"Steampunk...is a subgenre of science fiction whose definition is not generally agreed upon, but which usually involves some combination of steam-powered technology and elements of fashion, history, society, and culture from varying parts of Victorian England." - Jess Nevins, author of Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
For the past several days, I’ve been taking a crash course in steampunk. A gentlemanly thank you goes to “The Steampunk Bible” by Jeff Vandermeer (with S. J. Chambers), websites such as steampunk.com, and the Vandermeer’s (Ann and Jeff) anthology “Steampunk II.”
If you find it curious that I am curious about steampunk, I completely understand. Why would a straight arrow like me be interested in such a thing?
From what I gleaned, steampunk is for tinkerers. I once took my bicycle apart and couldn’t put it back together. Steampunk attracts those who like to dress up. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Steampunk dovetails well with the “Do-It-Yourself” community. My toolbox is a disaster zone. Steampunk sci-fi looks backward. I prefer to escape in the future.
The conductor for this voyage is Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for RUSH. What exotic trips RUSH fans have taken with the band’s concept albums. They’ve returned to the land of long songs with “Clockwork Angels.” Peart caught the steampunk bug last year and ended up using the genre as a platform for the band’s 19th studio album.” Set for release in early June, the recording’s new single is “Headlong Flight.” Last year the band released “BU2B” and “Caravan,” and used steampunk visuals for their “Time Machine Tour.”
In their book, Vandermeer and Chambers relate how some steampunkers worry the movement might have “jumped the shark” several years ago. Perhaps some of them will see “Clockwork Angels” as another example of this.
Now that I am an expert, I can say - relax. Peart is a tinkerer himself, has told a cautionary tale or two about the misuses of technology, finds heroes in non-conformists, and has always respected his inspirations.
Reading “The Steampunk Bible,” I also came across Michael Moorcock, the prolific and award-winning British sci-fi writer. The Vandermeers note that although Moorcock predates the genre, he is considered “the godfather of steampunk.”
When I read that (in both books), I finally felt some kind of a connection to this hotter-than-a-vacuum-tube movement. Moorcock wrote three songs for “Blue Oyster Cult,” including “Black Blade” and “Veteran of the Psychic Wars.” Those are two of my favorite songs by the band (Buck Dharma’s solo for Veteran on “Extraterrestrial Live” is worth seeking out).
RUSH brings their “Clockwork Angels” tour to these parts in September. The last time I saw them, two years ago for the “Time Machine” Tour, I said to myself, this could be it for me. My gears are slowing down and concert prices are going up.
All three of these songs are great, however, and this steampunk thing has tickled my fancy. So I'm going.
But don’t worry. I won’t be wearing any goggles...