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It Can't All Be Brass, Dear
April 23, 2008 8:43 AM   Subscribe

There’s more than a few valve’s worth of pressurized love for steampunk on MeFi [previously 1 2 3]. Naturally, we’ve also had to replace many a sump filter due to the vitriol sluicing from the very same. Regardless how you may feel about it, Steampunk Magazine seeks to accompany the genre along its transmogrification from a form of fiction into fashion, music, and ‘misapplied technology’.

"It was a time where art and craft were united, where unique wonders were invented and forgotten, and punks roamed the streets, living in squats and fighting against despotic governance through wit, will and wile."

Yet the clever adventurer may wish to ignore the anemic, spluttering blog of this budding contraption and enjoy the gilded gas-lit forum or go straight for the high-mineral content of its sturdily constructed journal, the four extant issues of which being entirely downloadable. Riveting.

Brace for interviews with the likes of Michael Moorcock; art from the likes of Molly Crabapple (of Dr Sketchy’s fame) and Colin Foran; as well as contributions by the Catastrophone Orchestra collective, inter alia.

Of course, they’re not alone; others have refined the steampunk blog into a well-oiled engine: Brass Goggles; Aether Emporium; Voyages Extraordinaires; and of course the Steampunk Spectacular.
posted by cosmonik (47 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I saw two blog posts railing against the scourge of porn-spambots and a tear came to my eye.

All is well with the universe.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:53 AM on April 23, 2008


Well that's pretty neat.
posted by cashman at 9:00 AM on April 23, 2008


Just yesterday, I was showing my friend these photos of the greatest pair of brass goggles I've ever seen. They're fairly impressive to look at, but even more astounding when you realize he made them from scratch. Like, from-a-chunk-of-brass, from scratch.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:12 AM on April 23, 2008


One would think that Victorian-era art would be SFW. One would be wrong.

/contacts Member of Parliament to have Questions asked.
posted by DU at 9:13 AM on April 23, 2008


I've always liked the steampunk asthetic, dunno why. I've got absolutely no nostalgia, the past sucked, but I do like the faux-Victorian style for some reason.

I think partially it is due to the craftsmanship involved in all the steampunk stuff. It isn't mass produced, each artifact is a work of art, hopefully a fully functional work of art. Which, of course, makes it a hobby for the wealthy, and is why while I dig it, I don't own any steampunk anything. I'm just plain not wealthy enough for steampunk, more's the pity...
posted by sotonohito at 9:28 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or, I suppose for those with the skills to build it themselves, which I also don't possess.
posted by sotonohito at 9:36 AM on April 23, 2008


I also love the aesthetic of "steampunk", but I fucking hate the name. Why would we apply a suffix steeped in late 20th Century geek-culture to an aesthetic that's expressly counter to our idea of the modern world?
posted by redhanrahan at 9:37 AM on April 23, 2008


So I was talking to one of my student employees who very much enjoys dressing the steampunk part (goggles, lace, etc. I've already preemptively nixed corsets as not being work appropriate) and asked her about her favorite Tim Powers book. She had no idea who I was talking about.

That made me sad, but hey, Powers wrote most of his most steampunkish stuff years before the student was born, so that could explain why she didn't know who he was. Fair enough. So I asked her about her favorite steampunk authors. Maybe I could add a few to my summer reading list. Again, she had none. Turns out she really doesn't read books. I asked about influences and got a bunch of anime mentions (SteamBoy, natch, as well as Read or Die), but that was about it.

I then made the mistake of asking about Victorian history, Wells and Verne, and so on and was equally let down. She didn't know much about the genre, just that she liked the way it looks. Which is not so bad, I guess. I mean, if more people are interested in the genre then we'll get more stories and such out of it, right? Eh. Not really. I went down to the local bookstore to try and find some recent steampunk and the best I could come up with was some dreck called Whitechapel Gods which wasn't only poorly plotted but poorly written as well. I can find plenty of awesome creations from brass goggles to brasser computers online, but I can't find any good stories, just crafts and images.

So now I'm worried, worried that a genre I enjoy is being co-opted by a bunch of anime otaku who are bored with cat's ears and kimonos and want to wear goggles and corsets instead. I suspect this is the same way my folks felt when I bought a Nehru jacket in high school.

