Mike Reeves-McMillian asks: I have been cultivating this moustache. Is it steampunk?
You can not believe how excited I am to delve into the thorny issue of facial follicles. Please be so kind as to notice I did not say “hairy issue.” That is because I am a gentleman, and, as such, puns avoir la bouche amère.
One of the most glorious things about modern steampunk culture—what a simply delicious turn of phrase, that—is that it has called upon men of all stripes and dots to take a good long look at their facial hair. Frequently, the testicularly-inclinded you will see at a local sci-fi convention and a similarly-located steampunk event will be one and the same, but they will often look quite different. Neckbeards will have been removed. Mustache-tip will have been waxed. Side-burns will have been sculpted. In short, steampunk men (and particularly gifted women) look at beards not as just an excuse not to shave, but as an element of fashion in their own right.
As current trends in steampunk lean toward emulating the gentry, facial follicle perfection is sought after more and more. Which brings us to Mr. Reeves-McMillan’s distinctly unimpressed face pictured above. What a beast that mustache is! How unruly! How powerful! Why, I can picture countless Dowager Countesses bon-moting and fan fluttering at the very mention of such a ‘stache. Clearly, it is not fit for polite society.
But is it fit for steampunk society?
As for the picture itself, well, il n’y a pas de quoi fouetter un chat. Office-lighting is never flattering. But it is not the picture we are judging, it is the mustache. And while Mr. Reeves-McMillan is clearly not impressed with his modern surroundings, the question is, might that ‘stache, in another, steampunky context, be appropriate? What if it was not upon the bored and beyond-it all Mr. Reeves-McMillan, but a daring revolutionary in an industrial-era city, molatov cocktail in one hand, aether-powered raygun in the other?
In short, does that mustache dream of steam-powered sheep?
While the mustache itself is not the waxed and waved variety that normally comes to mind when one imagines “steampunk mustache”—a thought I am sure has taken up many hours of your days, dear reader, as it has mine—to say it is not steampunk would be to say that the underclass itself is not steampunk. A working man such as Mr. Reeves-McMillan requires a working mustache, and if he is too busy making the world turn to groom it to standards of the upper crust, so be it. Which is why I cannot help but say that this walrus-esque protuberance is, in fact, steampunk.
If you wish to accost me in person—and, why wouldn’t you?--I will be attending Watch The Skies tomorrow with no less august persons than Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Sarah Hunter of Brute Force Studios, and Steve Walker, my partner in steampunk graphic noveldom.
Asked by nobilisreed
Oh dear. Not even a day old and we are already buzz-marketing, are we? Well, I suppose such self-promotion cannot be helped in today’s paper-cut-throat world of literary creation. I am prepared to let loose the floodgates, and have the tumultuous tidal waves of typists spew forth their works upon this very site. Let us drown in the turgid ichor of marketing together, shall we? Hand in unlovable hand, as is our want.
But those are thoughts of the future. At this auspicious moment we are concerned with nothing less than the past. The far, far past, if I understand your blurb correctly.
Before we begin, I do wish to point out that while you are very gracious to offer a copy of your novella for me to read, the last thing I want to create is a façade of a gentlemen who has read nothing less than everything we will speak of on this website. Of course I have read your novella. Please do not take the fact that I seem to only refer to things mentioned in your blurb as evidence that I have not read the work entire. I do this only to protect my readers from spoilers, should they wish to seek your novella on their own. Were this a private conversation between you and I, Nobilis, perhaps it would be different. Let us assume so.
Now, you are very kind to point out that this Roman Empire you write about is powered by steam. If we were working with the literal definition of “steampunk,” you would certainly be half-correct, right out of the gate. But there is a slight issue with your choice of setting the piece within the ancient confines of the Roman Empire. While certainly industrious, the Roman Empire never had what one can call an “Industrial Era.” In fact, Italy’s national insecurity concerning this bled far into the 20th Century. Though your Romans made it to what I am assuming in North America, they needed not industrial power to do so. On their own they got as far as the British Isles, and the Vikings crossed the Atlantic from that launching point without a single steam kettle.
So while you do have steam technology, il y a quelque chose qui cloche.
Upon first glance, I am inclined to place your story not with steampunk, but instead with the Edisonade, steampunk’s literary predecessor. The Edisonade involves a young son of Empire, often an inventor, who cuts a swatch through a savage land with only his manifest destiny and advanced death-machines to guide him. Steampunk is often looked upon as a reaction to these stories, creating a narrative that is urban with a pessimistic view of technology as opposed to a rural exploration where all that is needed is the right device in the right place. The unfortunate smattering of colonialism in your narrative certainly speaks to this, and I believe I have established my thoughts on the dangers and difficulties of colonialism.
That said, if we were to take every work with a gloss of colonialism behind the shed to be shot, we would live in a world without My Fair Lady and the Indiana Jones films. And who would stand to exist in such a place? No one I would like to meet, to be certain. Such a world would not be, to filch a phrase, lovery.
