug off steampunk because I just don’t think of it as a literary genre at all. I think of it as a trivial visual genre, created by low-budget TV shows (like Wild, Wild West) and low-budget movies trying to create interesting and dynamic visual images by throwing together all manner of set designs and costume designs that don’t have to make any rational sense, but rather just have to look interesting. And steam creates trivial visual tension just by its nature of heat and pressure, as opposed to actual dramatic tension a real writer has to work to create.

In general steampunk is just irrelevant to me. I like the visual images as much as anybody, but I like real writing—where a writer tries to create something that is interesting and exciting by the nature of a story’s thematic elements and character interactions rather than superficial visuals.

[sighs] Anyway.


Today will be a kind of two part post.

All that stuff being said about me not liking steampunk, first today I’m going to talk about one visual example of a proto-steampunk story that I’ve always liked. (It is from 1964, which is long before the phrase was coined, but it has all the elements that came to be associated with the genre.) I’ve wanted to talk about this movie, too, because it’s another example—like “Forbidden Planet”—that I loved when I was a kid, but I have difficulty watching now.

And then I’m going to pass along two recent photos and blog links referencing steampunk. The second one, you’ll see, is really why I decided to do this post in the first place.


Look at this image:

That’s from, of course, the 1964 Ray Harryhausen film version of H. G. Wells’ novel “First Men In The Moon.”

The novel was very good, reasonably serious, but the movie is pretty much just fun. And it has almost everything I love. There’s the eccentric but brilliant scientist. There’s the handsome young man who wants to be a writer. And the movie, unlike the book, has a beautiful headstrong young woman who is the would-be writer’s girlfriend.

And just look at the visual: Picturesque wreckage of a beautiful old house. Diving suits up against the wall. Well-dressed people in the wreckage. And, off to the right there, lots of steam. It’s a very steampunk movie. There’s a spaceship in the greenhouse in the backyard. And I love the business of a couple of energetic and focused people taking a trip to the Moon without involving either governments or corporations. It’s just great stuff all the way around.

I have trouble enjoying it now simply for trivial personal reasons: When I was a kid, it was all very exciting to watch the story about a would-be writer trying to make a place for himself in the world and win the love and respect of his beautiful girlfriend. The stuff about the man being a failed writer turning to a harebrained scheme of flying to the Moon was all fun and laughs and excitement. Now, however, as the years have piled up on me, the stuff about being a failed writer desperate to win the love and respect of a beautiful woman is just, to me, well, frankly, tragic. It is, frankly again, too much like a documentary for me to be really entertained by it all. And, very probably, I’ll never get to take a trip to the Moon, so the real life business of being a failed writer is all just too weepy, sad and tragic.

So the movie isn’t as much fun to me, now, as it was when I was a kid. But I still like it. It’s very steampunk, but I like it.


Here are a couple of very cool real-life steampunk things people have clued me in on.

Look at this picture:

That’s not a prop from a Hollywood movie. That’s a part of the Curiosity rover on Mars. [!] Over at a science-type blog called “AstroEngine” the blogger describes seeing the Curiosity rover in real life and falling in love with the beautiful mechanics of it all, and the wonderful steampunk resonances.

So that’s very cool.

But it’s not as cool as this.

Look at this picture:

Over at a pretty-girls-on-bicycles-type blog called “RidingPretty” the blogger posted this image of a steampunk girl from some kind of get-together I think in New York. The post also includes a steampunk bicycle but, yeah, who cares, look at the beautiful steampunk girl! (Look at her hair, she has a rubber duck in her hair. And it didn’t occur to me until I did this post, but I guess that’s a mannequin. [?] Still beautiful, though. And an animated mannequin beautiful steampunk girl would be even more steampunk than a real woman, anyway.)


So there you go. It’s a steampunk postscript. Steampunk still isn’t any kind of favorite thing of mine, but it is kind of a happening thing and it’s been happening for a long time and a lot of the stuff is very, very cool to look at. And people who like steampunk seem to be very, very nice people.

Steampunk: Infinitely more attractive and infinitely more cool than I could ever hope to be.

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