One of the more popular genres, particularly here in the Northwest is Steampunk. This is a growing sub genre of science fiction that is getting a lot of attention. What actually is it? That’s subject for hot debate.
See this link for an idea:
One of our own Northwestern writers is Mary Robinette Kowal whose series Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass and now her new novel, Without a Summer are considered in the Steampunk genre because of its Victorian flavor and scifi story.
One of the main criteria for Steampunk is the Retro or Neo Victorian period of the novel. Usually there are factors of steam, (hence steam punk) or gears and levers in the technology. Many times dirigibles are used as travel and rebellion (hence punk) or a “grand adventure” is the plot.
The heroine or hero often is portrayed with leather helmet and round metallic glasses. Alternate history or time travel is used to arrive at the Victorian styled culture.
But what criteria makes a Steampunk novel is still being hotly debated.
Enter the novel Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway that I put on my list of to reads. An awesome cover with an intriguing title and the possibility of Steampunk drew me in. The writing started out rich and delicious. Joe Spork is a clockmaker in a Victorian styled world. He is happy fixing clocks in his lab tucked away in the city.
His father, Mathew Spork or “Tommy Gun,” now dead, was a notorious gangster and bits and pieces of the gang still linger about. One involves him in delivering an odd book that turns out to be a part of a doomsday device.
Also in the story is a retired international spy agent and spinster, Edie Banister.
The entire story is told in the third person present, which makes it sound like a manuscript for a screen play, i.e. “Joe Spork walks into the room and gazes about…”
Wore me out.
The initial dive into the novel was exhilarating, a quarter of a way through, I was exhausted and put it down. The rich descriptions bogged down and the action struggled along. It had a cloud of Victorian haze over the story and I wasn’t sure what was going on…neither was Joe Spork.
If you are a Steampunk enthusiast, you may fair better. I was disappointed.
Ship Breaker by Hugo and Nebula award winner Paolo Bacigalupi also skirts the boundaries of Steampunk. Often in Steampunk you find orphaned children and rebellion against the establishment. However, like his other novel, The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi also makes a strong comment on the environment. In this future, the seas have risen and drowned the coastal cities. Climate change has spawned “city killer” hurricanes.
The protagonist is Nailer, a teenage boy, who scavenges for copper amid the hulks of beached oil tankers. He struggles to meet his gang’s quota so that he can survive one more day. Off in the distance, he watches the clipper ships that use large high atmosphere balloons to pull them along at incredible speeds, and wishes that he could sail on them rather than scrounge in tight oily corridors of dead tankers.
One day he is reaching for a line of copper and falls into an oil pool and almost drowns. A teammate sees him, but abandons him, hoping to gather his “Lucky strike” for herself. This sets up the theme of loyalty in the face of adversity versus everyone for himself, let everyone else fall.
After a “killer hurricane” rips through the area, Nailer and his friend Pima comes across one of the beautiful clipper ships wrecked on coral from the storm. Excited at the rich find, Nailer also discovers a beautiful young daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate who is running from her father’s enemies and is badly hurt and trapped in the sailing ship. Nailer has to decide whether to let the daughter die and strip the ship of its luxuries, or save the “swank” girl and give up the claim to her as the rightful owner.
And even if he does that, he has to figure out how to keep it a secret from his drug addicted and brutal father who is definitely out for everything and anything he can get for himself.
Unbeknownst to him, there’s also an internal struggle within the powerful shipping company, and an assassin is out to kill or capture the young girl to protect other interests in the company.
ShipBreaker is a page turner and has several serious themes running through it.
Where it falls short is under the Young Adult category, so that while it has some violent action and important comments to make, you come away with the strong YA flavor to the novel.
Still, I couldn’t put it down.
2 responses to “Steampunk: Yes and No.”
Your experience with Angelmaker seems familiar to me, I had that same feeling with some of the very respected and “classic” science-fiction novels (some of which won awards). They were incredibly cluttered and tiresome to follow, their pacing was off or their characters ridiculous (a rather common ailment in classic science-fiction), and I ended up giving them 2 stars and making a note to not trust public opinion. 😉
I haven’t read Steampunk yet, but I’m familiar with the general genre from various movies and TV shows. It’s probably not going to move up my “to read” list anytime soon, there are just too many books left to read about aliens and interstellar societies.
I knew you were a soul sister. I feel exactly the same way. BTW I’m reading Hamilton’s new North Road due to your comment on Hamilton and really liking it. May do a review. Love your blog and make it a point to read.