Friday, March 18, 2005

Peering through the steam at a past that wasn't

Using the U.S. release of Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy as its springboard, the San Diego Union-Tribune launches into a surprisingly thorough examination of steampunk, the sci-fi subgenre that imagines a world -- often, a decidedly Victorian one -- in which modern technology developed much sooner than it really did.

"Steampunk is where my being a Goth, a silent-movie fan and a sci-fi geek meet," said Cory Gross, who operates a great steampunk website that, unfortunately, will quickly exceed its Geocities bandwidth.
If nothing seems punk about English fops in top hats, that's part of the point of the name. It was coined as a play on cyberpunk, the literary movement that took root in the ***'80s as a reaction to conventional sci-fi.

Cyberpunk writers like William Gibson peopled their dystopias with world-weary, nihilist heroes and brought hackers and computer networking into the sci-fi realm.

Steampunk is a kind of reaction to the reaction – embracing retro notions of character and style while retaining cyberpunk's renegade, anything-goes spirit. It might be likened to how the angry, austere punk rock of the ***'70s led to the New Wave of the ***'80s, with its flamboyant fashions and self-conscious romanticism.
In accompanying sidebars, the newspaper points out "cultural artifacts," such as Disney's Tomorrowland, that have steam roots, and offers a list of steam-powered films, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Wild, Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.