Monday, 5 December 2011

Cory Gross on Steampunk Part Two

If comic books appeal to your beloved Steampunk, then one might invest in Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack by the team of Shannon and Dean Hale with artist Nathan Hale. Fairy tales fuze with a Weird Western setting, retelling the stories of Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk with a progressive attitude. Unlike many modern failed efforts, these are neither gratuitously perverse nor artificially hip whilst being genuinely stylish.

Not that I am one to slander Disney by any means. I would highly recommend a copy of the two-disk DVD special edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This film almost single-handedly brought Jules Verne back into the public consciousness when it was released in 1954, and 20K collectors Larry and Paul Brooks did a fantastic job working with Disney to extract rare material from the vaults. If one really wanted to go the extra mile, enclose a ticket to Disneyland Paris or Tokyo Disneysea with that DVD, as both themeparks have attractions based on Captain Nemo's exploits. If not that, then perhaps Hallmark's recently-released Nautilus ornament as a consolation.

After Disney's film, perhaps the most critically-acclaimed was Michael Todd's 1956 adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. Shot on location around the world – from the bull rings of Spain to the Great Buddha of Kamakura to the vistas of the American frontier – this star-studded epic cleaned out the Oscars, including a victory in Best Picture over The Ten Commandments. Warner Bros. has released a very nice two-disk DVD profuse with archival and documentary features.

If aural adventures playing across the mind's eye are more one's style, visit to download mp3 dramatizations of Verne, Wells, Conan Doyle and more. Alien Voices was founded by Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie, employing the talents of fellow Star Trek alumni to revitalize interest in the beginnings of the genre that made them famous. Such talented performers do the source material proud.

A wry commentary on Steampunk is made by Mark Hodder's Burton and Swinburne series of novels. The trilogy begins with The Strange Affair of the Spring-Heeled Jack, continued with The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and concludes with Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. Hodder's history diverges from our own when a time traveller form the future accidentally makes the 1840 assassination attempt on Queen Victoria successful. The result is a wretched, polluted Steampunk age spiralling towards apocalypse, whose heroes desperately search for a way to restore the proper timeline.

If a more obvious satire is to your taste, you might prefer the Larklight trilogy by Philip Reeve. Though he undervalued the young adult novels Larklight, Starcross and Mothstorm in his quite public – and spot on – denouncement of Steampunk's staleness, they are an uproarious and fond riff on the pretensions of high Victorian-Edwardian planetary romances and boys-own-adventure.

There is so much more I could recommend, from James Gurney's fully painted Dinotopia books to Edward Erdelac's stories of a demon-hunting Jewish gunslinger begun in The Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter to fun mid-century films like Twentieth Century Fox's Journey to the Center of the Earth and Five Weeks in a Balloon to Paul Guinan's Boilerplate. Suffice this list to give a good starting point for explorations beyond the usual scope of Steampunk fashion, into the richness of the Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romance tradition, its adaptations, and playful responses to it in the modern age.

A quality Christmas, for those wont to celebrate it, is not as well served by culturally bland stories of sterile starships. Humbug! The warm comfort of the Yule log begs for the equally warm stories of pith-helmeted and petticoated adventurers.


Cory Gross is a museums and heritage professional from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In addition to working at or volunteering for a number of science, nature and cultural history organizations in the city, he also runs the weblog Voyages Extraordinaires dedicated to Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances and Retro-Futurism. It can be visited at

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