by Alina Roşu / G. D. Falksen
[for the Romanian version of this article, please click here]
Mr. G. D. Falksen is a writer and a student of history. His fiction work includes a wide range of genres such as historical fiction, steampunk, sci-fi and fantasy, horror, noir and spy-fi. Academically, his field of study focuses primarily on the 19th and 20th centuries, especially the history of technology and its impact on society. His fiction work has appeared in Steampunk Tales, The Willows Magazine and Steampunk Magazine; nonfiction work has appeared in EgoPHobia and The Chap and Marie Claire Italia. He also appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Hartford Courant, and several other American publications as well as on MTV.
Mr. Falksen is presently working on a novel set in his Cities of Ether setting, which is represented by the Dystel & Goderich Literary Management agency, and is slated to appear at Dragoncon in Atlanta, Georgia, USA this year. He has also given various lectures on the steampunk genre and the associated subculture at various conventions, and will continue to do so in future.
[G. D.Falksen © 2008, photo by Tarilyn Quinn ]
During my preliminary contacts for an interview, Mr. Falksen generously tendered me some exploratory notes about the evolution of the steampunk phenomenon. I pass them integrally to our readers along with our open invitation for an in-depth dialog with him in the pages of EgoPHobia.
While steampunk is only one of the many genres that I write for, it is one that I have received a fair amount of attention for recently. In particular, it intersects with my field of academic study wonderfully. In addition to writing steampunk stories, I have taken a great interest in the links between steampunk fiction and historical fact, which is probably the result of my interest in 19th century technology. I am always fascinated by the parallels between modern society and the society of the 19th century. While certain cultural norms are different, there are incredible similarities. The industrial age brought on the development of office life, mass transportation, mass media, the full development of the middle class, and countless other aspects of life that the western world takes for granted. In many respects, the only real difference between a steampunk society (which translates the modern world through a Victorian lens) and the historical steam age is the level to which the technology it uses is developed; but really, as far as social structure is concerned most of the things that a steampunk society would mimic from our own were already in place historically.
I have followed the growth of the steampunk subculture since its conception in the early-mid 2000s, and I must say that I find it to be extremely fascinating. My original interest came from a combination of my literary connection to the steampunk genre, my academic background in the technology of the steam age, and my love of the clothing styles that make up the backbone of steampunk fashion. I enjoyed watching the steampunk community grow online, in places like Steamfashion on Livejournal. As a side note, Steamfashion is the location where I have posted some image-based lectures on the intersection between steampunk as a genre and an aesthetic, and the historical Victorian era (http://squirrelmadness.livejournal.com).
One of the most wonderful things about neo-vintage is that it is so incredibly diverse. Naturally, the most common background that people associate with steampunk is Victorian England, in the later half or even the last quarter of the 19th century in particular. This is not surprising, and the Victorians are certainly one of the top examples of “steampunk reference material”, but steampunk draws upon easily a century’s worth of historical inspiration from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to First World War, and it potentially encompasses the entireness of the world’s cultures. The industrial societies of the 19th century had a fascination with the various non-industrial cultures that they encountered, and in turn much of the non-industrialized world was altered during this period by the mixed blessing and curse of “modernization” (which, as often as not was intended for the benefit of the colonizing nations rather than the colonized). Because steampunk imagines a world in which the technology of the steam age is even more advanced and widespread, it is conceivable that almost any fashion or artistic style in the world during that era could be blended together and even remade into something new through the introduction of advanced steam technology. The idea of High Victorian gowns made of brocade or Japanese silk is not only a beautiful image to think of; it is also a very real possibility for the kind of world that steampunk envisions.
Part of the beauty of steampunk as a subculture is that it draws inspiration from the Victorian era, a time when things were made to last, to look good, and to be unique. It’s perhaps ironic that what we now consider “dress clothing”, the three piece or even two-piece suit, is an example of Victorian casual wear (and hence, steampunk casual wear).). The idea of the tee-shirt and jeans combo is unthinkable in steampunk fashion, even in a work context; the idea of identical throwaway computers and cell phones designed for planned obsolescence are practically inconceivable in the Victorian mindset. At once, steampunk craft work combines a love of all the advantages of machine production and even mass-production with a respect for professional craftsmanship (very distinct from the sort of amateur hobbyist mindset of the 20th century, which rejects the hard work and high quality of craft work in favor of homemade goods that are “good enough” rather than “as good as possible”). The fact that this trend returns an emphasis to goods that are professionally made, take advantage of both craft skill and technology, and are designed to last and look good is something that I personally very much take to heart. I strongly feel that if one is going to do something, one may as well put the time and effort into it to do it well, and this is certainly a view that was shared by the people of the 19th century.
I feel that the rise of a neo-vintage subculture comes at a very critical time in society. Already we are becoming disillusioned with the throw-away society and the cult of the casual. People are beginning to desire a role for history in their fiction and fantasy. And at the same time, mainstream society is moving in the same direction on its own, toward a neo-vintage aesthetic embracing the Victorian and Edwardian eras in terms of fashion and visual inspiration. As the mainstream takes notice of this subculture and as the two simultaneously move in parallel directions, more and more people with an interest in the genre and the subculture become aware that there is a community of like-minded people who they can join with. Personally, I feel that this is a very good thing because it brings more and more people with common interests together worldwide. I find it inconceivable that anyone who is truly an admirer of the steampunk genre or the neo-vintage movement would want to deny another person the opportunity to explore everything that the genre and the community that has grown up around it have to offer.
One final thing that I find so amazing about the whole neo-vintage trend is the fact that it is (almost ironically) an act of rebellion by the younger generation. Of course, most people would not realize this at first glance because the subculture is very formal, very structured, very polite, and almost appears to be the antithesis of what modern society would see as “rebellious”. What is actually going on is a rebellion against rebellion. The previous generation engaged in their act of youthful rebellion by throwing away the formal society, complicated manners, and elaborate aesthetics of their parents, and in doing so created what I like to call “the cult of the casual”, a cultural mindset which forces people to dress informally simply for the sake of fitting in. Where the tee-shirt and jeans look was once a sign of liberation, it has become a symbol of social oppression in a world where the suit and tie is looked on as strange and bizarre outside of the workplace. Steampunk and neo-vintage enthusiasts reject this concept of society and fashion. They enjoy elaborate clothes, they enjoy beautiful things, they enjoy politeness and tea parties, they enjoy the form and function of Victorian society. And by placing these values at the forefront of their subculture, they are openly rebelling against a world that would label them as heretics for daring to even think of wearing a suit coat and vest or an attractive day dress while going to the store. While not everyone in the subculture has a philosophical interest in “the movement”, those that do realize that to “rebel” in the manner of the late 20th century alternative cultures (be it hippies or hipsters, beatniks or grunge rockers) is simply another form of conformity. The subculture offers people of all ages the ability to engage in a true revolution of aesthetics and philosophy, by throwing away mainstream society’s opinions of what “rebellion” really is.
To read the previous article written by Mr. Falksen for EgoPHobia, please click here