Tee Morris is the co-author of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, along with his wife, Philippa. The fourth book in the series, The Diamond Conspiracy, will be released on March 31, 2015 by Ace Books. You can find him @TeeMonster & TeeMorris.com.
by Tee Morris
3 Signs That Steampunk Has Evolved: A (Brief) History of the History-That-Never-Was
Philippa Ballantine and I have been writing steampunk since 2009 and every so often there is an outcry of the death of steampunk being nigh. It happened in December 2011 when SyFy’s Blastr, Gawker, and Stellar Four all declared it was time to dismantle the analytical engine, box up the boater hats, and put your goggles away because Justin Bieber made a steampunk music video. It happened again in January 2013 when IBM went viral with an infographic on steampunk. We are now here in 2015, on the cusp of the release of our fourth novel in a steampunk series, and I look at our genre, its dust-ups within and outside the community, and find myself coming to the inevitable conclusion:
During my last trip to New Zealand, I had to make an emergency trip to a doctor. I could write an entire post on how awesome this trip was but the doctor himself, an older gentleman well into his sixties and far-removed from the geek circles I travel in, was a real delight. His eye caught the Gelskin of Dawn’s Early Light and Ministry Protocol on my computer and said “What is that? It’s science fiction, isn’t it, but a certain kind of science fiction, yes?” I went to tell him but he insisted he would remember what it was. About five minutes into diagnosis, he stopped typing and asked, “Something-punk, yes?” Another moment later, “Steampunk. Right then, now I can focus on you…” Exchanges like this are happening more and more frequently; mainstream audiences are making these connections through fashion from Prada, grandfathered-films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Time After Time, or television offerings be it the fictional murder seen in the Castle episode “Punked” or the real-life hazards in shipping giant robots as seen in A&E’s Shipping Wars. See? More people know what steampunk is.
2. Steampunk is enjoying success in the entertainment industry.
While the closest steampunk offering we have seen on the big screen in recent years is Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, the genre has found great success in other avenues. In 2013, 2K Games released their epic steampunk video game BioShock: Infinite. This game had been the talk of the video game community, and when it came on the scene, it delivered with relish and gusto. IGN called the experience “…a wonder it successfully hits any of its lofty goals at all. But it does hit them, again and again”, while PC Gamer described the world of Columbia as “…a fascinating and gruesomely fun adventure in a genuinely unique, magnificent place.” Bioshock: Infinite went on that year to win five awards from the gaming industry, including VGX’s Best Shooter of 2013. The following year, an international entertainment outlet unveiled its own steampunk-inspired projects. My family attended one of these productions, Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities, on its opening weekend. Through dance, music, and vaudevillian comedy, Kurios celebrates steampunk through the story of a mad scientist on a journey through space and time in a device of his own making. At its U.S. debut in San Francisco, SFGate hailed it as the “best Cirque du Soleil show in long time”, calling the steampunk setting ‘refreshing’.
It is hardly surprising then that in 2015 we have already seen the release of a new steampunk game The Order: 1886, and have a reality television show called Steampunk’d to look forward to.
3. Steampunk is still being published.
One of the biggest arguments for steampunk’s decline is that it’s just not hot anymore. People aren’t reading it like they did when William Gibson and Bruce Sterling published the The Difference Engine. The storylines of an alternative Industrial Revolution have been exhausted! The romances set in steampunk are plodding along! Right?
Not in the slightest.
Within the same week of February, award-winning author Elizabeth Bear released Karen Memory as Leanna Renee Hieber (an award winner herself) launched The Eterna Files. Before this power play of steamy goodness, Terry Pratchett bid readers a fond farewell with what would be his penultimate book: Raising Steam. Set in his popular Discworld universe, this 2013 title took a fantasy realm of magic and myth into an industrial revolution. Also returning to familiar territory is New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger with her steampunk romp, Prudence — The Custard Protocol: Book 1, set in the world and bloodline of her wildly popular Parasol Protectorate characters. Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin are preparing for Iron & Blood, their brand new epic set in a steampunk universe which preludes the latest book from Jim Butcher. Taking a break from his Dresden Files juggernaut, Jim jumps into steampunk with Aeronaut’s Windlass.
There are still stories to tell in our worlds – stories that go far beyond “Victorian Science Fiction.” Our collected imaginations have envisioned an Industrial Age that brought to fruition theoretical designs like Babbage’s analytical engines, flying machines, and advanced electrical engineering, leading us to wonder how society would react. What would be the impact on a global scale? What would happen not only on a sociological level, but on a political one as well? It is these questions that keep us dreaming, keep us writing, and keep you reading.
Who can say what the writers, creators, and madcap steampunk scientists will come up with in the years ahead? The possibilities are endless, so sit back, get comfortable, and enjoy the show.