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The Nine Novels That Defined Steampunk

Johnathan Sebastian Greyshade has been involved with steampunk since the early days of the brass goggles forum. He and his wife kick started the steampunk community in San Diego California with a series of gatherings under the name Machina Fatalis. They went on to run Chrononaut, a steampunk club night that ran for two years. These days he DJs the occasional steampunk gig but his primary focus the Greyshade Estate where he applies steampunk philosophy to building a sustainable urban homestead.

I’m a librarian by profession, and a scholar by inclination, so when I got involved with the amazing confluence of ideas that was steampunk in mid naughts I naturally wanted to know where this idea of steampunk came from. Most steampunks know little about steampunk’s origins. We are part of a strange phenomenon in which loads of elaborately costumed people call themselves “fans” of books they can’t even name. This is not too surprising since steampunk didn’t become popular as a genre until after it inspired an art and lifestyle movement. The few histories of the genre are too lengthy for most people to digest, but not knowing the basics about where steampunk came from leaves its enthusiasts wallowing in a shallow puddle of clichés . . . (Read More)

Vintage Tomorrows - At Powell's Books Monday March 25th

Hey Portland! Don't miss futurist Brian David Johnson and cultural historian James Carrott at they explore steampunk, a cultural movement that's captivated thousands of artists, designers, makers, hackers, and writers throughout the world. The even is at Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing ​on Monday, March 25th @ 7:00PM. Hey! I really like the model they got for the cover photo!

From Amazon.com:

What would today’s technology look like with Victorian-era design and materials? That’s the world steampunk envisions: a mad-inventor collection of 21st century-inspired contraptions powered by steam and driven by gears. In this book, futurist Brian David Johnson and cultural historian James Carrott explore steampunk, a cultural movement that’s captivated thousands of artists, designers, makers, hackers, and writers throughout the world.

. . .

It's Steampunk Week at Tor.com!

I'm excited and pleased to see that friend-of-SPWS, Ay-leen the Peacemaker, has taken the helm for this year's Steampunk Week at Tor Books blog

With steampunk “hitting the mainstream,” the big question nowadays has changed from “What is steampunk?”* to “Where is it going?” To help address this question, Liz Gorinsky has kindly passed the mantle of Tor.com steampunk curator to me this year. Although this is only a week-long theme, I’ve packed it to the brim with contributions from both established and up-and-coming voices in the steampunk community. I’m especially proud of the diverse range of voices worldwide who offer a look at steampunk from various angles — from Eurocentric to multicultural, artsy to lowbrow, politics to fandom, and everything in between. Hopefully, you’ll have as much fun reading this week as I’ve had assembling it.

The Steampunk Bible

The Steampunk Bible is out! I helped connect Jeff and S.J. with people doing cool things in the movement and I wrote what I hope is the definitive candy tin etching how-to for this book. Our fashion editor Libby Bulloff also contirbuted articles and LOTS of shiny photography, including the best photo ever take of yours truly. 

The Steampunk Bible is the first compendium about the movement, tracing its roots in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells through its most recent expression in movies such as Sherlock Holmes. Its adherents celebrate the inventor as an artist and hero, re-envisioning and crafting retro technologies including antiquated airships and robots. A burgeoning DIY community has brought a distinctive Victorian-fantasy style to their crafts and art. Steampunk evokes a sense of adventure and discovery, and embraces extinct technologies as a way of talking about the future. This ultimate manual will appeal to aficionados and novices alike as author Jeff VanderMeer takes the reader on a wild ride through the clockwork corridors of Steampunk history.

Get your copy today!

Steampunk Fortnight on Tor.com

My apologies for being a bit late with this for Steampunk Fortnight at Tor Books has already begun!

Last year at around this time, Tor.com was deep in the throes of Steampunk Month, our first attempt to focus on a specific topic for a short period of time and see what we could say about it. A year later, steampunk is still hunting for the tiniest glimmers of recognition within mainstream culture. Whereas, in our corner of the world, you can’t take more than a few steps without encountering a glittering new dirigible or an old standby whose brass accents are being buffed to a high sheen. Everyone has an opinion about steampunk these days.*

Be sure not to not miss SPWS friend Ay-leen The Peacemaker's essay and the sneak peek at Jeff VanderMeer's up coming Steampunk Bible!

Virtuoso - Help Kickstart this Open Source Business/Comic/Universe!

Nearly there with 3 days to go!

There are a lot of really neat things out there tagged with term 'Steampunk' but very few of them are as truly wonderful and unique as "Virtuoso," a Creative Commons licensed comic from friends Jon Munger and Krista Brennan

Jon and Krista are hoping to Kickstart Book One of the series, they have already completed the prologue and it is as engaging as it is beautiful. I'm in, and I hope you too will help them bring this marvelous project into the world!

