What Is Steampunk (11)? (K.W. Jeter)

K.W. Jeter famously coined the term “steampunk” in the late 1980s (when “cyberpunk” was all the rage) to describe what he, Tim Powers and James Blaylock were writing at the time.  In the current (Angry Robot 2011) reprint of his classic (seminal steampunk) Infernal Devices, Jeter includes a short essay on his coining of the term and on the genre.  You should buy the book and read the whole essay, but here is the money paragraph:

“While I might not have anticipated the slipping into common parlance of the word I coined, the larger steampunk enthusiasm wasn’t similarly unanticipated.  Yes, most of this is just a matter of people having good, clean, if somewhat gimmicky fun, but there’s a genuinely worthy element to it that makes me one of those happy few who, even if we can’t say we love our species, we can at least tolerate it on its better days. A fascination with Victorian tech is at its heart a salutary acceptance of the machine-ness of machines — and correspondingly an acceptance of the humanity of human beings.  There’s something nauseatingly pre-digested about the look of late 20th and early 21st century industrial design, all those Steve Jobs-approved rounded edges like cough lozenges sucked on for a minute or so before being spat out into your hand.  Whereas Victorian machines, with their precision-cut gears and spurred mantis armatures, are unabashedly themselves rather than trying to smoothly cozen their way into your life.  Thus we similarly perceive flesh & blood Victorians — even the fictional ones — as being more genuine than ourselves.  They had lives; we have marketing.  Even unto our souls; drama and ruin were possible to those who guarded their secrets and shame, as pre-digital clocks held their tightly coiled mainsprings inside themselves.”

Amen.

(P.S.  Steve Jobs, I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro.  Please don’t have me killed.)

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