Monday, January 19, 2009
The Steampunk Anthology, The Mythic Roots Of Science Fiction
The volume that has perhaps most defined the current interest in anachronistic science fiction is Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology. The book has a wonderful breadth of vision, from the funny to the somber, from the fun to the disturbing.
The L.A. Time’s review of Steampunk centered on the books mythic roots: “the mythic, romantic roots of science fiction” and while it is difficult to pinpoint the full aesthetic of such a varied subgenre I think that’s an eloquent beginning.
Jeff VanderMeer was kind enough to answer some questions about the anthology and the subgenre in gereral.
Eric Orchard: Is Steampunk a relevant part of science fiction I think the feeling among some in the science fiction community is that this is just a novelty.
Jeff VanderMeer: As an aesthetic, it’s definitely relevant. As a movement, not so much. I can think of no active authors who self-identify as steampunks. But I do think many writers see steampunk as part of their “toolkit” on an aesthetic level. It’s definitely a relevant part of the wider world, though—in the Maker and crafts movements, it’s huge right now, and that energy may in turn create a “third generation” steampunk movement in fiction.
EO: Do you think that there is any value in a romantic, optimistic view of technology that is sometimes seen in Steampunk? As opposed to the science fiction as critic of technology
JV: Yes, there’s always value in hope, if it’s grounded in something real. The nuts and bolts of steampunk nowadays has to do with DIY and sustainable technology—getting back to a time when you could fix your car yourself. True, any car is an environmental threat, but a lot of people feel powerless when it comes to current technology. Being able to find a way to make technology “accessible” again to people isn’t just romantic and optimistic, it is practical.
EO: Do you see Steampunk as primarily an escapist fiction?
JV: Because I believe it’s as much an approach as a movement, it’s hard to generalize. But if I had to generalize, I would say usually it is escapist right now. My story “Fixing Hanover” in Extraordinary Engines was a specific response to that escapism, and in that sense the story is, ironically, given the current context in which it exist an anti-Steampunk story. But the pendulum will swing around again, because of all the new energy coming from places in Steampunk other than the literature. But in the meantime, I think of Steampunk as New Weird’s slightly naive cousin—the one who could get hit with a 16 ton weight and jump up smiling and whistling.