The story: Jnembi Osse is an inventor in a world run by springs and ruthless expansion. She is the kept woman of the vast Mahanake Empire, held in a sequestered University to churn out military and civil inventions. But Jnembi has a secret.

Rather than endlessly revisit her old rifle designs, Jnembi builds a printing press a single person can carry on her back. It's small and simple, and violates the draconian laws of the Empire. Books are the purview of upper class, and copying them is ruthlessly suppressed.

Win a von Slatt original! To sweeten the deal and in addition to the offered rewards, the single largest contributor will receive an original Jake von Slatt creation! This will be a piece that is just staring to come together on my workbench as we speak.  I'm not sure what is is yet but it fits inside a #2 Bell Jar and will look great on your mantle! 

Details after the cut . . . 

Beautiful old book on Ebay- Magical Experiments: Science in play!

I ran across this book while on ebay while looking for, well, egg cups. At first I only kinda wanted this book, but now I really really want this book. The tite of the auction says 'occult, rare, magician' which turned me off- those tags are way overused and rarely true. On further examination, however, it's actually more about using 'magic tricks' to teach basic scientific principles.It's beautifully illustrated, and even has a loving dedication to the authors son, encouraging him to love science as he did.

Just looking at it fills me with a glee. I want to be able to pull it down from my shelf, giggle at the fun, and love the F out of it.


Brass Dragon!

Back in August I received a slightly odd email:

Phil is drawing a cover for Windycon's Blaylock short story collection, and he sort of used you as the guy building a mechanical dragon in his garage... Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. 

If it wasn't, and you'd rather we made it not look quite like you, please e-mail me and let me know! 

(I know we should have asked first, but we got carried away... sorry!) 



Of course I was deeply flattered and quickly responded that I, in fact, felt honored that they chose to use my likeness!

Click for a larger version and the opportunity to buy a print if you so desire


Steampunk month at Tor Books!

It's Steampunk month at Tor Books!  See the Introduction to Steampunk Month here which includes a large index of what you can sxpect to see this month.  

Of particular interest to this scrapyard sociologist are Steampunk as Subculture and No Elitism Please, We’re Steampunk both by Jaymee Goh.

Steampunk Tales #2

I finally found a few minutes to sit down and take a look at Steampunk Tales and I was pleasantly surprised.  Steampunk Tales is an anthology of short fiction which is delivered to you digitally in multiple formats:

Emulating the style of the pulp adventure magazines of the 1920s and '30s, Steampunk Tales contains first-run, original fiction written by an A+ list of award-winning authors. Issue #1 contains 10 stories, each running between 4,300 to 11,000 words, for an unbelievable price. 

"We stand at the beginning of a revolution in the distribution of print," says John Sondericker III, Steampulp Publishing's  founder.  "The combination of low distribution costs and the potential for high-volume sales allows us to provide this product at an astounding value for the consumer. The timing is perfect to re-introduce the world to the 'Penny Dreadfuls', and the iPhone is a platform that can truly do them justice."

The publishers graciously sent a review copy but I didn't actually view that version. Instead I purchased and downloaded the iPhone version of Steampunk Tales while waiting in a hospital lounge (just some routine maintenance and upgrades, mind you, nothing serious!)

The user interface was quite usable after tweaking the page color and font. I do feel the default font size is quite a bit too large and that this makes for a great deal of extraneous page flipping.

The stories themselves are, happily, quite readable without any tweaking at all!  The experience very much reminded me of the pulp science fiction magazines of my youth: Galaxy and Analog.  This makes perfect sense since they themselves were a direct descendant of the Penny Dreadfuls Steampunk Tales is attempting to emulate.  Issues of Steampunk Tales can be purchased here and a free teaser is available here for your enjoyment!

Life Inc. Douglas Rushkoff


A couple of years ago I sat down and tried to write a description of what Steampunk was as a sub-culture, or more precisely, what I thought it could be.  I filled half a moleskine with my scribblings before I decided the whole exercise was hubris, folly, and not particularly fun.  

However, as part of my research I read a couple of histories of the Punk rock movement as well as several books suggested to me by friends as influential in their lives.  The Punk rock histories brought back fond memories of High School, and while I was more into New Wave and Synth Pop back then, the energy of the Punks infused and informed much of the music and culture of the time. I enjoyed the nostalgia.

