Friday, August 3, 2012

The Politics of Steampunk (Diversicon Panel)

I will be making a post today and tomorrow on panel discussions I am moderating at Diversicon 20 here in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. These are my own reference notes going into the panel. I hope people find them interesting - but if you don't, have no fear. We resume our normal FATE SF programming on Monday. 

"The Politics of Steampunk" panel description: Does steampunk as a genre have a politics? Is it just light-hearted fun? Is it even science fictional? Does it perpetuate or challenge our ideas about science, technology, labor, race, gender, and empire?  John Everett Till, mod.; Catherine Lundoff, Mark Tersteeg               

Steampunk history and definition:
  • Term coined by K.W. Jeter; derived from cyberpunk
  • First creative circle consisted of Blaylock, Powers, and Jeter
  • "The Difference Engine" probably the first big work in the field
  • Wide range of precursors and influences from Dickens and Stevenson, to Baum's Oz, to Wells and Verne, to Moorcock's "The Warlord of the Air"
  • Definition includes some or all of the following:
    • 19th Century setting (often Victorian London, but sometimes U.S.A.)
    • Gaslight Fantasy (e.g., inclusion of fictional characters such as Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, etc.)
    • May play with period popular literary themes ("penny dreadful"), events (Jack the Ripper), heroes and villains (see Jess Nevins' "Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana")
    • Anachronistic technology
    • Urban fantasy elements, period fantasy influences (e.g., ghosts, spirits, werewolves, vampires), horror, detective literature, paranormal romances, erotica
    • May be set in a post-apocalyptic or other world setting (e.g., Airship Pirates RPG and China Mieville's Bas-Lag novels)
    • May also refer to costuming, LARPing, Roleplaying, music
So, does Steampunk have a politics or is it just fun?
  • Is steam powering this, or methane? Steampunk or Flatulopunk?
    • Science vs. handwaves? - awareness of history and science
    • History of SF's development as a field - awareness that not everything here is new
    • Problematic themes re race, class, gender, empire, colonialism, imperialism
Non-Fiction Resources:

Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (1851) was a major influence on Blaylock, Powers, and Jeter and inspired the steampunk they wrote

Frederick Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844)  is another classic expose

The Intersection of Race and Steampunk by Jaymee Goh (aka Jha)

Bryan Thao Worra's blog has numerous posts on steampunk, including efforts to imagine a Lao steampunk

Steampunk Magazine - an online magazine that has also been anthologized; offers fiction, DIY articles, political analysis, reviews, and more


The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and S.J. Chambers (an anthology of art, fiction, and more!)

Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and The Iron Council by China Mieville. The Bas-Lag novels.

Morlock Night and Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter. Just republished by Angry Robot Books.

What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower (2011; Combustion Books) by Margaret Killjoy - a steampunk choose-your-own adventure type game/novel.

Catastrophone Orchestra (2011; Combustion Books) by Margaret Killjoy. Short stories set in 19th C. New York's Lower East Side.

Clementine by Cherie Priest. Visit her Clockwork Century website. A white ex-Confederate woman spy travels on an airship with an African American captain and crew. 

The Bookman, Camera Obscura, and The Great Game by Lavie Tidhar. Srries published by Angry Robot Books. Karl Marx is a character. 

Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee. Fantasy 19th C. European Americans attempt to colonize fantasy Alaska natives. Well-received.

Tabletop RPGs:

Victoriana, Second Edition (Cubicle 7). A system where social class really matters for your character build; problematic treatment of race.

Clockwork & Chivalry. Strictly speaking, not Victoriana or Steampunk. More like Clockpunk. The English Revolution with Cromwell's mechanical warmachines on one side, and the King's Alchemists on the other. Also see their Airship Pirates alt history time travelling steampunk RPG, based on the band of the same name.

Etherscope (Goodman Games). Alt history Victoriana meets spiritualism and cyberpunk head on! Set in a hyperindustrial, gritty version of Manchester, so you know this one is for  the proles - and with a good soundtrack.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to see a mention of Baum's Oz books here, since there is some definite steampunk sci-fi elements in what's normally fairy tale stories, with the Wizard of Oz being quite the inventor, himself.

    Something I've mentioned elsewhere, is the genre accurate being called "steam" punk? It seems to me that steam is only one source of power, with another possibly being clockwork. With either source, it seems to me that the common denominator here is that both power moving gears. Gears make up the machinery, and they are pretty much the symbol of the genre. So, would a better term be "gearpunk?" Food for thought.