Victorian clothes, balloons and airships


Try explaining steampunk to the uninitiated: “It's got Victorian clothes, and there's lots of mechanical stuff, but instead of airplanes, there are balloons and dirigibles and airships.” Fortunately, it's much easier to understand with Brian J. Robb's lavishly illustrated history of steampunk, which is chockablock with gorgeous drawings, paintings and photographs. Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions (Voyageur Press, $35) is more than a mere primer. Robb starts with steampunk's roots in science fiction: Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, who delivered the first speculative fiction of the industrial age. Robb then traces the development of steampunk through 1960s science fiction and reminds us that the term itself was first used in 1987, giving the art and fiction culture a longer pedigree than one might expect. He then deftly shows how steampunk was influenced—and rejected—by cyberpunk; how images of heroines evolved from Victorian-style “damsels in distress” to more empowered, intelligent proto-feminists; and how popular audiences met steampunk in sources as disparate as the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the 1960s-era TV series, The Wild Wild West.

Whether you're looking for the perfect gift for a steampunker or artist, or just a great compendium and resource, this illustrated history is hitting on all steam-powered cyclinders.