Monthly Archives: December 2012


Why I Love Steampunk

The other day I was thinking about how much I love steampunk. Somewhere in my musings I came across the obvious question: “Why?” “Why do I love steampunk so much?” It then occurred to me I should articulate all the reasons why. Not only for myself, but for my readers. I will have to delve deep into my past… where to begin?

Steam. When I was a kid I attempted to build a steam engine. I was probably around ten years old, and only had access to crude materials. You know, stuff sitting around my dad’s garage or in the trash—empty cans, containers, old hoses, clamps, nails, wood, etc. I can’t remember exactly what or how I put things together, or even what fuel I’d used to create heat (probably rubbing alcohol). It didn’t work, needless to say, but I was fascinated with steam power at an early age. There is something so ephemeral about steam. A seemingly delicate substance, yet one possessing so much potential power!









Perhaps, in today’s industrially polluted environment, the idea of a pristine, non-toxic fuel source has even greater appeal than when it was originally invented. Why don’t we have steam cars? Is it because the old Rockefeller empire wouldn’t make enough money selling oil and gasoline? And because that wealth is so integrated into our society, our entire economy would collapse? If so, the problem is similar to wood products, specifically paper. Do we need to continue chopping down all the trees in the world, destroying our biosphere, obliterating our own oxygen and atmospheric purification systems so that loggers won’t lose their jobs? What good will their jobs be if we all die from lack of air?

Antiquity. I confess, I don’t dress up in “steampunk” garb or wear nouveau Victorian clothing. But I do love antiques. When my wife and I are traveling, we can barely resist driving by an antique store. You never know when you might stumble upon a treasure or two. I own a one hundred and fifty year old rhinoceros foot that I bought in New York City some time ago. The “foot” has a nice silver and black, hinged lid, and is hollow inside. I use it to store small treasures. Now, some people come into my office and are appalled to see a rhino foot. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, how I could keep such a thing? After all, some poor creature was killed for his foot?! Well, I found the bloody thing in an antique shop, and figured it was long dead. The least I could do was give it a fine home. Which I’ve proudly done for many years now.

I also like antique furniture and especially antique toys. I love the naïve art and design found in those old play things. I love the care taken to create elaborate patterns and carvings in cloth and wood—skills that blossomed when time was slower. Yes, time has not always moved at the rate it does today. Extraordinary detail was chiseled from Renaissance marble sculptures only because time was much, much slower.  The artist could take his time. Because he had more of it. He did not live in a multi-tasking, high-stress environment where he barely had time to answer an email. Maybe that’s another reason I love steampunk. It harkens to an age when we had more time.

Color.  It seems any imagery to do with the Victorian era must be sepia tone. The tonal range to express that era is monochromatic. Everything is rust-colored. That’s cool. That’s an artistic statement. Look at the coolest motion pictures, mostly independent films—the best ones are monochromatic in tone. The colors are muted, earthy. They don’t pop out in garish fashion. They’re more like the colors of nature. You rarely see bright reds, blues, oranges in the wild unless some animal or flower is trying to attract a mating partner. There’s a hipness about a sepia tone, or muted, monochromatic color scheme. I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s ongoing backlash to “Technacolor,” that range of in-your-face circus colors that were so touted when color TVs first came out. Long before my time, of course.

Invention. Somehow, remarkable inventions or fantasies can be more credible if they’re set in a past era. Jules Verne’s “Nautilus” just wouldn’t work in a contemporary setting. It wouldn’t have the charm and magic it does as a Victorian contraption. Hot air balloons or dirigibles are just not as interesting in the modern world. Neither are robots or rotocopters. But in the 1800’s, such things were still imbued with the fantastic. The awe-inspiring. It’s easy to imagine people gaping in wonder at the first steam engine. But today, even the most incredible technology rarely garners long term interest. Advanced technology is commonplace now. In Victoria’s day, it was still new. Exciting. Different. Magical.

Science. The Victorian era was clearly an era of great, scientific breakthroughs. Discoveries made during that time laid the foundation for our modern world. The telegraph, telephone, phonograph, light bulb, microphone, sewing machine, Pasteurization, cures for tuberculosis and cholera, the Periodic Table of Elements, photography, steam engines (of course), and many more. The time was ripe for all manner of breakthrough discoveries. So today, when we (fantasy writers) make up even more devices, machines, philosophies, and contraptions, it is somehow more believable that these things could have actually existed—in some alternate Victorian universe.

Geography.  Lastly, in the Victoria era, there were still unexplored territories on the planet—lands where magical and mysterious things might still be occurring. Lands like The Lost Isle of Perpetua. Need I say more? There were still unexplored jungles. Entire unvisited continents of ice. Mountains to be conquered.

I don’t want to over-glorify all things Victorian. Nor do I wish to demean the many positive aspects of our modern world. Of course, the 21st Century is a fantastic era of astounding technology, comforts, and excitement.  But is there a certain innocence to be found in the past? Can we (figuratively anyway) turn back the clock? Restore the environment to its pristine beauty? Without the pollution, toxins, and carcinogenic growth hormones in our meat? Can we retrace our steps to an age where greed is shameful instead of glorified? Can we discover a time when respect for our planet takes priority over just about anything else? Could we establish a common awareness that without our Earth, none of us would be here?

Spirit. I almost forgot this one. It came to mind while standing in my kitchen this morning watching my tea kettle boil. It was whistling and sending gentle clouds of steam across the stove and countertop. I thought, how lovely. Those clouds seem to have lives of their own, surrendering to some mysterious journey. Do they know where they’re going? Do they care? What happens to them when they finally disappear? After they’ve seemingly traveled right through the wall. Do they enter other dimensions?  Are they water spirits who will return to some divine region of the universe? To come back some day as rain? To rejoin the oceans of the world? And watch the fish swimming through their bodies? Wow, water spirits, I thought, have pretty exciting lives. By now, you’re thinking I’m touched. But, hey… I write fantasy! This is how my mind works. I can’t help it! 

To Conclude: Will steampunk save the world? Will fanciful reflections of yesterday lead us to a brighter future? I’m not sure. I read everything steampunk I can get my hands on. I just wish there were more truly great steampunk novels out there. I will try to add to the list, rather than diminish it. I will write with passion and love for the art. I suspect my roving fingertips will dance across my keyboard until my dying breath. Until then, I’m glad to be part of steampunk. I’m happy have you on board with me. Thanks for visiting.

P.S. If you share some of my sentiments about Steampunk, or have ideas of your own, please post below! Thanks!

Privacy Statement