Posted By The Steampunk Librarian on November 2, 2010
I thought I'd be talking about some new books today, but I found out that the publication dates have changed and so I'll postpone that subject for a while. In its place: controversy!
When I first considered writing a weblog dedicated to neovictorianism/steampunk, it was around 2003 and I thought that the topic would occupy an incredibly tiny and obscure corner of the internet. To say that the popularity of steampunk these days surprises me is a vast understatement; I had no idea what was coming. (The steampunk librarian idea won out — narrowly — over a weblog based on Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mystery stories; I'd have been equally surprised if that concept had come into vogue and people had begun growing orchids and saying "Pfui!") Now that goggles and corsets are increasingly commonplace, the inevitable backlashes have grown in frequency and volume. The latest kerfuffle stems from Charlie Stross's entry on the genre. Jeff Vandermeer has weighed in, as has Dr. Fabre of the Steampunk Tribune. The arguments are not new to anyone who has participated in discussions on literary genres or subcultures, regardless of one's views on steampunk. Sure, some people are cashing in on the genre's popularity, and some are trying on the trappings as a new identity. These people will, in time, find another avenue. There are others who have felt an affinity for this time and place in history since they were children; that will not change, even if others reimagine the era to fit their own ideas. Cory Gross runs the Voyages Extraordinaires website and avoids the steampunk label assiduously for many good reasons, but in his essay on scientific romances he captures my thoughts rather perfectly:
Nurtured on such tales, we are invited to reinvest in our own histories, to reclaim ourselves. That, ultimately, is the point of this exercise in studying history and creatively adapting it. Neither slavishly recreating it as a lark nor lazily citing an alternate history, but to integrate one's past with one's present. This pleasure helps to integrate oneself in the narratives of history so that they can give depth and breadth to one's present. This works itself through everything from simple aesthetics that refuse to give up the beautiful things of the past to a realization of oneself in one's society and time. In the end, the enjoyment and appreciation of Scientific Romances is very much about today.
(I admit that as a librarian and amateur historian, I am also wildly supportive of anything that leads people to read and learn about the past. I'm kind of silly that way.)
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the League of Victorian Imagineers have opened their "Steampunk: Tomorrow As It Used to Be" exhibition, and it looks like quite the occasion! And WebUrbanist gets in on the trend, pointing out several amazing items in decor and furnishings.