Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Fascination With Steampunk

Automaton from Cirque du Soleil's Kurios
When I embarked on this journey to write a story about a young boy growing up in a very different historical version of Hawaii, I knew that I wanted to incorporate the imaginings of an often misunderstood genre - steampunk.

When most people hear of the term for the first time, images of Victorian garb, goggles, metal wheels and cogs, ray guns, and flying dirigibles may be the images that come to mind. But as a written genre, it can become so much more. Steampunk takes the glorious age of the Industrial Revolution - poverty, pollution, progress, and all - and asks the question, "What if it still existed?"

Jules Verne may be the earliest author to give voice to such a question with his classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. His futuristic submarine and weaponry were fine examples of how far the technology of the Industrial Revolution could take humanity. Today, we have television shows that have celebrated the "Age of Steam," such as Warehouse 13 and Doctor Who. You can even find examples in movies: Wild, Wild West, The Golden Compass, or Howl's Moving Castle. Even video games have embraced elements of steampunk as with .Hack//G.U., Bio Shock, and Order: 1886.

Kurios performers atop the tent
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch Cirque du Soliel's Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities. It was an amazing visual display of steampunk and I was happy to have seen it. The stage design was exquisitely laid out with Tesla-coil-like devices, bronze colored machines and towers, and Edison lights scattered throughout. The costuming ranged from mad-scientist lab gear to Victorian holiday travelers, to odd automatons and fish. Yes fish.

I enjoyed the show from start to finish, and reveled in being immersed in a humble scientist's steampunk dream. What if science could change the way we lived? In the scientist's dream, we would have robots that helped us, modes of transportation that would takes us anywhere we wanted to go, we would discover amazing new sea creatures, and see the possibilities our world has to offer.

I hope I can follow such an imaginative world with my own. Hawaii, as a self-governing monarchy, came to an end in 1893. But what if it hadn't? That is the question my imagination answers, while also adding "What if Hawaii embraced industry, with sugar cane being its primary driver?" These questions set the stage for my characters, giving them a home within which to roam and have an adventure. While my novel may not take you to the world of steampunk that is strictly Victorian in nature, it still embraces the idea of a cultural shift in the face of rapid progress; I want you to experience this world from a unique perspective of island life and Asian influence.

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