If you check Wikipedia, it defines Steampunk as “a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American ‘Wild West’, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.” So, while science fiction typically looks forward, or at least looks at now with a scientific bent, steampunk is looking back – looking back at possibilities and alternatives. And, in some rare cases, it maybe looking at now but from a historical perspective, again with the alternative of more mechanization instead of computerization.
This brings us to Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology by James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson. (And published by O’Reilly Media who gave me a copy for this review.) Now this book is not a steampunk novel, it is instead a look at all sorts of steampunk works and what they say about us and our future. Many scenarios and devices found in mainstream science fiction have come to reality, everything from submarines to space travel, so what truths might lie in steampunk?
Throughout the book there are interviews, pictures and conversations that explore not only what steampunk is through literature, movies, music and other expressive art forms, but suppositions on what that might mean in terms of the way we view our past and future. At the same time both conversational and exploratory, this is not a light weight romp through the world of steampunk – either in subject matter or length. (In printed form the book is over 400 pages.)
While thoroughly enjoyable, this is not a book I would sit down to devour in one sitting. And actually, I quite like it being that way. This is one of those books where you can read a chapter or two, put it down and then come back a few weeks or a month later and pick up another chapter or two. The chapters are linked of course, but there is enough of a stand-alone nature that they do not strictly require you to swallow them all at one go.
I am a fan of steampunk without a doubt. Books like Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker really are right up my alley. And that would be where I would have someone start off who is just getting into the genre. But for folks who are already into it, who have read the aforementioned work, and K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices and, of course, hopefully Bruce Stirling and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, then this Virtual Tomorrows would be a good place to go to find out more.