Monday, January 14, 2008

Steampunk - to steam or not to punk?

I found - well "found" is a bit of a fib, I was actually Google-alerted to the existence of this post... anyway - I was alerted to this interesting and most excellent article by S.F.Winser upon the humble topic of "steampunk", which included a brief mention of my own work.

Now, previously I would have reacted with a little heat to someone lumping MBT into the steampunk genre because by my own definition of the term, MBT has neither steam nor magic crammed together in that wonderfully uncomfortable manner that is a hallmark of the scene (such as in Mr Mieville's wonderful world). Neither is the Half-Continent and the lands about a Victorian world (as sooooo many keep mistakenly identify it - I defy anyone to show me evidence of the wearing of tri-corner hats in Victorian England, except perhaps by the most rustic) - no it is as, I have conceived it, Georgian, Hanovarian and a wee bit of the Enlightenment too.

Yet if you take Mr Winser's definition: "Steampunk comes from a time when a scientist could make anything in his basement. It might be something clunky-looking, it might be something beautiful - but dammit it would look interesting and it would work..." then, by the precious here and vere! it IS most certainly steampunk, through and through. Some of my earliest writings upon the H-c and beyond were of benighted laboratories where mad dabblers concocted wickedness to let loose on the ignorant world, and people would disappear to end up as parts in a some thrice-wretched experiment.

So steam the punks I say, though maybe go easy on the steam and invite some frock-coated folk along instead.

(I must confess I quoted Mr Winser's article without permission - I hope he does not mind, it is done in the spirit of conversation. If you do mind, sir, I apologise and humbly ask you if I might use this quote...)


matt bacon designs said...

Happy New year to you.

I didn't even know the term "steampunk" exsisted. That's just another reason why I stop by here. The educational value:)


madbomber said...

gday mate,

I'd hardly classify the HC as steam-punk its more sci-fi than steam punk. What with all the wierd scientific elements. More chemistry than tinkering and creating with junk.

BTW your word game was too easy.
Your score is 100% (5 out of 5). Congratulations! Well done!


LankySam said...

Mmm, I totally agree, 'steampunk' doesn't exactly fit with MBT, except perhaps with the era (as in the age of flintlocks and stuff). I reckon they'd need to create a new definition especially for MBT. Perhaps something along the lines of chem-o-punk... ':P ... I dunno.

Anyway, Happy New Years DM (I know it's a bit late, but better than never), hope this year turns out to be even more successful than the last! :D

Drew said...

Have to admit, tricorn hats put me in mind of the American Colonial period, which may not be your intent at all, DM.
Don't know that I'd classify MBT as steampunk but I DO put the Half-Continent alongside Mieville for a post-modern fantasy setting (just one quite a bit before the true advent of "steam"). I suspect the H-c could evolve into a steampunk world eventually but it's more pre-steam than anything else.
Of course, I'm just letting the stream of consciousness carry me along this morning.
Hope all is great!
BTW, would you be interested in doing an interview for SFRevu on LAMPLIGHTER?
all best!

Zee Oddwyn said...

I'm happy to say that 'steampunk' never once entered my mind when reading your book. I felt, like Drew, that it was definitely more a post-modern fantasy.
Maybe a bit like "His Majesty's Dragon", which takes place in the Napoleonic era? At least, that's what the illustration of Fouracres reminded me, but I'm no history buff.
Either way, it's a wonderful book, and I can't wait for the next one.

Sylvenger said...

It's funny, but I just saw a documentary this morning called "Prophets of Science Fiction" which discussed the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. It was really quite fascinating to see how much their writings influenced 20th century science or at least gave inspiration to those scientists. Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" should really be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy, as his story so closely paralleled the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

Who knows, perhaps MBT will one day inspire geneticists to make real "lahzars" who might somehow have the electric eel's abilities grafted into their bodies, or a bear's super sense of smell, or even a bat's echo location. It's certainly fun to think about and I'd probably be the first person in line! I'll be in the line to have USB ports installed in the back of your head too. =)

Tara said...

Thank goodness that's all cleared up! The term was driving me crazy.

Now if only I didn't have to wait until April for Lamplighter.

Eliot said...

Oh now, "steampunk" was one of the first things to jump into my head when I read MBT---I think people have a mistaken idea of what steampunk is really all about! Sure, the costumers out there will insist that "steampunk" must include something very Victorian. I take a much broader view. Some bit of technology seemingly rediculous and not relying entirely on electrical or gas workings (or seemingly relying on no powersource at all, gastrines, sthenicons), accepted as everyday and never explained, nor needing to be explained but the most important factor is that it looks and sounds neat. ;) Gears and cogs and brass need not make an appearance.
It's more of an overall feel the story gives, to me, really.

I prefer copper anyway.

MooseGuy said...

