Meljean was raised in the middle of the woods in western Oregon, and hid under her covers at night with fairy tales, comic books, and romances…and that pretty much explains everything about her writing after she emerged from beneath her blankets and crawled in front of a computer. Meljean is the bestselling author of the Guardians paranormal romance series and the Iron Seas steampunk romance series.
by Meljean Brooks
A guest post on December 30th seems to scream for a retrospective of the year 2010, or a post offering predictions about the steampunk genre in 2011. Maybe a serious look back on the rise of steampunk, its increasing popularity in the mainstream (hello, fans of Castle!) and what we might expect next year: Will the popularity continue to rise, and more people become aware of its existence? Will steampunk burn out and fade into the relative obscurity of only a few years ago?
And that’s exactly what I’d intended to write for today. I suppose that might be called a “Ghosts of Steampunk’s Past, Ghosts of Steampunk’s Future” post…but I obviously just watched the Doctor Who special, “A Christmas Carol,” and I’m letting the spirit of the season get to me, and so instead of wondering about where steampunk has been and where it’s going, I’m far more interested in the constant, ever-changing present of it, and all of the fun and wonder that includes.
Doctor Who is to blame for that, as well – as is Craig Ferguson, and his awesome little song about the show (If you missed it, it’s here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9P4SxtphJ4) that concludes with the assertion that Doctor Who is so beloved by fans because it features the “triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.”
And the first (or maybe fifth) time I watched that little song, I thought: “Hell, yes. That’s exactly it!” Except I wasn’t thinking of Doctor Who at that moment; I was thinking of steampunk, and how many times I’ve tried to explain exactly what the appeal is – more than airships and gadgets, more than just the adventure. But there, Craig Ferguson summed it up for me in a neat little way: it’s the team-up of intellect and romance, and their inevitable triumph.
How is that not fist-pumpingly awesome?
Of course, steampunk is sometimes accused of being entrenched in the romantic past, and I don’t think that’s entirely wrong. It feels like there should be more tension between intellect and romance in steampunk – not unlike the tension that often existed between the eighteenth and nineteenth century romantic writers and their contemporary scientists – but the notion of science and intellect itself has been romanticized (the thrill of invention! the triumph of discovery! the celebration of the brilliant individual!) so that the tension is all but gone.
I don’t think it’s mired in that romanticism, though. What I’ve read of the genre doesn’t demonize rationalism or rigorous scientific thought (whether the actual science in many steampunk novels is all that rigorous, however… that is a discussion for another day, when I am far, far away.) There’s often a heavy dose of realism running through steampunk fiction – the effects of the Industrial Revolution (in Europe or elsewhere) are hard to ignore, after all – and it’s easy enough to pick out 20th century social and political viewpoints (where hopefully Steam actually tips his hat at Punk). It’s almost like reading a retrospective spanning two hundred years … except that the narrative is set at the beginning of the time period instead of the end, and it’s all speculative.
Steampunk gives us hundreds of years to expound upon, expand, twist, and explore – all through sharp, contemporary goggles. A retrospective of a single year simply can’t compare to that.