But the books suggested to me that had the biggest impact were those from the CrimethInc ExWorker's Collective.  In particular Days of War, Nights of Love.  Without going into great detail, Days is a exhortation to examine your life, to question your assumptions, and to act on the answers. It's about autonomy and anarchy and a large portion of Days is criticism of capitalism and it's negative effects on our lives.  Days is from gut, and you feel that the CrimethInc folks got it mostly right.

Rushkoff's book, on the other hand, is a rigorous history of the origins of the corporation and central monetary systems and how they self-propagate and suborn us to "their" needs.  Whether you view Capitalism as our best hope for prosperity or the greatest evil the world has ever known, Life, Inc. will give you insight into how capital has it's own agenda, and how it affects the ways in which we relate to each other.

Rushkoff is not anti-business, anti-commerce, or even anti-corporation, per se.   But he makes the case, to me at least, that the choice of our particular 'flavor' of money has had deep and lasting effects on society and that there are other ways to represent value and different choices we can make in our daily lives that are practical, beneficial, and compatible.  Ultimately, it is a hopeful book.

Attempting to tie this back into my own particular DIY version of Steampunk, let me remind you that money is a tool.  When wielded with skill and understanding it can do a great deal of good, but wielded incompetantly, with evil intent, or simply because the user see the tool as end rather than means, it can hurt and even kill. RTFM. Here's the manual.

Douglas Rushkoff mixing it up with Steven Colbert:

Amazing Craigslist ad: " A gentleman's eclectic rare book library"

I can't believe I stumbled upon this. If there's any time the internet can come close to the joy of finding a discarded love letter or lost writings of a crazed man, this is it. It's $300,000 dollars worth of rare books supplemented by a 3900 word Craigslist ad fervent sermon. Holy cow.

From the ad:

"What was said by a contemporary historian of the 19th century could apply as well to America of the 1950's - that the "poor was striving in almost impossible circumstances of their lives to conform to middle-class standards of morality" Then in around 1960, something happened. Morality went the way of top hats and spats and the center would not hold as a result. Thereafter, cultural programming was generated - from BELOW, not ABOVE. Society began slouching toward today's CULTUREVILLE. As always, those who "control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning - and ultimately MANAGE THE INSTRUMENTS OF CULTURAL PRODUCTION - AND, THUS. SET THE TERMS OF PUBLIC DEBATE. Even then, the "elite", it was generally thought at the time - didn't care for the world around them - and in the words of WORDSWORTH - "Getting and spending, they lay waste OUR lives" "

I would buy the whole collection just to meet this guy. Well, no I wouldn't, but this fills me with glee and a sad sympathy all the same. How can I put this? Everyone has obsessions. I have a lot. This guy has one, and he has seen this one love be mutilated, mutated, and molested into some poor sad approximation of his beloved. Now his hard times (im guessing here) forces them away, and with his one last breath and dusty finger, he is going to tell you what he thinks of it.

Also, can you imagine the smell of those books? A perfume of old leather, ink, and crumbling paper dreams.

JG Ballard, Sci-Fi author, died today.

The news has just broken that JG Ballard, one of the most influential sci-fi (and otherwise) authors, died this morning after a long battle with illness. He was most widely known for his books Crash and Empire of the Sun, but his short stories are powerful and elegant.

I'm saddened immensly by the news. Almost all the artists I know were influenced heavily by his masterful, powerful, heavily cerebral works. BBC says:

"Despite being referred to as a science fiction writer, Ballard said his books were instead "picturing the psychology of the future".'

Link to the only news out so far.

Books: Haruki Murakami - Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World


Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is a strange book, I'm just going to come out and say it. It lays on a strange three way intersection of Science Fiction, Detective Noir, and Absurdist Fiction. And the really odd thing is, you get it. Haruki Murakami is able to craft an eye brow raising narrative and plot while still maintaining its accessibility and comprehensibility. You empathize with the characters and the events, despite them being strange to the point of unbelievable.

. . .

Books: World War Z - Max Brooks


There are two types of people in this world. Those that will survive the zombie apocalypse and those that won't. Those that will are the type that, upon entering a building, assess its entry and exit points, tend to gravitate towards second story residences, and always seem to have a crowbar with them. Those that don't have a propensity towards long hair, loose clothing, and panic.

As Steampunks we are probably in a better position for the end of the world then most. We believe in do-it-yourself, sustainable materials, and practice fundamentally vital and sustainable technologies. All these are handy when political and economic infrastructure has gone sliding down the gullet of the howling undead.

It is with these things in mind that I read World War Z. It is a faux-oral history of the zombie wars, the global zombie incursion that happened twelve years before the book was written. It's written by the same man who brought us the invaluable "Zombie Survival Guide", a book so realistic one would think Max Brooks has had some experiences we don't know about.

. . .


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