Sorry, madbomber, but I would have to disagree with you completely about HC being science fiction. Science fiction, in my opinion, should be at least scientifically plausible, whereas many elements of the HC are simply impossible, at least in this reality.

But, seeing as there seems to be little actual steam or clockwork-based technology, at least in Foundling, steampunk doesn't quite fit either.

So, really, gaslamp fantasy, a slightly different subgenre Mr. Winser mentions in his essay is, again in my humble opinion, the best option.

D.M. Cornish said...

What great reading this all is!

Revolutionary USofA is a good sense of period setting of sorts, Zee Oddwyn. If I were to be vulgar in rendering down the world of the H-c I would say it was 18th century European history with monsters thrown in. Of course, there is more to it than that - but I certainly do not have Victorian OR medieval periods in my mind (where folks get the idea MBT is medieval from I do not know...)

I do not know what to call it. Chem-o-punk is on offer (thank you, Lankysam) and gaslight or gaslamp fantasy has its appeals, though you'd be struggling to find a gaslamp in the H-c. My various publishers have been a little stumped how to define it, just as I am a little lost for words trying to sum MBT up when asked.

Speaking of which, yes Drew, I'd be happy to do an interview for Lamplighter.

So Sylvenger, what would you plug into this newly installed USB port then? What does on install into their frontal lobe USB these days anyway?

...And sorry, Tara, if I could make it April I would - but then I'd miss out on much needed Book 3 writing time (plus I have not finished painting my wife's portrait for her birthday).

Sylvenger said...

"If I were to be vulgar in rendering down the world of the H-c I would say it was 18th century European history with monsters thrown in. "

Sorry, I didn't comment on the genre debate before, but 18th century France is what I had in mind when I read it. The tricorn hats, long coats, muskets and sous all pointed me in that direction. Although, as you said, it is quite a bit more than that. You've taken the familiar and mixed in many things we've never seen before to create a world that we might feel comfortable visiting, but alien enough to keep us on our toes.

I think for me, that's really what made Foundling such a good read. It was something new in a literary mine field of "sword and sorcery", Tolkien clones that tend to blend together in my memory. Whether MBT is steampunk, chem-o-punk or chipmunk, I don't really care. Why must everything be classified? I'm going to put it in the "Mad Monster Mayhem" genre and leave it at that. =)

As for my USB port, I'll be needing it to keep up with video game technology! I've been an avid game player since "Pong" and the games just keep getting faster and faster, and I'm getting slower and slower. Although, whenever I've found a good game, I "forget" how to read and all my books fall to the wayside. Rather insidious if you think about it. Books are still my favorite form of escapism though... at least until they stick me in my virtual reality pod at the old folks home.

femina said...

I had a heated debate with my housemate about whether you could apply 'steam punk' to the HC. I argued that you couldn't, based on my understanding of the term, because the 'technologies' were largely organic, not clockwork / steam / or even gaslamp (although I feel more comfortable with that term despite the lack of actual gaslamps in the HC). The debate continued for some time but he was forced to concede defeat when it transpired that... he hadn't even read Foundling; he was simply relying on my decriptions! Fun debate, though... even though it may have forever marked us both as nerds....

madbomber said...

Mooseguy I didn't say I thought HC was sci-fi only that I think its more sci-fi than steam punk.

Genetic engineering is a plausible excuse for the abilities seen in the HC after all.

Science-Fantasy is the best descriptor I have.


MooseGuy said...

Sorry, I must have misinterpreted your post. Never mind.

MooseGuy said...


What about gastrines? Muscles that live without a body? I don't think that's even plausible (but i could be wrong). And wits? Telepathy, as far as I know, just couldn't work.

These links might help:

Tara said...

Mr. Mooseguy
Scientists in Minnesota made a pig/rat heart in a lab.
(Oh, us crazy Americans!)

I"m not going to reconstruct my lost post, but let's just say the whining gods heard my, er, prayers. I just grabbed a review copy of Lamplighter that our book editor decided not to read.

MooseGuy said...

Wow. That heart thing is actually pretty amazing.

Okay, I've been proved wrong on that front. Does anyone have evidence for telepathy? Or perhaps I've gotten confused about the exact nature of a wit's powers?

Maybe I should just let this drop before I say something more stupid than I have previously. Yeah, let's go with that. I still don't think it's science fiction, nor science fantasy, nor steampunk, but really it doesn't matter one bit. There's no point in me being divisive. Or, you know, trying to force my opinion, even if I can back it up. Sorry.

D.M. Cornish said...

Loving these posts!

Tara said...

You've actually made good points -- they just don't always apply in the context. Don't go all silent on the subject.

I'm loving Lamplighter. Can only just barely wait for the final copy to arrive here.

Drew said...

We'll set something up. Luckily we have some time to get things arranged; I hate having to set up interviews last-minute.
Looking forward to talking further-