A few weeks ago when I was shopping at the Science Fiction Book Club, I stumbled across The Steampunk Bible, by Jeff Vandermeer and S. J. Chambers, and since the club was running a “buy two books, get a third for $1.99″ offer, I popped it into my order.
I bought the book hoping to expand my knowledge of the Steampunk subgenre which has spread from science fiction into romance and beyond in recent years, but I was surprised to see how much more there is to Steampunk. I had no idea. The gorgeous illustrations cover everything from fashion to music, jewelry to computers, and art in more varieties than one can count, from pocket watches to lifesize mechanical elephants.
Vandermeer discusses the forefathers of Steampunk, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, as well as some lesser known nineteenth century writers (such as the author of “Electric Bob’s Big Black Ostrich,” wonderfully illustrated on the cover of an 1893 issue of the New York Five Cent Library). The modern genre began in the 1980s with Gibson and Stirling’s The Difference Engine (a copy resides on my keeper shelf), faded away for a while, and returned in the twenty-first century, wandering through novels both graphic and traditional, Japanese animated films, and art of all sorts. Vandermeer gives an interesting, if necessarily brief, survey of the Steampunk subgenres and variations.
Even Hollywood has gotten into the act, or onto the steam-powered train. I was delighted to see one of my favorite shows from the 1960s, The Wild, Wild West, categorized as Steampunk (the less said about the 1999 movie version the better). So too is a current favorite, Warehouse 13. Many of the movies Vandermeer cites are Japanese animation; he seems less impressed with the Hollywood attempts.
All in all I found The Steampunk Bible interesting, wide ranging, and beautifully illustrated. Without it I would never have known that dedicated artisans like Jake von Slatt of Datamancer.net actually make (and sell!) beautiful (and working!) contructs like this: