The future. The concept both fascinates and frightens. The more we inch closer to it, the more times we look back either hoping to repeat…or never to repeat the actions of the years gone by. It is the fear that we will fail to see eye to eye or that no one will see the “correct” point of view which stalls progression or completely destroys the goal of that future all together. There is no right or wrong point of view of the future. Science fiction tells us of many alternative futures humanity can create using their own choices and intellectual growth… some with particularly frightening results. Alas, without history and growing from history…well, we would have it all figured out wouldn’t we?
And what good would history be if it read “Cold Fusion Discovered Yesterday” or “Space Travel No Longer a Problem”? Sure life would be easy, but make it too easy and you wouldn’t have a sense of accomplishment. You would be so voraciously (thank you Nick) bored to the point where there you are sitting on your couch eating a bag of bugles with cheese spray admiring the self cleaning house and automated gourmet food that just dropped on your TV tray with a newspaper that says “All’s well!” with the knowledge that there is nothing left to find, invent, solve, or define. Then, just pick up the poison for me and funnel it down because I wouldn’t take it any longer.
But I digress.
However, in a steampunk mind, or maybe even someone such as myself who is inspired by the many facets of steampunk, the future is the past. They do not draw on the present and then move into the future. Instead, they go back to the past and the “What if’s” and “Who did what’s” alter their perception of what we could have had and what might have gone array with the success of that supposed future. A very famous quote for many steampunk enthusiasts is “Anything worth doing once is worth doing again.” I interpret this from referencing back to the Industrial Revolution, and maybe even to the Age of Enlightenment, when ideas were running rampant and the level of visual aesthetics were astounding. They still make tall bicycles, I found out…so history repeating itself might not be all bad.
From the Age of Scientific Thought came the Age of Invention and many steampunk designs and ideals are set in this time. Why? I don’t know specifically…it is different for every steampunkest…er, so why don’t you inquire. Never judge, always ask.
Some love the fashion; the bustles, the coats, the top hats. I have seen some jewelry on the market that have so much thought and inspiration devoted to them that they rival major brands in quality. It is so rare to see elegant hats anymore. If a rapper can wear a ball cap, clearly made to be worn in the front, backwards or sideways…I think anyone can walk around wearing a top hat. Fair is fair.
Others love the old science and the potential it could have today. The brass, the beautiful arrangement of intricate gearwheels, and the eccentric and lovely Victorian scroll work that adorned everything makes Industrial Revolution design so remarkable. Back then, science was beautiful. The wonder of Nemo’s submarine or the freedom of Phileas Fogg’s hot air balloon; two very beautiful aspects of science fiction that might now have been overshadowed by the remarkable space travel fiction that exploded on the scene in the 60′ and 70’s. But the nostalgia that these stories bring to others is powerful and sometimes changes their perspective on science itself.
Then there are the many who like the “alternative reality” aspects of steampunk. These are the one’s who make up their own fiction based in factual history. A very famous writer, not necessarily steampunk mind you, who demonstrates this type of thinking is Philip K. Dick who wrote an alternative reality novel based on the defeat of America and the Allies during World War II and what the world would be like if Nazi’s took over. Steampunk fantasy is similar only they dream of a world where steam is still used instead of gasoline and airships are still a viable mode of transportation. Some even make believe they still are in the 19th century transforming their homes to further enhance their stories making them more tangible for themselves and others.
Then there are my kind of steampunk enthusiasts. The ones who became inspired by the genre and feel it needs to be promoted, explained, enhanced, and embraced. I must admit, I am not full-on steampunk though I do sport a leather buckle or octopus bracelet. I have, clearly, many other interests but this one speaks to me much more than the rest. There is a beauty to its historical style that I cannot simply express. I use steampunk as a muse of sorts. It has inspired me to start writing a novel with some steampunk ties, design jewelry, and start these informative articles which I hope will help educate others before they make blind judgments on others.
Whatever level of steampunk you may be at, just remember that the entire genre is based on the “Future that never was” so no matter if you like the style or the cut of the gib, when you look to the future you have to look to the yesterday. So go ahead and deck yourself out in those cummerbunds and whale-bone corsets. Start making that combat ready airship in the backyard. Why not?