Sunday, February 12, 2012

Guest Post: Matthew from Dr. Fantastique's Show of Wonders

Today, I am thrilled to welcome to the blog, Matthew from Dr. Fantastique's Show of Wonders! He and several other amazing people work together to make Dr. Fantastique's a simply wonderful place to go to experience the world of Steampunk. I used to consider myself pretty well versed in the steampunk genre..but looking at this site was a huge wakeup call...Seriously...If you need to know ANYTHING...books, movies, comics, need to go to this website. It's the perfect place to find out more about Steampunk and to really get into the genre.  I asked Matthew to the blog today to talk a little about the lifestyles of those who participate in the more...shall we of Steampunk, as well as chat a bit about the genre that he loves. So without further ado...Matthew!

Considerations on Steampunk Culture
One of the benefits I get from being Publisher of Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders is that I see a lot more of Steampunk than some others might get the chance to. The interconnectivity of the Internet means all this information is available out there for folks to see, but it's more or less a full-time job to hunt everything out. Which is why I'm so grateful I've got a team of people to pull all this together. Anyway, I mention this because seeing all the Steampunk around the web has got me to thinking about the nature of Steampunk culture. Where has it been? Where is it going? How can we make it more inclusive to everyone?

The culture of Steampunk has, up to this point, appeared to focus on a very narrow view of what can be done with the genre. I know the beginnings place the primary setting of First World Steampunk in Victorian England. I get that, especially because England was the center of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions from 1750 to 1920. There are some stories that expand on this -- Boneshaker and Native Star among them -- but those stories appear drowned out among the standard Victorian London stories that proliferate in the genre.

It's important to note that I'm not saying the stories set in Victorian England are bad. In fact, there are some of them that are very, very well-written and interesting. But their predominance is somewhat bothersome; especially because there's a whole wealth of source material throughout the period of 1750 to 1920 that writers of Steampunk could use to make very, very interesting stories. I'm of course excluding Fantasy World Steampunk from this discussion because it's ... well ... Fantasy World and different topics apply there (not that Fantasy World Steampunk is automatically better than First World Steampunk, just that I'm ignoring it for the purposes of this argument).

The dominance of England-set stories is why I love something like Virtuoso so much. If you don't know the comic, it's set in an Africa that runs on the Steampunk mechanics of cogs and gears and springs. Seeing an African-based Steampunk world is extremely refreshing, as is reading Karin Lowachee's The Gaslight Dogs, where the Steampunk focuses on a tribe of Inuit-esque people in a far northern landscape.

I love the England-set stories as much as the next fan of Steampunk, but seeing them all over the place has led me to wonder how often we can really see the same First World setting over and over again. Granted, it's not really the same because different authors write different stories, but having everything taking place in an alternate version of England has always led me to wonder what else was going on in the rest of the alternate world. Was China the same? Was Africa? What about Latin America?

In fact, there's a thought -- show me a Steampunk story where the Mayans, Incas, or Aztecs have developed steam power independent of European involvement, or maybe in response to European invasion. Show me a world where the great tribal civilizations of the Americas pushed out the Spanish invaders by using steam-powered mechanical suits or clockwork weaponry they invented based on the technology of the people who conquered them. Or have them repel the invasion in the first place using independently invented Steampunk machinery.

Write me an India where Punjabi rebels fight against the British using steam cannons and mechanical machinery cobbled together from stolen parts. Or drop me in the midst of a Steampunked Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, but give the Japanese some special mechanized weapon to use against the Russians. Or maybe you're thinking of something set in China during the years of the Boxer Rebellion; or Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. (The Great Game in Central Asia during the 1800s was one of the most exciting periods in world history students in the West barely hear about.)

And when it comes to the clothing at cons, I would love to see someone taking a Steampunk brush to traditional garments from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Native Americans, and the African-Americans brought to the Americas via the slave trade. Show me a cosplayer who creates a character that comes from a Steampunk Jamaica and I will be very interested; something like that is why the work of folks like Monique Poirier and Ay-leen the Peacemaker is so important to the culture.* One important note though: Do not engage in cultural appropriation. If you don't know what it is, look it up. It's a biiig deal.

On a more personal note, my ethnic roots center around Eastern Europe (with a little bit of Italy and the Netherlands thrown in), so if I were to create a non-Doctor Fantastique outfit it'd probably involve a Ukranian or German backstory. Maybe a tinkerer from Munich or an opovidach (storyteller) from the Ukraine. My point is that the world's a whole heck of a lot bigger than Merry Old England, with a wealth of stories to tell and adventures to experience. Why would Steampunks, who are part of a subgenre/subculture that defies explanation, decide to limit themselves to one country? Why not spread around the world and show how inventive we can be?

* No slight intended to Jaymee Goh or any of the dozens of other Steampunks of Color floating around the aether. Those were simply the first two people I thought of.

Thanks so much Matthew! You bring up some very interesting points...I haven't exactly created a persona for myself at cons or anything, but if I eventually do decide to figure it out I will definitely have to think about including some cultural things as well. I am also of German and Ukranian descent so I'd like to put some of that in there as well. I read an excellent book, Meljean Brook's The Iron Duke that encompasses Asian/Russians in a seriously cool way. It would be presumtuious to reccomend anything to someone so immersed in the genre as you've probably read it anyway...but I thought that it was really cool that she put in something other than plain old Victorian aristocrats! Thanks again for coming on the blog today and believe me, I will be stopping by the Show of Wonders all the time!
P.S. There are TWO giveaways going on right now! One is a giveaway of  5 Stages of Grief by Bethany Ramos, and the other is a FABULOUS giveaway of a Custom-Made, Hand-Crafted, Steampunk Hat! Look below to enter! 


  1. I really enjoyed this post. It definitely makes me want to expand my horizons when it comes to reading steampunk. I too have wondered if steampunk is something that has taken hold in other countries. It would be very interesting to see.

  2. Thanks for the post andra! I am pretty new to Steampunk so every little bit helps! I'll have to check out Dr. Fantastique's to get more awesomeness!