A stab at an Authors’ Note for 1889: Journey to the Moon

Posted: January 23, 2014 in Uncategorized
A stab at an Authors’ Note for 1889: Journey to the Moon (note:  the italics are not carried when you paste text in. Simply imagine dozens of emphasis-laying italicized words in the following sermon–can you say “Amen-nah!”? I knew you could):

What is Steampunk?

To answer the question, it’s almost simpler to state what steampunk is not. When fans attempt to explain the concept of steampunk to an inquiring friend, to bridge the communication gap the fan will in the end invariably resort to, “Did you ever see The Wild Wild West?” It’s sort of a putdown of the genre to have to ask this question. No, there’s nothing wrong with The Wild Wild West. It’s just that there is a dearth of possible comparables in modern literature. Or, it’s difficult to remember one. There are actually many books, films, and even popular video games that are on the fringe of the steampunk movment—and let me assure you, steampunk is a movement. The movie version of The Wild Wild West starring Will Smith is far closer to modern steampunk than the old TV serial. But there’s something to be said for the serial. For many of us older writers, back in the day we ate it up.

But what is steampunk not? Well, steampunk is not science fiction, even though you will find steampunk in the science fiction section of your bookstore (the problem is that you are likely to find it only in the sci-fi section, but more on that in a moment). Oh yes, steampunk has some of the elements of science fiction, but it’s like saying that your local Renaissance Fair is a “fantasy theme park.” (Note: don’t tell the armorer who forges the platemail breastplates for the renaissance fair that he is engaging in “fantasy”. He—or in some instances, she—is liable to punch your lights out). If you then chunked in the Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactors into the fantasy category, you would be even closer to what is wrong with the “steampunk is science fiction” error. So, it’s not science fiction. It’s not fantasy (see above). It’s not, strictly, revisionist history. And it’s not even horror, despite the horror element of throwing in the occasional zombie, werewolf, vampire, etc., into the steampunk mix. No. We are talking about steampunk itself. Any steampunk book may have elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, revisionist history, gothic, antediluvian technology, time travel, or any one of a hundred other genres of fiction. But it is not those genres, strictly speaking.

Knowing what steampunk is not assists us to define what it is. The answer, of course, is a simple one. Steampunk is fiction. It is its own genre of fiction, and should be treated as such, despite its current placement of bookstore shelves. I believe that book distributors (the companies that actually set policy with regard to bookstore shelves—and believe me, they pay to have the shelves aligned and divided the way they are) and bookstore managers have no faintest idea what steampunk is. So, when you have the opportunity to correct this error, please, for us and for yourself, please set them straight. What we’re suggesting is that get the bookstore manager’s attention, lead them over to the bookstore shelf (that’s right, the science fiction section) where Cherie Preist’s The Clockwork Century books are nestled in next to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld cycle, inform them that this arrangement will not do, and kindly suggest a sparate section for all of the steampunk books they have in stock. If you are brave enough to carry this through, you are likely to be met with a long silence. In this vast silence, you can begin by pulling Ms. Priest’s books off the self and lay them in a stack, then go down the line of shelves pulling half a hundred steampunk titles and drop them onto the same stack. But once you’re done, don’t be alarmed to discover something new. It’s a new thought, really—each of these books, in some measure, is science fiction. Also, they are horror. They are revisionist history, and they are fantasy and half a hundred other sub-genres. Oh boy. It gives one chills. But that’s not the point. They are, each one, also something…else. That something else is steampunk. Be proud. You have arrived as a member of the most subtle invasion force this planet has ever witnessed. You are a steampunker.

Steampunk is not purely Victorian Era fiction. It’s not purely tales of never-before invented steam machines. It’s not purely revisionist history. It’s not pure anything. But what is is, largely, the people who attend steampunk conventions and dress up in 19th Centurty clothing (and clothing that you’ve never seen before) and who read the books and post in online forums know instinctively as steampunk.

So, there you have it.

We hope you have enjoyed 1889: Journey to the Moon. Its sequel, in what we’re calling The Far Journey Chronicles, is 1899: Journey to Mars. That book should be here where you found this volume in the coming months—or, who knows, maybe it will have its own section by then! There will be more after that, we assure you.

In the meantime, please continue reading the many other estimable steampunk authors out there. Please continue interacting with us—all of us—in the online forums, by email, on Facebook and Twitter and however and wherever you can. And please, keep steampunking along.

Bye for now, and all the best to you and yours.

Billy Kring
Sabinal, Texas

George Wier
Austin, Texas


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