Well, at least when I chase these damn kids off my lawn, I'll finally have an excuse to fire up my Series 4 XJ6 Mars Zeppelin Pattern Destructor Beam. I've been itching to get that thing out of its crates for years.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:44 AM on April 23, 2008 [12 favorites]


Why would we apply a suffix steeped in late 20th Century geek-culture to an aesthetic that's expressly counter to our idea of the modern world?

Because it's an incredibly modern implementation of that archaism?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:46 AM on April 23, 2008


Why would we apply a suffix steeped in late 20th Century geek-culture to an aesthetic that's expressly counter to our idea of the modern world?

To ask is to answer.

I then made the mistake of asking about Victorian history, Wells and Verne, and so on and was equally let down.

Ask J. Random Scififan (particularly of the movie/tv variety) about string theory, Newton or Steven Hawking and you'll be almost equally let down. Or ask an Agatha Christie fan about police procedure.

...partially it is due to the craftsmanship involved in all the steampunk stuff

Partially, but for me one of the biggest things is the visibility of the technology. I remember the bitter disappointment at finding a microchip inside a clock once. That's just not cricket. Whereas a bunch of huge-ass gears...now THAT'S technology!
posted by DU at 9:52 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had an idea a few years ago for a steampunk styled astronaut suit. It was going to use a riveted brass helmet and have all sorts of cool gauges and leather fittings and tubes and stuff. It was the kind of thing, where if I had actually built it, I would have been guaranteed first prize at every Halloween costume party. Ever.

And I did plan on building it; I had fairly detailed plans and everything. Then I went to buy the materials...

Which is when I discovered that brass is actually kind of expensive. Especially in the quantities I would have needed to make a full sized wearable helmet.

So it never got made. But I still think about it sometimes, particularly when I look at things like those wonderful goggles.
posted by quin at 10:06 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Partially, but for me one of the biggest things is the visibility of the technology. I remember the bitter disappointment at finding a microchip inside a clock once. That's just not cricket.

Whereas a "steampunk" mp3 player off of Boing boing... Sorry, I shouldn’t be mean, a lot of effort has gone into this post, and the OP is already a bit defensive, but I can’t help having the same feelings about all this as robocop is bleeding.
posted by Artw at 10:10 AM on April 23, 2008


the OP is already a bit defensive

...whaaaat? Since I haven't commented, I assume you mean the FPP was somehow defensive? Certainly didn't mean to come off that way - I agree with what robocop said above, about steampunk being compromised majorly and becoming a hair's breadth from cosplay.

If it was the 'regardless of what you think' bit, I was just indicating that even if you have these kinds of concerns over steampunk, there's still a lot of good in it - such as the art and the writing displayed in the magazine. Take away the accessories and dressing up aspects and steampunk is still a genre with a substantial body of work with major aesthetic appeal.

I was merely trying to pre-empt snark, even if I think many modern-day (read "young") proponents of steampunk style deserve it.
posted by cosmonik at 10:21 AM on April 23, 2008


Ah, ignore me, I'm a bitter old man.
posted by Artw at 10:25 AM on April 23, 2008


Whereas a "steampunk" mp3 player off of Boing boing...

Well yes, using Ye Olde-brand spray paint on your existing electronics is a little bit lame. OTOH, I don't think people really want their computers to be as slow and prone-to-failure as a geared system would be (however awesome it sounds). So what are you going to do? Give up the aesthetic just because it isn't realistic? The fashion industry would like a word.
posted by DU at 10:26 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hmm. of course being too "costumy" gets you kicked off of Project Runway.
posted by Artw at 10:33 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, those 1,000-comment MeTa threads are hell to read out on punch-cards.
posted by cosmonik at 10:34 AM on April 23, 2008


No mention of Girl Genius? (Though they use "Gaslamp Fantasy" in preference to "Steampunk".)
posted by fings at 10:53 AM on April 23, 2008


I'm suspecting that the whole thing went awry when it became "steampunk" rather than a fairly loose collection of speculative fiction authors who independently created settings in the middle of an industrial revolution. Then again, the same thing happened to "cyberpunk" when a relatively disparate collection of dystopian near-future stories were lumped together into a genre, which then spawned a huge volume of pure formulaic crap.

