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The Roots of Victorian Science-Fiction movement, Steampunk, are well and truly American.
Steampunk is a subgenre of science-fiction and is a sibling to cyberpunk. Where cyberpunk is the intelligent yet dour child of science-fiction that melds online worlds with body modifications and computer technology, steampunk is the extroverted one - over the top, loose with the truth, and way too loud at parties. As they say, steampunk reimagines the scientific foundings of the past to create an alternate yet parallel worldview.
The roots of SteamPunk lay in the works of Victoriana: works by such as Robert Louis Stevenson as well as H. G Wells and Jules Verne. To understand SteamPunk one would be well versed in perusing these authors. But, the founding authors of SteamPunk were not by any means English.
While cyberpunk was largely a vehicle of the likes of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, the term SteamPunk was coined by a member of a coterie of writers who were contemporaries of Dick. Not only did they live around the corner from the grandfather of contemporary silver age scifi in California, but as a group they would visit with him and hang out to shoot the breeze. According to James Blaylock (author of The 10 book Narbondo Series, which after the first book are Steampunk novels set in Victorian England and spanning publishing dates from 1984 to 2016.) when questioned by esteemed American scifi mag Locus about what Jeter, Blaylock and their other pal Tim Powers called their particular brand of scifi written in the past , K. W Jeter coined the phrase SteamPunk. His reasoning was due to the groups perceived punk attitude in embracing old “stodgy” literature in stark contrast to the cool, young literary movements of the time. By this stage in their careers, they knew they on to something special, and in their minds the future of science-fiction at this stage was Victoriana.
The novels that cemented Jeters title of the godfather of SteamPunk, are Infernal Devices (1987) and Morlock Nights (1979), the latter retroactively labeled Steampunk. Even though Jeter and his pals had been writing what they thought of as simply Victoriana Science-Fiction for over a decade, by the time Infernal Devices came along Jeter was actively pursuing the establishment of a legitimate subgenre of scifi complete with a nom de guerre riffing on the already well-established cyberpunk subgenre.
Infernal Devices tells the story of George – a Victorian watchmaker who has inherited his father’s shop, though not his talent. A tale of time travel, music and sexual intrigue, Infernal Devices is a true classic and anyone interested in not just steampunk but science-fiction should consider it a must-read.
Morlock Night, meanwhile, is a wild sequel to Wells’ The Time Machine – having acquired a device for themselves, the brutish Morlocks return to invade sleepy old England. (Jeter has established a career and solid reputation out of such sequels: rather then being cold, calculating by-the-books franchise offerings, Jeter’s sequels are legitimate works of merit. As a friend and literary contemporary of Philip K.Dick, Jeter went on to write 3 sequels of Blade Runner’s source material Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.)
Steampunk, a reimagining of science stemming from the birthplace of science-fiction, the Victorian Era, but invented by Americans living the American writing dream has now moved past both cultures and into the global realm. Wiith Steampunk novels and the tropes that get created along with them being established in the likes of Indian writing and african literary culture, it looks like the foresight of Jeter, Blaylock and Powers has paid off. Steampunk is not just a subgenre of science-fiction. It is it’s own future movement.
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