Steampunk: An Illustrated History Review

Steampunk is an up-and-coming genre that has recently become increasingly popular in pop culture. Whether or not you like the pop-culture aspect of Steampunk, or the literary aspect of Steampunk, it is clear that the movement is rapidly growing. I recently got my hands on Steampunk: An Illustrated History and was excited to sit down and read it. I was curious to find out more about the history and because it was steampunk, I was excited to see all the cool pictures that they were hinting at. Unfortunately this book turned out to be a hot mess of a history.

One of the most difficult aspects when dealing with Steampunk is the fact that it is still a fairly new genre that is difficult to define. The difficulty arises in that Steampunk has become a very loose term to define a wide range of things, and because of this it is usually best to focus on certain aspects of Steampunk. Steampunk as a literary genre is vastly different to how Steampunk has evolved as a social movement (i.e. the DIY/Costumers). When I approached this book I thought I’d be getting a more literary approach simply because the full name alluded to it Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions; unfortunately, what I got was a poorly organized mismash of anything that could be called Steampunk, EVER. By the end of the book I felt like anything that ever involved Steam, Victoriana, or Science Fiction could be called Steampunk and I was even a little bit offended by that. My favorite part is the whole chapter dedicated to Japanese Anime and how Gothic Lolita is really Japan’s version of Steampunk culture–I hope you got my sarcasm there.

This book would have done better if it had stuck to detailing only one aspect of Steampunk as it tried to be a comprehensive History of Steampunk and the Steampunk movement, which it did fairly well until it got halfway to the chapter dedicated to Women in Steampunk literature. At this point the book got confusing and jumped around between Movies, TVs, DIY, and Japanese Steampunk culture where the first half had been dedicated to a pretty interesting and comprehensive but fairly brief introduction to the history of Steampunk. When it entered into the modern Steampunk culture and movement, it lost its way and I wished that it could have been more cohesive and better curated as a whole.

The pictures were underwhelming collages of things that are already well known and pretty popular already in the Steampunk movement, as well as things that are easily accessed. I was expecting more full page spreads of gorgeous illustrations or highlights of lesser known but beautiful Steampunk illustrations. I also noticed that at several points the book is highly biased and affected, passing judgement on what they consider “true steampunk” when they give no clear description as to what they consider to be “true steampunk”. Another interesting factoid is that the chapter about Women in Steampunk is written by a current, and very popular female author Gail Carriger (author of the wildly popular Blameless series)–my issue with this is her chapter is WILDLY biased with only one take on what she considers to be a true feminist example of Steampunk–and if I remember correctly there is a delightful moment where she calls out the women of science fiction, saying that Science Fiction does not allow for a true female role-model while Steampunk does–yet again, sarcasm. I would have preferred if this chapter had been written by someone less obviously biased.

Its not worth the 35 dollars to read about something that is fairly well known already, as there was nothing really all that new or interesting in its pages–a lot of it reads almost like a checklist of Mainstream Steampunk and how much they could possibly fit in. It’s biased, confusing, and poorly curated. It’s really not worth more then using as a coffee-table book to announce that you enjoy Steampunk. The book itself is printed on high quality paper, but if you want to know more about Steampunkb I’d turn somewhere else. It left a poor taste in my mouth and I would have preferred something that treated Steampunk culture with more respect and with a truly insightful look into the world and history of Steampunk.

Rating: D+


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