Although, it is very nice that goth fashion has found a new home.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh god… I’m EXACTLY like one of those bitter old goths who moans on about Marilyn Manson.
posted by Artw at 10:57 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


And yes, IMO the primary difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy these days is that the fandoms affect different pretensions in trying to assert a difference.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2008


I grew up on Wells and Verne, so this sort of aesthetic definitely appeals on a fundamental level.

I feel a little guilty about it, since not only is it nerdy as hell, but Victorian society was pretty repugnant. Though I guess part of the appeal is to re-play the fun stuff without the really nasty attitudes and social structures, as with any historical fantasy.
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 11:04 AM on April 23, 2008


PLURAL NO APOSTROPHE
posted by alexwoods at 11:04 AM on April 23, 2008


What is a "valve's worth" of pressurized love, or really, of anything? This is a unit I've never heard of.

Also, a solid-brass helmet would be really heavy. You might be the life of the party until your neck got too tired to lift your head up, and all the women you talked to started wondering just what you were studying down there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:11 AM on April 23, 2008


I have an actual steam punk MP3 player*. First off, it is powered by a stirling engine. It starts with the 8 bit digital-to-analog converter, which sets a series of stops (like a saxophone) as either open or closed depending on the state of the digital bit. Then, pressurized air travels through the open stops producing a tone in the style of the original wave form.

After the tracks meta-information is converted, one of two things happen. If it's an album that I have a copy of, a series of gears turn, pulling the appropriate album from storage and displaying it. Otherwise, a series of cams turn cranks that power an etch a sketch to draw the album's cover.

A large horn is placed over the device's soundboard to amplify it.

Disappointingly, I haven't been able to get the portable version to work.
posted by drezdn at 11:14 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, a solid-brass helmet would be really heavy.

It was going to rest on the shoulders, the helmet was going to be big enough that you could move your head freely inside of it, kind of like an old diving helm. But yeah, it still would have been heavy.

posted by quin at 11:23 AM on April 23, 2008


I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT I BURN WITH FUCKING HATRED FOR THE WORD "STEAMPUNK" WITH THE FIRE OF A THOUSAND FUCKING SUNS. FUCK "STEAMPUNK." FUCK IT RIGHT IN THE ASS.

I do like pretty pictures of retro-Victorian technology though. Carry on.
posted by dersins at 11:27 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


What's wrong with the word steampunk?

All this reminds me that I've yet to play Arcanum. Looked interesting when it came out. Should be fairly cheap these days. I wonder if it's on Steam.

lol, steam
posted by ODiV at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2008


What's wrong with the word steampunk?

You're doing it wrong. All of you.
posted by Artw at 12:09 PM on April 23, 2008


The site appears to be down. Somebody stoke the Apache boilers with more coal.
posted by mecran01 at 12:10 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Steampunk (Gaslight) Superfriends.

The Flash, Hawkgirl.
posted by cashman at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2008


Steampunk always reminds me of Myst and Riven.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:15 PM on April 23, 2008


LOLSTEEMPNKS?
posted by owtytrof at 1:20 PM on April 23, 2008


ODiV, I actually just started playing around with Arcanum about two weeks ago, and so far it's been pretty entertaining, although I will admit that the tech elements don't really seem all that different than the magical ones.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:37 PM on April 23, 2008


The Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals evidently have a steam-powered Victorian treehouse this year. http://www.coachella.com/forum/showthread.php?p=508277
posted by ...possums at 5:59 PM on April 23, 2008


I feel a little guilty about it, since not only is it nerdy as hell, but Victorian society was pretty repugnant. Though I guess part of the appeal is to re-play the fun stuff without the really nasty attitudes and social structures, as with any historical fantasy.

There's probably a defensible thesis here.

I've noticed the following before with a number of (expensive) retro fads - in 50s swing/greaser subcultures, in RenFaires and SCA, and now in "steampunk".

I observe that the vast majority of the active participants are wealthy* and white, they're often (capital "L") Libertarians, or even Randian Objectivists, and I've observed a sort of unrealistic pining for "the good old days", which, if not direct code for yearnings for white Classism and privilege, is indirect code or subconscious yearnings for "more simple times" - which is almost always code in itself.

