Review: Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions / Author: Brian J. Robb / Publisher: Voyageur Press / Release Date: Out Now
Steampunk – love it or hate it, it's everywhere, like that red weed in The War of the Worlds. Who would have thought that what was once no more than a niche literary subgenre created by some quirky Californian sf authors with a love of foggy Victorian London would grow into the pervasive influence on popular culture it is today? High time, then, to treat the subject to a lavish guide. Fstttt! Dammit! Sprung a leak in my steam-driven typewriter! Someone pass me a spanner!
The problem with this particular effort, though, is that it's presented as an “illustrated history”. What with Steampunk being only 25 years old, warning bells ring, and sure enough prepare yourself for some heavy front-weighting as artful bodger Brian J. Robb works hard to give the newbie genre some kind of lineage. No even vaguely Steampunky book or film is safe: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang “does feature Steampunk touches”, we learn (uh, okay, going off Steampunk now), and David Lynch's The Elephant Man is “a Steampunk approach to a real-life story” (Or maybe that should be Steamtrunk? Anyone? I'll get my frock coat.) And how's this for an assertion: “A century of films featuring Steampunk (starting with Melies) climaxed at the millennium with the Will Smith-starring Wild Wild West”. Climaxed!? Glad it was good for you, Brian. It did nothing for us. Meanwhile, many of the current luminaries of the genre are skimmed over with what feels, by comparison, like indecent haste. As for gamers and those into the lifestyle culture (and who isn't into knee-boots festooned with buckles and straps, pimped out pith helmets and corsets covered in cogs?), they're bound to be rather underwhelmed by the skimpy and/or waffly coverage afforded these topics.
On the plus side, there are gracious tips of the bowler to Steampunk's founding trio, Powers, Blaycock and Jeter, a decent bit on graphic novels, a nice tribute to Michael Moorcock, whose Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy is a much-loved genre wellspring, and some fun pictures, including one of a rather sad Steampunked Dalek with a brass funnel poking out of its rear (the indignity!). Also, Robb enthuses engagingly over several easy-to-overlook TV shows, such as the original Wild Wild West, CBC's Secret Adventures of Jules Verne and its sequel The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (both of which have jumped to the top of this reviewer's must-see list) and the artefactelicious Warehouse 13. Not a total train wreck by any means, but unlikely to make your brass goggles mist up with glee.