Sunday, February 23, 2014

Trials of Steampunk

I got to the end of a Published Steampunk Novel.  Although I liked the characterizations and the dialog and some of the visuals, some of the wiggling with history and the fudging with how dirigibles work bothered me.  OK, and there were a couple of times near the end when the characters grabbed the idiot ball in service to the plot.

The development of dirigibles was about 50 years ahead of its time (the story was about 1860) and they felt more like Flash Gordon airships (e.g. using steam thrusters and "airbrakes" to slow the fall of a crashing dirigible) than a (1905) helium hydrogen filled craft.  Oh, and (sigh) zombies.  

Zombies almost always make me wonder what about shambling cannibals is attractive to the zeitgeist.  Then they make me think about Sherry Turkle's "The Second Self" wherein a child classifies spiders as being not alive "because you can kill them."  I guess they fulfill the need for a "kill-able other" in battle narratives.

At the end of the novel, the author said, "Hey, so I tweaked the historical bits; don't send me e-mail telling me how I goofed up my history--it's Steampunk, I can make up whatever I want."  I didn't buy it, mostly because although I could accept the historical tweaks, the dirigible changes felt more like sloppy research.  

And then I felt like some nerdy physics curmudgeon.  I mean, yeah, Steampunk isn't rocket science; but if you want to write Steampunk, shouldn't one pay lip service to Jules Verne and at least try to get the science right?

Afterward, I thought about how I cut way more slack for "Girl Genius."  I think the comic-book format of "Girl Genius" defuses any objections that reality is being violated.  The Foglios also call "Girl Genius" a Gaslamp Fantasy rather than Steampunk--which goes to show you the power of genre.  In other words, the Steampunk Novel fell into a history and physics uncanny valley.  

Oh well, at least the latest Steampunk Novel didn't have its strong female dirigible pilot turn into a ditzy romance heroine half-way into the book.  
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