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Steampunks and Times Trans-shifters: Histories, Genres, Narratives An essay assemblage (abstracts for june 30 2012)
full name / name of organization:
Mark Houlahan/ University of Waiakto, Hamilton, New Zealand
Steampunks and Times Trans-shifters: Histories, Genres, Narratives
In these the best of times (and the worst), the age of wisdom (and the age of foolishness), the epoch of belief and incredulity, the season of darkness and light, the spring of hope and the winter of despair, steampunk has flourished. Airships circle the globe; clanking machines haunt the ocean’s deeps. Fractals of history merge and re- combine. Babbage’s quaint math reinvents the computer a century before its prime; of necessity, as the neo-Victorian knows no silicon chip, steampunk computers gleam and creak with wooden stylings and mechanically wrought interiors.
K.W. Jeter coined the term “steampunk” as an offhand phrase in 1987, but the name has stuck, for it evokes well a diverse range of cultural, textual, material practices; there have been many attempts since to rename these formats, but none has supplanted the rhythmically trochaic force of steampunk.
Jeter used his catchphrase to evoke the crossover, transhistorical, mechanical and mythical fictions he, among many others, had been concocting. His Morlock Nights for example, flinging Merlin reborn against the Morlock’s from The Time Machine, is strongly influenced by 1970s precursors, such as the apocalyptic Londonist fantasies of Michael Moorcock. The burgeoning steampunk archive traces these energies further back, claiming the sci fi of H.G. Wells and, in particular, Jules Verne as proto-steampunk. Their machines are weirdly credible, described with loving detail (the time machine is as seducing as the Tardis to enter), and yet the futurist past in Verne and Wells is high fantastical. The 2012 film Mysterious Island visualises this beautifully. The battery of Captain Nemo’s sunken Nautilus has gone flat after 150 years in the sea. Throw a spear in to the mouth of a galvanic electric eel, and, huzzah, the re-energised ship will take you home.
Steampunk fantasies are intricate and beguiling, throwing adventure, wonder, industrial age grime and glamour into the history blender. Often these are remade Victorian worlds, but need not be. In Link and Grant’s exuberant 2011 anthology Steampunk!, M.T. Anderson describes a fate machine with a computer’s number crunching powers, and then sets it loose on the violent history of Ancient Rome.
Steampunk clothing and texts, websites and anthologies, steampunk conventions and capitals (such as Oamaru in the South Island of New Zealand) have been with us for decades; yet steampunk is just now emerging as a subject of academic interest, intertwining cultural, historical, textual and media studies approaches. There are numerous essays on steampunk writers, and in 2010 Neo-Victorian Studies devoted a whole special issue to the field. Much of this focuses on canonical texts, such as Gibson and Sterling’s Difference Engine, and such is the speed with which steampunkers have recreated various pasts, that any one snap shot needs rapid updating.
We propose then a new collection reframing the field, and invite abstracts on any aspect of steampunk. Who are the texts and who the authors that really matter? If it’s not neo-Victorian, does it still count? Tell us about steampunk in other media and other ages, in machinist art and machinist clothes. Steampunk on screen and on the page. Are steampunk stories good beginnings that can never quite finish, like the long tales of H.G. Wells, which dwindle to feeble conclusions after tremendous beginning?
If you are keen, please contact us: by cyber age computing is best. We need your abstracts by July 1, 2012. We will package the best of these for an international publisher—there are several who are keen to see the collection. We’d then like final copy of the chosen essays by February 1, 2013. If we all survive the Mayan apocalypse, you should have plenty of time to frame your piece.
Send further inquiries, great new reads and of course your abstracts by July 1, 2012 to:
Mark Houlahan (firstname.lastname@example.org)