So far every hard core "steampunk enthusiast" I've met seems to fit creepily into this category. That shit is expensive, and I don't really see anyone doing this stuff but rich white people. Custom corset? Not in plain twill? Well made and fitted? $500+. Now go drop a grand or two on a gown or suit. Yes, nice vintage brass-tipped cane with a crystal fob, very dashing. $200+ Edwardian ball tickets? $100, each. Go look at pictures of those Edwardian balls. The overwhelming majority of the participants are white and wealthy.

Granted, this is apocryphal - like most of these kinds of observations are. Its never easy or pleasant to try to identify the underlying motives for some of these things. People aren't going to come right out and say "Why, yes! I do yearn for a time where classism prevailed and white people had it easy!", especially when most people can't even admit these things to themselves on an individual basis, much less as a muddled group.

I do stand by my opinions, though, and observations. They aren't original ones.

And really, one of the driving forces behind fads like these is the inherent exclusiveness, either through economic exclusion, or exclusion by difference, or exclusion by obscurity. "I belong to something different, yet we're all the same, all the same."

Ho hum. Same shit, different costumes.

(*Do you have the luxury of choosing what you'd like to eat? The luxury of time to watch TV, to enjoy a shower in running water, access to medical care? Own a car? Own a computer or a house? By the world's standards you're very, very wealthy. Get over it.)
posted by loquacious at 6:01 PM on April 23, 2008


Before you run off and buy anything made of brass, consider that you'll have to polish the damn stuff (it'll look like crap in short order if you don't). And brass polish stinks. My sister lived in India for a few years when I was a kid, and she brought back a bunch of brass stuff that had to be polished. Nope, never again.

But if you actually want to buy brass, I bet it'd be cheaper in India than anywhere else, just because they have so much of it.

Also, I thought that steampunk referred to the conceit that the computer revolution could have started in Babbage's time with mechanical computers, if they had had the technology to machine parts to the required tolerances.

I think the Victorian era would have been a cool time to be alive, if you were a healthy and wealthy gentleman who didn't give a fig for the morality in fashion and knew how to keep up appearances. They got up to a lot of kinky business behind closed doors.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:29 PM on April 23, 2008


loquacious: The majority of the West is wealthy* and white. Is it surprising that the majority of any sub-culture therein also shares these characteristics?

Having never spoken to a steampunk (or whatever), I can't really speak to their political leanings.
posted by ODiV at 6:56 PM on April 23, 2008


The majority of the West is wealthy* and white. Is it surprising that the majority of any sub-culture therein also shares these characteristics?

While I might be overthinking or overreading things, I'm basing these opinions on my observations.

I've observed a lot of Western subculture, and in a lot of them there tends to be more racial diversity than in what I'm observing in, say, steampunk/neo-victorian subcultures. Or greaser/50s music/fashion subcultures. I'm comparing my observations to what I see in the general population where I live (California) and the participation in various other activity-based subcultures (IE, rave, punk, skateboarding, hacking, others) and comparing these to what I can observe of these particular other subcultures.

They just don't jive, statistically, at least what I've seen, personally. It may be simply a function of economic classism. Whatever.
posted by loquacious at 7:19 PM on April 23, 2008


Dunno about raving, but punk rock, skating, and hacking are overwhelmingly white subcultures.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:41 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


alexwoods: PLURAL NO APOSTROPHE

ACTUALLY IF IT WAS A POSSESSIVE PLURAL IT WOULD BE APOSTROPHE FOLLOWING THE 'S' BUT THANKS FOR PLAYING. Since it wasn't meant to be a plural, but rather referring to the mystical unit value of 'valve's worth' (i.e. the worth of a single valve), I'll stick with it. 'Valve's worthes' just doesn't flow.

What is a "valve's worth" of pressurized love, or really, of anything? This is a unit I've never heard of.

Love is difficult to measure anyway, so the preposterousness of snarking the unit used to measure such is most disturbing. However, to explain my thought process: I made it up and hoped it'd be intuited that a self-operating pressure valve reaches a 'valve worth' when it blows itself. So to speak.

KirkJobSluder nailed the main problem I have with steampunk; the cyberpunkisation of the whole thing. It's a 'proceed with caution' genre for me, where select writers and artists might be great whereas others must be destroyed - the matter isn't helped by umbrella'ing them all under the one group. Whereas Cthulhu Mythos...

loquacious: By the world's standards you're very, very wealthy. Get over it.

