It started out innocently enough. I have always loved the Old American West, and wanted to mash it up with fantasy, in some sort of different backgrop other than our own earth. I figured, fantasy writers do it all the time with the Renaissance and Medieval periods, so why not try it with something more recent?
I didn’t have a name for it at first. But I knew the aesthetic–brass, leather, airships, a sort of perfected industrialism that never quite was.
I can only assume I absorbed the concepts from BoingBoing posts over a period of time, since I’ve been following that blog for over half a decade. And it just seeped right into my writing, struck some kind of chord in me that seemed to make all the right sense.
Soon after I discovered that I was, in fact, writing a steampunk novel, I started snooping around the Internet, searching for inspiration. And boy did I ever find it.
Speaking of the web, chances are you’ve already read Bruce Sterling’s “The Users Guide to Steampunk” on GOGBOT (it’s made the rounds already today from Jake von Slatt as well as BoingBoing, I believe). But the last bit of it really struck me as … well, breathtaking (and especially good props to his mention of Ruskin…).
Steampunk is funereal theater. It’s a pageant. A pageant selectively pumps some life into the parts of the past that can excite us, such as the dandified gear of aristocrats, peculiar brass gadgets, rather stilted personal relationships and elaborate and slightly kinky underwear. Pageants repress the aspects of the past that are dark, gloomy, ugly, foul, shameful and catastrophic. But when you raise the dead, they bring their baggage.
There’s not a lot we can do about the past; but we should never despair of it, because, as Czeslaw Milosz wisely said, the past takes its meaning from whatever we do right now. The past has a way of sticking to us, of sticking around, of just plain sticking. Even if we wrap the past around us like a snow-globe, so as to obscure our many discontents with our dangerous present, that willful act will change our future. Because that’s already been tried. It was tried repeatedly. Look deep enough, try not to flinch, and it’s all in the record. So: never mock those who went before you unless you have the courage to confront your own illusions.
The past is a kind of future that has already happened.