Steampunk

Out today, Brian Robb’s new book Steampunk: Victorian Visionaries, Scientific Romances and Fantastic Fictions, notable among a slew of lesser works on the sub-genre by devoting a whole chapter to its Japanese manifestations, which include Japan-only spin-offs from the John Carter series, Rhett Butler running guns to the Shogun, Emily Bronte in a time machine, and a novel called simply Steampunk! which has trains in it. And dinosaurs. Another possibility for your Christmas stocking, perhaps…?

Quoth the blurb: “Simultaneously a literary movement, ultra-hip subculture and burgeoning cottage industry, Steampunk is the most influential and arresting new genre to emerge from the late twentieth century. Spinning tales populated with clockwork Leviathans, cannon-shots to the moon and coal-fired robots, it charts alternative histories in which the British Empire never fell or where the atom remained unsplit. A term first coined in 1987 by science fiction author K.W.Jeter, Steampunk was born of myriad influences: the classic scientific romances of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley, a growing nostalgia for Victoriana and an ironic reaction to the dystopian futurescapes of Cyberpunk. Today it has grown to become a global aesthetic, making its mark on art, architecture, fashion and even music. This wide-ranging, beautifully-illustrated and much needed history explores the genre’s many intricate expressions, tracing its development in fiction, cinema, television, comics, videogames and beyond. From the futuristic visions of Fritz Lang and the otherworldly imaginings of Alan Moore and Hayao Miyazaki, to Doctor Who’s adventures in time and space and the dark fantasies of China Miéville, Brian J. Robb sets the key works of Steampunk squarely under the lens of his brass monocle, examining their ideas and themes in forensic detail.”

Speculative Japan 2

Although cover, front page and spine are all in disagreement about this book’s exact title, it contains stories of SF and fantasy from Japan, many lifted from a 2006 best-of survey. The oldest story here is Naoko Awa’s fairytale “A Gift From the Sea” (1977), while the most recent are a bunch from 2007. Clustered among them are superlative works such as Yasumi Kobayashi’s super-hard SF “The Man Who Watched the Sea” (2002) and Issui Ogawa’s “Old Vohl’s Planet” (2003), a first-contact tale told by the last survivor of a race of creatures from a gas-giant planet. There is a wide range of tone and quality in both stories and translations – one tale inadvisably attempts to make Japanese-speaking space-farers speak like 1930s English sea dogs, while another is a superior translation of a sub-standard sentimental romance. But in bringing thirteen Japanese authors to the attention of a wider English-speaking audience, this is one of the most important contributions to Japanese prose SF abroad in the last twenty years.

Jonathan Clements is a contributing editor to the new edition of the Encylopedia of Science Fiction, with special responsibilty for Chinese and Japanese material. This review first appeared in the SFX Ultimate Guide to Anime, 2011.

Party Like It's 1889

Over on his blog, Andy Frankham interviews John Ainsworth and me about our work on the Space 1889 audio dramas. I can’t believe it’s already been six years since they came out.

Doing this reminds me I must write up my discoveries on Japanese steampunk soon. There are some really amazing stories I uncovered while working on the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, including Rhett Butler vs samurai and Byron’s daughter in space.