Review: The Steampunk Bible

Book review
Jeff Vandermeer with S.J. Chambers
Abrams Image
Out now

A compendium of cool stuff with a neo-Victorian, steam-driven, flavour. The book traces the roots of the literary genre, before tracing its emergence from novels and media into the lifestyles, fashions and projects of the real world steampunk community.

There’s a point in every fad, geeky gizmo or street fashion where the rest of the world suddenly catches on and catches up. That’s usually when the particular cultural moment seems over. Thus with steampunk, it used to be a small community of aficionados beavering away on steampunking their laptops and web pages; before that it was the readers of Tim Powers, James Blaylock, K.W. Jeter and retro-science fantasy. Now there are highstreet chains and media producers sticking cogs on anything and flogging it as the latest trend, even Panic! At The Disco have gone all steamy. Maybe steampunk isn’t a trend though, at least not in the usual way. This book thankfully proves that a steampunk aesthetic (even when it hasn’t had the convenient label) has long permeated our culture.

The Steampunk Bible certainly feels substantial; it’s glossy and weighty and well-written with a comprehensive range of topics from music to clothing, comics to conventions. There is, as befits the subject matter, a focus on modding and the creative work of the steampunk community, so perhaps this book’s importance is as a visual record of the scene. The book is, accordingly, lavishly illustrated with steampunk clothing, artwork, performers and modded technology, which is a joy to behold. It is generally well informed on the historical and generic roots of steampunk, and there is coverage of the works of Jeter, Powers and Blaylock, Michael Moorcock and Jules Verne.

Finding fault with it is hard, but the book seems to be a little lacking in the music coverage (no Vernian Process or Thomas Truax?), for example, but I suppose they had to draw the line somewhere. It was also disappointing that it has such an American bias. Apart from the presence of such luminaries as Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot, there wasn’t a great deal of focus on the UK scene (no Anno Dracula or China Mieville, no coverage of White Mischief, the briefest of nods to Doctor Who). It’s understandable since this is an American book, but it seems pretty ironic since steampunk, in its trawling of the Industrial Revolution and Empire, is inherently British in its sensibilities, aesthetic and lifestyle.

These points don’t detract from the joy of the book for long though. In the end, as befits what has become a very visual genre, it’s the pictures that count.

Verdict: Eye candy with delights on every page.  9/10

Brigid Cherry

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