Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and S. J. Chamberd

The-Steampunk-Bible While I’ve heard the term ‘steampunk’ for several years now, I was never exactly sure what it meant. There were the old-fashioned clothes and cool hats, but there also seemed to be a mechanical element that didn’t seem part of the semi-elegant outfits. I was puzzled. But then I found The Steampunk Bible , which, despite being slimmer than what we usually think of as a bible, did a spectacular job in explaining just what steampunk really is.
A lot of people think it’s just a cool way of dressing, with the hats, waistcoats/vests, corsets and flight goggles, but there was a literary subgenre of sci-fi that started it all. The term “steampunk” was originally used by K.W. Jeter in Lotus Magazine in 1987, but its roots go back to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Nowadays, Steampunk includes multiple aspects of the 19th Century from Napleonic to American Civil War and the West, along with the familiar Victoriana. The Industrial Revolution is the strongest influence, especially in art and literature, with steam engines, railroads and dirigibles. There is a large DIY component, not only with outfits and accessories, but as a mindset for everyday machines, a pushback against modern technology. Some artists have reworked items like computers and electric guitars to reflect a Steampunk sensibility.
The movement has had a style effect on various media besides books and graphic novels. Films such as Howl’s Moving Castle are obviously Steampunk, but others such as Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, The Golden Compass and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow also have elements of it. The 1960s TV show Wild, Wild West is a perfect example of Steampunk, though it was around long before the term existed. There’s even a type of music considered such, using a mashup of modern instruments with cellos and mandolins. Though I’ve not listened to any yet, I am curious enough about the music that I’m going to listen to some online.
On an individual scale, artists have made sculptures of machines, houses and rocket ships large enough for people to go into them. While often featured at the Burning Man Festival, there have been lengthy exhibits of Steampunk creations at the Isle of Nantes (Verne’s birthplace) and Foreverton Park in Wisconsin USA. The photos from the latter, with large colorful machines sitting in the snow strike a weird note.
One of my favorite aspects of Steampunk is the “Mecha-Organic Impulse”, which originated with Verne’s description of a mechanical elephant. This book has many wonderful examples of mechanical animals, either as blue-prints or sculptures, most often snails, fish and pachyderms. One artist goes so far as to attach clockwork gears to the bodies of large tropical beetles. I can’t say I completely approve of that, though I understand the compulsion.
Proponents of Steampunk acknowledge the empirical approach of the 19th Century, as well as the deadly grind of those manning the mechanics and factories, but their view is of a more egalitarian society in which the best elements of that time are winnowed from the darker ones. That is why the trend is open to interpretations from non-European sources, having afficionadoes ranging across the globe from Brazil to Japan.
This volume is extensively illustrated with photos, diagrams and artwork. It discusses all aspects of Steampunk, broken into topical chapters and contains historical sources and interviews with trendsetters of the movement. The author, Jeff Vandermeer, has written and compiled other books on the subject, and has provided a list of practitioners at the website steampunkbible

Abrams Image 2011 224 pp. ISBN 978-0-8109-8958-0

Jackie was pleased to see one of her all time favorite TV shows “QED” mentioned as having Steampunk elements. Starring a handsomely bearded Sam Waterston as a scientist in the Edwardian era, the show ran for only 6 episodes in the spring of 1982.

8 comments on “The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and S. J. Chamberd

  1. Sue
    December 10, 2012

    Excellent review, Jackie. I am thinking I should look for that book. It made me think of Barbara’s steam punk dolls!

  2. Jackie
    December 10, 2012

    I was thinking of her dolls too, when I was reading the book. You’d definitely enjoy it, I learned a lot & it was a visual treat.

  3. Frank
    December 10, 2012

    Circus Oz did a brilliant steam punk themed show in early 2012. Don’t know if it ever made it to UK

  4. Kate
    December 10, 2012

    It sounds great! I can think of various birthday lists that could do with this.

  5. Hilary
    December 10, 2012

    Jackie, for the first time I think I may have got a grip on what Steampunk is and where it is to be found – and that’s without even reading the book (yet). So, thank you! You’ve also made it sound rather fascinating, and further up my street than I would have expected.

  6. Muraskai_1966
    December 11, 2012

    My husband and I went to Nantes to ride the giant elephant on our recent trip to Europe. It was fantastic. We also rodethe hude three level carousel based on Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and I managed a right in the prototype of the Heron Tree Ride which will be finished in 2016.

    Go if you can. It’s not cheap, but it’s fantastic.

  7. Stevie Carroll
    December 11, 2012

    I need to look out for that one.

  8. Hazel Osmond
    December 14, 2012

    Brilliant, thank you.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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