Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Late Night Epiphany: The Appeal of Steampunk

I've never seen the appeal of steampunk. It always seemed like a romanticized version of what was really not that rosy of an age to live in. No antibiotics. No central air. No women's suffrage. Did I mention no antibiotics? However, after reading this quote from William Gibson, I finally get it.

"It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone. 

 My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak. We don’t think about that when we’re driving somewhere and turn on the radio. We take it for granted." 

Strange that the father of cyberpunk finally made steampunk make sense to me. Yet, in a way, it's not so strange at all.

Read the rest of this great interview on the Paris Review.
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1 comment:

  1. I have always had a love for steampunk. Steampunk is a little deeper than this though.

    When you think about how a lot of things work. You can generally understand how C is derived after step A and step B. Most things are a progression and finally an understanding and then you get the next step.

    Electricity doesn't work like that. Edison was brilliant, he made all those inventions. But do you even use Edison's electricity? No... you use Tesla. Someone Edison discredited... hated.. had shut down. Yet all the brilliance of what works is his idea of Alternating Current vs Direct Current.

    In short, steam made electricity, it was MAGIC.

    It was science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    Electricity was that. Steampunk is a look back and a balance. Generally the balance is what would happen if science were considered magic? What if magic really existed and was on equal par? Now throw those two items together into an age, and add the gunpowder.. you get electric rays, cowboys, and magic.. every one of those has a purpose. You set magic and technology at odds.. and you get for one hell of a story from people in the middle.