Let us adjust our collective bifocals and give your work closer look. While indeed you have all the hallmarks of a Class 1 Edisonade, I am compelled by the essential conflict of your story. Your dutiful Son of Empire seems less concerned with cutting a swath of civilization than with reconciling disparate cultures. This idea, of a multitude of backgrounds thrown together and difficulties that engenders is a basic tenant of urbanism. As the urban sociologist Manuel Castells eloquently informs us:
“That is what the essence of the urban is in the last resort. For the city creates nothing, but, by centralizing creations, it enables them to flower.”
Your story does not take place in a city, nor in the Industrial Era, the time of cities. But you do explore the way that cultures that would never meet change those it comes in contact with—especially that Son of Empire, who has no real reason to change. And if this was an Edisonade, he wouldn’t. But since he does, and sense his experiences are very urban in nature, if not in actuality, I am going evoke my primate ancestors and stretch out onto a limb and call this steampunk.
Asked by joshroby
The trouble with a question such as this is that it is unbearably vague. What sort of goggles? What sort of top hat? Are there lights involved? Clockworks? Bronze owls? These are details that beg to be illuminated, and yet, you have given me very little to work with, indeed.
Let us say for, a moment, that the hat in question is not something like this:
Nor are the goggles of similar charm and detail as these here:
Since you are not forthcoming of the nature of this top hat and goggles, we are left to assume that there is nothing usual, and they are mundane, commonplace, and unremarkable.
Why anyone would want to wear anything that fit any one of those descriptors, much less all of them is beyond me, but let us say, for the sake of argument that someone does.
Maybe it is you. I do not judge. Well, I do. But let us pretend I don’t for a moment, and get on with your question.
The top hat was invented right upon the cusp of the Industrial Era, and its subsequent popularity among gentlemen and ladies of all walks of life and occupation makes in singularly evocative of that time. It has come to be a symbol of formality, a fancy-dress hat even though it was enjoyed by all social classes. To look at a top hat is to be reminded of not only the Industrial Era, but also the manners and formal nature of the time.
The semiotics of goggles, however, go into a different direction, though one that remains peculiarly tied to the top hat. Goggles are symbols of the working class, where the work involved is so hazardous one’s eyes are in danger. But like the top hat, they are archaic—eye protection is now far less egregiously clunky with a broader field of vision. But just as the top hat is identified with formality, goggles create a aura of casualness. The worker still carries his work tools with him, even when not on the job.
The combination of the two, however, alters those connotations somewhat, for when goggles rest on the brim of a top hat they cannot be easily placed over the eyes. A functional tool has now become a decoration on the hat. The decorative hat now has a function: to hold the tool. Is the dandy in the top hat suffering proletariat pretensions? Or is the worker interacting with an upper-class chapeau in the only way that makes sense to her?
This confluence of Industrial Era accessories manages to simultaneously compliment and contradict their original messages. A new narrative is created by their combination, one which is, I have to say, rather steampunk.
Asked by baracks-wife
It is a picture of an automaton built with industrial-era techniques in the shape of a creature from myth. It’s steampunk.
Asked by mick-bradley
Let me begin by stating that what you have transcribed here sounds like a simply delightful and fantastic story setting. All it needs is perhaps a young, idealistic member of the House of Medici (Lucrezia, maybe) who falls in love with a young, hardworking revolutionary and who bands together to save the world from Lorenzo Medici and his craven son Piero the Unfortunate. And then Leonardo DaVinci could come in with his…
Deepest apologies. You were talking about settings. And here I was prattling on about possible characters. Pardon, monsieur.
The ruby-red heart of the question is what is gained by the 15th century setting beyond historical walk-ons—which, I believe have just proven, is a delicious temptation to the say the least. The concept you are presenting is one where the 15th century is given not just advanced technology but also “industry,” which I am taking to mean that the aetherships, particle guns, clockpunk robots are made in factories and assembly lines, and there is less an emphasis on hand-crafted culture than there is mass production. Considering there was very little in this world that Medicis didn’t want more of, mass production under Lorenzo’s steely eye is certainly a conceivable, if disturbing, possibility.
The element that continues to give me pause are these “time travel miscreants,” which, for my money, are needlessly complicating things. We are dealing with a fantasy, after all, so an attempt to explain said fantasy with an even more fantastic concept, is so wrong-headed its appalling. One might as well say they got their advance technology from Santa Claus. Serves the same purpose.
But that, if I am to be honest with myself, is a personal aesthetic judgement. Time travel is seldom worth the trouble, as I will say before and have said again.
So. Let’s look at what we have. We have an fantasy story of an industrial society (controlled, in a brilliant stroke, by the closest the 15th century had in the way of robber barons), with technology beyond their years. While there doesn’t seem to be much of a romance—beyond my interjection of Lucrezia’s longing—your use of the term “wacky” adjacent to the term “inventions” implies a romantic view of technology in of itself. That combined with your assertion that these inventions literally make life untenable for what ever characters are eventually inserted into it leads me to believe, that despite your 15th century smokescreen, this is, in fact, a steampunk setting.