Lauren Westwood is graduate of Loughborough University’s MA in Creative Writing and was a project intern for the Writing Industries Conference. She is a young writer with a passion for SF and Fantasy, but had never heard of steampunk until accepting my challenge to review the Steampunk Reloaded anthology. Here she gives a fascinating insight in to how the genre seems to an outside eye.
edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
reviewed by Lauren Westwood
I’ve grown up on a diet of Star Wars – I feed the habit often, unashamedly and without judgement. When it comes to being flung into galaxies far far away, I can’t get enough. But science fiction literature, it seems, is now an altogether different cauldron of aquatic vertebrates.
I’m interested sure, but I’m also the first to admit that I know next to naff all about it. Recently I’ve dipped an inquisitive big toe in the pool by sampling some Philip K. Dick; a name I’ve come to associate with ‘master’. But I’ve arrived at ‘soggy socks’ having only briefly paddled. To properly understand the genre I’m going to have get wet.
So, I’ve waded in with Steampunk Reloaded. I scroll along the list of names on the cover, a few of which I recognise. When I say ‘a few’, I mean it in the pure, unembroidered sense of the word. No recollection of the countless other names lining the page appear to be scrambling from the memory bank. Gibson. Baxter. But that’s it. So, where do I start? A vaguely familiar face or a stranger from the unknown? In the end, I opt to begin at the beginning.
What the heck is steampunk anyway?
Luckily, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, the architects of Steampunk and its sequel, are on hand to help explain. Modern steampunk, it appears, has derived from the Victorian fantasies which drew heavily from the steam-powered inventions that defined the period. I’m picturing a mad professor dreaming up his latest contraption over a mug of steaming PG tips. Although it’s possible that there’s slightly more to it…
Correct…And I’m only in up to my ankles!
William Gibson kicks things off with The Gernsback Continuum and doesn’t disappoint. The interconnecting realities of the alternate history he invents for 1930s America reveals that steampunk isn’t restricted by its Victorian roots. Instead it’s made relevant and resonates with a reader intrigued by new visions of a future that never was; I’m hooked.
Steampunk Reloaded offers a tangy taste of the genre; fab, retro illustrations set the ol’ cogs of imagination rolling in reverse and easily-digestible chunks of captivating fiction are crowned by a couple of essays about the culture itself. In identifying the connection between style and literature, steampunk author, Gail Carriger, asks Which is Mightier; the Pen or the Parasol? Here she refers to the fashion of steampunk, ‘the buttoned up brass beauty of old tech and new ideas’; an aesthetic concept that harmonises entirely with the overall design of Ann and Jeff’s anthology. It’s a work of art!
Having splashed about a bit, I’ve learned that steampunk is one of sci-fi’s many appendages, but it’s not a lifeless limb by any means. Alternate history, speculative fiction, time travel; these all exist under the gargantuan gazebo of literature that pokes and plays with known reality, and steampunk nestles in nicely, holding its own as a valued member of the gang. As the Vandermeers testify, the sub-genre is ‘alive and well and manifesting in a myriad of different ways’, and this collection demonstrates exactly that.