Reviews | Written by Nigel Watson 09/02/2019


Steampunk is not Johnny Rotten in a sauna; that would be a steaming punk. Nor is it a literary genre restricted to the Wild West and/or Victorian London. It does have a specific style and look that features modern technology reimagined through the goggled lenses of the past, but even this is not set in concrete. As Mike Perschon acknowledges, steampunk is a slippery concept that defies an easy definition or pigeonholing. Thankfully he does make a great job of showing how it has spread from being a subgenre of science fiction to influencing fashion, DIY, furniture, jewellery, music, gaming, anime, cinema and comics.

After K. W. Jeter ironically described his own neo-Victorian writings as steampunk in 1987, the expression soon took hold. Mike identifies two waves of steampunk. The first ran from the 1970s to the early 2000s with its roots in the tradition of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and its widespread expression in cinema and novels. The second wave dates from around 2004 when steampunk had a much stronger impact on wider culture and fashion along with further fictional adventures in all forms of media.

Perschon also points out three hallmarks of steampunk: hyper-vintage that evokes the period between the post-Renaissance and pre-digital in fanciful ways, techno-fantasy that features science working like magic, and retrofuturism that imagines the future from the perspective of the past. These features, and the chronological progression of steampunk, are explored in this book that, as its subtitle says, provides “All that’s left to know about the world of goggles, airships, and time travel.”

Rather surprisingly, this movement that is so often associated with counter-cultural anarchy was influenced by a crop of family-friendly adventure movies that re-visited the Victorian scientific romances. These included Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Around the World in 80 Days (1956). It was their restyling of these stories through the lens of the 1950s that helped create steampunk. As this book puts it, these films did not portray “the sleek, high-tech spectacle of most science fiction films in this period... [instead they show] a neo-Victorian spectacle: airships, baroque-looking submarines and spacesuits, menacing monsters of the deep or the deep past. It’s a spectacle of yesteryear, made with contemporary glitz and whimsy.”

This is a very well written and enjoyable guide to a world where the future and past produce a creative burst of steam that powers our imagination to new realms of adventure and possibilities.


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