Monday, June 20, 2011

Steampunk Virgin: Hugo Cabret & The Map of Time

Wherein we attempt to define the genre "steampunk" and "gaslamp fantasy", compelled by the fact that we've stumbled upon three steampunk-esque novels in one week, having never encountered one before...

That sort of 'coincidence', a confluence of unlikely but somehow seemingly predestined occurrences as if time converged on itself?  That's the sort of thing that steampunk and gaslamp fantasy seem to have plenty of. 

The novels?  The Map of Time by Felix Palma (a decidedly adult, 610 page novel-in-three-parts, translated from the Spanish, that arrives on June 28 - check out my review on Wednesday 6/22), The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (an inventive, illustrated children's novel from 2007), and the first two books of the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III (the modern classic of graphic novels, and perhaps not entirely steampunk, but arguably so. Test it out against my definitions below).

What do they have in common?
* set in19th-early 20th Century Europe (all three novels)
* fantastic or supernatural or sci-fi elements (all three novels)
* steam engines and machines feature prominently (in TMoT & TIoHC)
* historic and literary figures from this era as characters (H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and Henry James in TMoT; early French silent film maker Georges Melies in TIoHC)
* automata and other robots feature prominently (in TMoT & TIoHC)

So, steampunk features most of these elements, and can also include elements of speculative fiction and alternate history, which all three novels included as well.  Gaslamp fantasy focuses less on the science-related aspects of automata and steam-powered machinery and adds more elements of fantasy while maintaining steampunk's Victorian era settings. 

Truth be told, I'm hoping you steampunk fans out there can help me here:  Now that I'm a bit better schooled in these genres, I surmise that The Map of Time is more of a gaslamp romance/steampunk hybrid, Hugo Cabret is a gaslamp fantasy for children, and the Sandman series is fantasy that sometimes borrows elements of Victoriana.  Do you aficionados of these genres agree?

Seems to me that any of these genres would be fun to explore on a rainy evening (Victoriana often enshrouded in mist, drizzle, darkest night and so forth) or even on a sunny summer day at the beach (fast plotting, violence, horror, mystery, romance, sci-fi, and sex seemingly feature high in some of the more recent contributions to the genre).  

Who out there will recommend our next steampunk beach reads for summer break?


FYI:  Want more detail on these genres and their variants?  You might want to start at the blog of vvb3reads, with her section on steampunk and its relatives.

1 comment:

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Wow, I consider myself educated now. And I confess I've never heard of the gaslight genre (subgenre?) until now. I have an ARC of The Map of Time at home but I haven't even cracked it yet--honestly, the length made it feel a tad too daunting for me to take on vacation and who knows now when I'll have time to tackle it?

These might be more gaslight than steampunk, but a lot of folks on my staff love the Parasol Protectorate series by Carriger, with Soulless being the first book.

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