Comic Con is a great place to see people dressed as Batman and Poison Ivy, but every once in a while you'll attend a panel that doesn't just show you a sneak peak trailer of an upcoming movie, but actually illuminates. One such panel at this year's San Diego Comic Con was the "Witty Women of Steampunk." Not only did it showcase the feminist side of Steampunk, as advertised, but also provided interesting new perspectives on the geared genre.
Panelist Anina Bennett, who is internet famous for her "accidental hoax" Boilerplate Robot (seriously, you guys HAVE to check it out), talked about her frustration with the limitations that many of her fellow Steampunks unknowingly set into place simply by trying to define it too narrowly. "We never wanted to use the term 'Victorian,'" She explained. "That's very British. There are a lot of different viewpoints in the world. You don't have to look at everything from the upper class British point of view."
Anina pointed up the fact that the period when many consider ground zero for Steampunk, the 1880s, was the very time in history when egalitarianism and revolts against racism really began taking root in most Western societies. Not to mention the explosion in communication and transportation. This was a worldwide paradigm shift, not just centered in the UK.
Kaja Foglio, co-creator of the Girl Genius online comic, bolstered the point that Steampunk is not synonymous with Victorian. "I hardly ever say Victorian to describe my work," She said, "unless I'm explaining it to someone who says 'explain what this is to me in a sentence.' Then I say 'It's Victorian Science Fiction' just to shut them up."
Steampunk blogger Jaymee Goh took the idea even further, arguing that some of the best Steampunk out there isn't even Euro-centric, let alone English. In her own short story, "Between Islands," she imagines a Malaysia that was never colonized by Great Britain. In this alternate history, she takes Steampunk innovations but renames them with specific Malaysian cultural significance. For instance, a flying ship is called a "Lantern Ship," because they resemble the traditional suspended Asian lantern. A parachute becomes a "Silk Fall."
Goh also recommended James Ng's work where he reimagines the Ching Dynasty as Steampunk. The entire world of the past could be reimagined through the lens of alternate history and modified archaic technology, Goh explained. The possibilities are nearly limitless!
All this begs the question: why does Steampunk continue to fascinate? Goh pointed to the fact that Steampunk technology is a respite from the disposable society that now surrounds us. "When something breaks, you can rejigger it. Put it back together."
Anina Bennett agreed, saying "When you throw something away, it doesn't really go away. In Steampunk, things don't get thrown away. Everything gets reused. It's taking the old and making it new again."
With these refreshing takes on what Steampunk is (and could be), we doubt it will ever be a genre that can truly get old.
What's your favorite Steampunk book/story/movie?