WorldCon 2016: The steampunk explosion


Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Carrie Vaughn, Jeffrey Cook, Laurel Anne Hill (moderator), Gail Carriger, Nina Niskanen

steampunk

Joined in progress …

GC: The term steampunk emerged in the 70’s as an evolution of cyberpunk. The first iteration was dark. Then, steampunk became an aesthetic and finally, humour worked its way in. Whimsy was a reaction to darker iterations. It romanticizes the Victorian era and deals with the class system and double standards of the era. The historical time period was actually very chaotic.

NN: The interaction with class is attractive to both writers and readers. Science fiction doesn’t typically feature a lower class.

CV: The current wave of steampunk is deconstructive.

GC: It’s subversive, commenting on colonialism and class.

LAH: It’s a reinvention of the Victorian age. There was a great excitement then with the industrial revolution and technological advances. People want to recapture the excitement and inspiration of that time.

NN: In Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End [about a man recovering from Alzheimer’s disease who has to renegotiate a world that’s advanced technologically while he was ill], computers have no serviceable parts.

CV: There was an anxiety about science. Frankenstein expresses that fear that we will not be able to control what we unleash.

GC: That was the dichotomy—can technology solve all our problems, or will it cause them?

JC: Rockets were being developed at the time, but the inventor also supported women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math].

LAH: The anxiety about science was a reaction against putting all of humanity into a box.

CV: There was a hope and drive to fix things socially as well. Technology wasn’t the answer to everything. Now there’s an environmental aspect in steampunk and that’s a reaction against our disposable society.

NN: Steampunk has avoided painting Victorian London in a “dirty” light. Historical accounts relate that at times there were seas of horse shit in the streets.

CV: Steampunk outside of Victorian Europe are appearing as a reaction against colonialism.

JC: You can have clockwork in 5th century Japan. You can do a lot within the genre. It’s not just the comedy of manners and history heavy stories. There’s more of a spectrum to be explored.

And that was time.

Next week, we’ll delve into some nifty narrative tricks (with shoe puppetry!).

Sending out a huge hug to all my American friends. Stay strong, speak out, and always, keep telling your stories. Sweet Jesus, we need them.

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