Steampunk: a history that wasn’t quite. At once both Victorian and Dystopic. A world filled by brass gears, pin-stripe suits, and a steam powered Deus ex Machina.
I’ve been familiar with steampunk as both a literary spin-off of cyberpunk and as a modding community, but only recently – through SteamPunk Magazine – come into it’s aberration as a subculture.
This third issue of SteamPunk Magazine is my first. I found it to be a most delightful mixture of short-fiction, interviews, tutorials, and rants. My preferred rant was My Machine, My Comrade by a one Prof. Calamity, in which he sees steampunk as “seeking[ing] to liberate the machine from simply existing as an instrument of work, while at the same time not elevating mechanical forms above all else… Steampunk seeks to find a relationship with the world of gears, steel, and steam that allows machines to not only co-inhabit our world but to be partners in our journey.” My favorite fiction was Margaret P. Killjoy’s Yena of Angeline in “Sandstorms by Gaslight” which (very much like mine own fiction) seems to go nowhere. It has no direction, and does not leave its reader with a sense of anything being accomplished, which makes it a disappointing first read. But, again and again, I find my mind wandering back to the world that Killjoy crafted and the characters that inhabit them. Ant that, I think, is some element of praise.
A SteamPunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse is a survival manual of sorts, covering basic aspects of shelter, water, and food. It should provide nothing new to the established crazy and serves as no replacement to In the Wake (or any of the works listed in the Guide’s Appendix B), though features thoughts on reclaiming urban resources that are lacking in other guides. But, like In the Wake, it is available as a free download, thus nullifying any excuse to not peruse the contents and keep it as a handy reference. I purchased it partly to support SteamPunk Magazine, but mostly for Colin Foran’s artwork, which provides a wonderful backdrop to the gritty subject of post-Civilization apocalyptic survival. Beyond comparisons to other manuals for outliving Civilization, my main criticism is that of the style of writing. Writers in the Victorian era were much more liberal than us in their use of capitalization, but there was a system. When I read those works, I feel the capitalization adds a certain emotion to the writing. Being a SteamPunk’s Guide, the author of this work (by happenstance, the same Margaret Killjoy whom I praised above) attempted to duplicate this capitalization, but failed. Whether there was or was not a system, it feels arbitrary, and detracts from the overall work. The Guide does present an attempt to emulate that era’s vocabulary, and I think does a good job of that – combining a sense of Victorian grace with modern punk and a bit of wit, for an agreeable solution of steampunk.