The Steampunk Aesthetic: Background information when reading The Technologists

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The Technologists

A Novel

by Matthew Pearl

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2012, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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Beyond the Book:
The Steampunk Aesthetic

Print Review

Furnaces, circuits, and laboratory paraphernalia; "gasometers, gauges, air pumps, and troughs of... galvanic fluid"; clocks and submersibles - these are the trappings of nineteenth-century science at work throughout The Technologists. These are also the elements that make up the aesthetic side of the "Steampunk" movement - Victorian design plus scientific invention, natural materials plus cutting-edge technology. The creative synthesis of the historical and the innovative has spawned a wide range of fantastically appealing visual creations.

Forevertron Park

Sculptor Tom Every ("Dr. Evermor") is the genius behind Forevertron Park, a sculpture garden of salvaged-metal creations with a distinct Steampunk look. Every's sculptures combine industrial cast-offs (including some from the Victorian era) to create mechanical animals, insects, and esoteric machines:

Spider sculpture by Daniel Proulx Utopian flying machines of the 19th century, France Loudspeaker Bird by Tom Every

Artists, such as Steampunk sculptor and creator Jake von Slatt, do an especially satisfying job of re-envisioning contemporary technology, especially phones and computers, in Victorian materials. Likewise, Steampunk fashion is a mash-up of velvets and old-fashioned machine parts; the corset makes a comeback as a sexy necessity - not as a foundation garment, but as sculptural outerwear. And inside the home, Steampunk combines an art-nouveau reverence for natural forms (like the undulating tentacles of the octopus) with a love of cast-iron and copper industrial shapes.

Steampunk-styled arm prosthesis by Thomas Willeford The Steampunk movement offers a fascinating record of how times have changed and our cultural "eye" with them. A couple of generations ago it would have been inconceivable for a Victorian aesthetic to seem cutting-edge. Just as corsets used to be unequivocal emblems of repression, the word "Victorian" was a blanket condemnation of all that was garish and tasteless and prudish. Steampunk turns all that on its head in a way that proves our contemporary imagination has a new relationship with the nineteenth century. Steampunk reminds us that the Victorians were bursting with creativity, innovation, and invention. We are still living in the modern world they made, and their ideas about how to make technology beautiful continue fuel the imagination.

For more on the literary side of the Steampunk movement, see author Cherie Priest's post, "Steampunk for Beginners," on the BookBrowse blog, or check out this resource guide for all things Steampunk, The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer (New York, 2011).

Spider sculpture by Daniel Proulx, Dr. Evermor's Loudspeaker Bird image and Forevertron panoramic by JerFaludi, G. D. Falksen wearing a steampunk-styled arm prosthesis by Thomas Willeford image by Tyrus Flynn

This article was originally published in March 2012, and has been updated for the November 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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