Thursday, April 24, 2008

Post-Science Fiction

I believe that one of the greatest things about steampunk, and one of the things that grants it such appeal, is that it is what I consider post-science fiction.

Think back on the science fiction from its golden age:nothing but ray guns, space ships, and jet packs as far as the eye can see. Kids could look at Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon with starry-eyed optimism, waiting for the day they, too, would be able to do the things their heroes did. When those kids grew up, they would fly to work in flying cars, sit at massive blinking computer terminals all day, and come home to their robot servants preparing dinner.

Then the real future came. Instead of jet packs, we got iPods; instead of ray guns, we got anti-lock breaks. Virtual reality fizzled. Cybernetic implants became Bluetooth headsets. The future is now, and the sad thing is, the future is real. It turned out to be driven not by a need to conquer the universe and expose its secret dangers, or a need to improve mankind and advance us to the next evolutionary step, but by the need to make a buck and pay for another yacht.

Steampunk sidesteps all this by giving us back our future in the only place it is safe: in the past. We don't have to worry about steampunk not coming true because it's already over. This also frees up the technology to be as incredible as the authors want. While science fiction geeks have had to struggle to try to explain how transporters and lightsabers are feasible, nobody has to argue for the existence of a electrogalvanized supramechanical disruptor array. Steampunk's impracticality is one of its greatest strengths.

So let us raise our articulated magnetogoblets to steampunk and post-science fiction. May our ornithopters always fly and our boilers never die until the Thames runs dry!

1 comment:

bluefish said...

Although it's not quite steampunk, I had a similar feeling about the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It, too, hearkened back to the old days of science fiction, shamelessly and gloriously so! And Jude Law is a hottie.