Apparently not wealthy enough to be steampunk, by the prices you're quoting for a custom corset. It's not like the goths where you can just fake it with pleather and cheap makeup and then claim you're going for the 'decayed' look, since so much of the steampunk aesthetic is about polished finery and other foppery.
posted by cosmonik at 8:44 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Having said that - interesting observations re. race and subculture, hadn't thought about it like that and now that I do, it's rather disturbing.)
posted by cosmonik at 8:47 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not really clear on the value of the pre-bought stuff; maybe I just spend too much time around goths, but don't people overwhelmingly make their own gear? That's a big part of the scene, at least with the Victorian stylers in the goth scene.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:30 PM on April 23, 2008


Go look at pictures of those Edwardian balls. The overwhelming majority of the participants are white and wealthy.

Wow, you can tell the financial situation of a bunch of people by pictures of them dressed up in costume garb? Tickets for the entire three day weekend were 63 bucks. I got in for free by helping out, but even if I had bought a ticket, it would have been 20 dollars on the night I went. The people that go are people who love to dress up, and have either collected fun clothes for years or made them themselves (I made the corset and blouse I wore, along with a pair of pants I re-interpreted as knickers), or were there because they are gearheads, musicians, circus performers or artists - not a historically wealthy subset of the population. Quite a few people I met there were not white, though that is the dominant demographic (imagine the art-kid warehouse squatter racial makeup, and that's pretty much what it was).

And really, one of the driving forces behind fads like these is the inherent exclusiveness, either through economic exclusion, or exclusion by difference, or exclusion by obscurity. "I belong to something different, yet we're all the same, all the same."

Oh baloney. Anyone can go to that event if they come up with 20 dollars or put in a bit of volunteer time. Very few of the people who go to them dress up like that *all the time*, and it can be done cheaply if you're crafty and/or patient about digging through second hand stuff or theater sales. There's an entire steampunk fashion LJ where people post their steamy finds from Target, for fucks sake.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:12 PM on April 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think if anything, the Steampunk aesthetic is distinctly DIY, and the opposite to the 'spend lots of money' approach. That's certainly what we found when we did a couple of Steampunk articles for the PC/tech mag+website I edit. One guy got in touch with us because he'd built a Steampunk mouse, based on a $10 ebay optical mouse and customised with bits of old metal and smashed glass for the 'furnace.' When we interviewed people for the main feature, many of them mentioned they felt Steampunk deserved its name because of how it drew on punk's low-fi, DIY approach.

If anything, my impression is that what people got from it was bringing a warmth and humanity to technology - making it look handmade and understandable. 'Nothing about the beige box indicates what it does, or how the hand of a human brought it into being. Steampunk seeks to change this - even if only on a superficial level...'

(apologies for the self-linking, but I did feel it was relevant :)
posted by Sifter at 3:53 AM on April 24, 2008


or were there because they are gearheads, musicians, circus performers or artists - not a historically wealthy subset of the population

Interesting point - the same applies to burlesque theater, I suppose, which has a similar focus on fine aesthetic but enthusiasts of which are not notoriously wealthy.

I like the DIY approach too, Sifter, but I think the danger point comes when the pre-manufactured steamgear over-takes the focus on self-crafting (which is one of the greatest thing about steampunk subculture, as seen above with the brass goggles and so on). As with any subculture, you have 'the real things' and 'poseurs'.

Of course, I'm not saying you have to make everything from scratch to appreciate how great this stuff looks (I'd buy those goggles!).
posted by cosmonik at 6:06 AM on April 24, 2008


My observations agree with loquacious' but I'll add this: if it weren't for ren faires, hootenannies, conventions, reenactments, hot rod shows (and all the rest) there would be even more cultureless and boring white people in this country. Sure there's a lot of shameful stuff about the past, but where we come from is happenstance, it's where we're going that matters.

I think of the theme-events I've been to as do-overs. I've seen a small share of people color getting involved too and putting their own spin on things. I think most attendants, without thinking about it too much, just wanted to bring forward the colorful shiny stuff of history, and leave behind (or try to) all the shitty scary parts whose consequences and remainders we still have to deal with every day. Certainly there are are more poisonous motivations out there, remnants of the past we're all trying to heal from, but if people weren't trying to rescue the good stuff I think it would much, much harder.
posted by wobh at 6:45 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


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