There are always going to be people discovering steampunk and it’s a clockwork-mine field out there. Due to steampunk being a current buzz, there’s a growing amount of newcomers who want to put their own stamp on the culture. Steampunk: Back to the Future with the New Victorians by Paul Roland takes a factual approach to the sub-culture with some fascinating insights.
Typical pricing for a hardback is around £8.99 with £2.00 shipping. I did find it cheaper at £6.64 with free shipping.
Steampunk: Back to the Future with the New Victorians is a chronological documentary style book that explains various aspects of the steampunk culture from it’s apparent inception by three American authors, through to today’s steampunks of splendid gentlemen and adventure seeking ladies. It begins with looking at the origins of steampunk including dispelling common misconceptions that regard Jules Verne as a steampunk author (he wrote science fiction in the Victorian era, he didn’t write about Victorian science fiction) before moving onto various elements such as technology, music, fashion, art, events, cinema and ending with a look at gaming from board games to the latest video games.
While making interesting reading; it’s an unfortunate side-effect that a book will be dated a lot faster than the other areas covered by the including video games and Roland has been very careful here. He’s made sure that he’s not simply added the newest and most popular games, but has carefully considered those games that have historical (to steampunk history) relevance and will be able to played in the future regardless of technological advancement. Of course, this won’t last forever. Console manufacturers will eventually render certain consoles obsolete and getting these games will be harder and inevitably the game will be consigned to the gaming history books.
Many of the sections feature interviews with current legends of steampunk in their respective genres, such as Robert Brown (Abney Park), Professor Elemental and Thomas Willeford (Brute Force Studios). Including interviews isn’t unheard of in books and gives a first-hand look at how the artists view steampunk and where they get inspiration from.
Steampunk: Back to the Future with the New Victorians is a book seemingly designed for newcomers to steampunk and explains each section easily for anyone to understand. Saying that, current steampunks with a vested interest in the culture will also pick up a few interesting points from various areas.
The book is very well written with no apparent spelling errors or grammatical issues. It flows well through each section and is littered with amusing comments.
Using terms such as “technicolour yawn” to describe your involuntary actions when playing a certain graphic video game is contradictory language to the rest of the novel. As long as you have a sense of humour, this more languid approach to describing actions should actually raise a smile. It certainly did with me.
If you’re new to steampunk and you’d like to find out more about it, then this is one of the better books to do it with. The important element to consider is that a book such as this one can cause some damage to the fundamental foundations of steampunk if people take things too literally.
Take the music section, for example. Roland has included some of the biggest names who produce “steampunk” music. But what is steampunk music? It’s extremely difficult to categorise, so he’s played safe and gone on content of songs more than anything. However there are many other variables to consider. For example, if a noted steampunk makes a song that doesn’t include steampunk aesthetics, does it mean it’s not a steampunk song? Likewise if someone who isn’t a steampunk makes a song with steampunk references, is it a steampunk song? What about the people who listen to Abney Park or Professor Elemental? Are they steampunks? I’m not a fan of Abney Park, so what is the conclusion to that? These questions raise the age old argument about the rules of steampunk (there aren’t any) and who gets to say who is and isn’t steampunk. As long as you read this book with an open mind that there’s no right or wrong answers to those questions, then you’ll arguably enjoy it more.