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We asked Mark Hodder, author of the Burton and Swinburne series and steampunk aficionado, to fill us in on what the genre is all about:
“What is steampunk? This is a question that can be, and is, hotly debated. Some will tell you that it's a quirky celebration of a time when upper lips were stiff, chins were square, backs were straight, corsets were tight, moustaches were gigantic, and good manners were still de rigueur. Others will tell you that, with a disturbing lack of self-awareness, it eulogizes the notion of imperialism while conveniently overlooking all the iniquities that go with it. The counter argument insists that the exact opposite is true; steampunk knowingly toys with the trappings of empire while slyly commenting on its evils.
Perhaps we can clarify matters by asking, instead, "When and where is steampunk?" The obvious answer is in an alternate version of 19th century England. However, you don't have to look far before you'll find steampunk in the Wild West, steampunk on other planets, steampunk in the future, steampunk at comic conventions, and steampunk walking down the aisle in your local supermarket.
Just when you think you might have grasped it, steampunk reveals itself to be something more than you thought. You shouldn't be surprised. After all, how can you expect to pin down a genre/fashion/attitude that references the steam powered technology of the late 1800s yet employs the airships of the 1930s as its primary icon? Bit of a mishmash, ain't it? Therein is the joy. Steampunk gleefully borrows the flavours of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne, and mixes 'em up with whatever it damned well pleases.
In these cynical know-it-all but can't-solve-it-at-all times, what better tincture than steampunk? It may not be a miraculous cure-all but it is, at least, unashamedly fun and wonderfully stylish. It also dresses for dinner and tips its hat at you when it passes by.