Prompted by a discussion elsewhere, citing The Difference Engine as the start of the steampunk subgenre, I thought I should post my responses here:
- While Gibson & Sterling’s The Difference Engine is a key steampunk influence, earlier books by James Blaylock, KW Jetter’s Infernal Devices and Morlock Night, and Tim Power’s The Anubis Gates (all excellent by the way) would be better described as the seeds around which steampunk formed.
- It is not insignificant that The Difference Engine was written by two of Cyberpunk’s greatest writers.
- The nearly complete absence of discussion of the great unwashed proletariat necessary to keep a steampunk world operating – more accurate renditions of what a realistic victorian/edwardian world would be like can be found on recent TV shows such as Ripper STreet and Peaky Blinders – just shows its failure to engage with reality. Early works like Morlock Night didn’t do this.
- That Steampunk continues as a discernible movement while cyberpunk does not speaks volumes for the fact that the latter was a better description/prediction of the world, and that steampunk is a in large part a nostalgic failure to engage with reality. The cyberpunks became the world, the steampunks take holidays from it.
I won’t say I don’t enjoy Steampunk at times – after all, who can fail to like cog-laden ray guns and stainless steel boned corsets – but I feel it is usually an entertainment with an emptiness where its heart should be.