MAKE MY FUNK THE STEAMFUNK, I WANT MY FUNK UNCUT: Steamfunk as Social Commentary
Steampunk is a magnificent movement that is, at once, a community, a visual aesthetic, and a subgenre of fiction.
While much of Steampunk fiction seems frivolous and glorifies colonialism and classism while denying the horrors and injustices of the Age of Steam, there is a wealth of texts that deal seriously with a variety of complex, contemporary social issues, some of which have obvious tie-ins to technology. Science, mathematics, psychology, sociology, economics and yes, even computer technology – and how mankind’s use of these spheres of knowledge can lead to the best and worst of creations – are possible topics of discussion.
While the stories in the Steamfunk anthology are enjoyable reads – full of action, adventure, thrills and chills – they also pose important questions about the nature and the future of science, society, and commerce and issues of race, gender and class.
Most readers of Steamfunk will simply enjoy the courageous heroes and heroines, the bone-crushing battle scenes and the wondrous airships, aether weapons and mechanical monsters. Others, however, will consider the greatest virtue of Steamfunk to be its power as social commentary – which speaks, sometimes subtly and sometimes quite loudly, of the relation of technology to man, of what it means to be truly free and the ways in which industrialization affects how we relate to one another.
I knew, from the initial planning of Steamfunk to its release, that this book would be history making and world shaking; that the stories would be highly entertaining and deliver strong social commentary.
Because it’s in the pedigree.
Steamfunk is a subgenre of Steampunk, which is a child of Cyberpunk – a subgenre of science fiction in which the future is one in which society is largely controlled by computers, at the expense of freedom, peace and social order.
In 1982, in his Science Fiction short story, Burning Chrome, William Gibson – the father of Cyberpunk – coined the word “cyberspace”. At the time, few people had a concept of what such a term could come to truly mean. And yet, thanks to Gibson’s use of it, especially in his epochal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, “cyberspace” gradually gained enough cultural credence to become the de facto name for the emerging World Wide Web.
Today, we unthinkingly use the word to refer to an everyday experience that didn’t even exist when Neuromancer was penned – but one which is arguably similar to Gibson’s vision of a “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators.”
Science Fiction has always played an essential role in the dissemination and popularization of science’s most nascent and speculative concepts. In the 1980s, when we were introduced to a fictional “cyberspace,” we digested the idea until it became commonplace – a household word – and in the process, unwittingly prepared ourselves for massive cultural and technological change.
Since the Age of Steam and the scientific visions of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, Science Fiction has been a future-changing medium. Although its role is not necessarily to be prophetic, it often fulfills its own predictions in surprising ways.
We literally live Science Fiction.
Ideas that seemed ludicrous in Science Fiction’s “golden age” of the 1950s have long since become reality – geosynchronous communications satellites, famously dreamed up by Arthur C. Clarke; Karel Capek’s “robots,” first concocted in 1920; or cloning and neuro-enhancing pharmaceuticals, the subject of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, penned in1931.
Science Fiction allows us to envision new realities; to feel invested in science even if we do not understand it. By seeing a version of the future in Science Fiction, we can begin to appreciate the myriad possibilities of science and also explore the potential negatives of its unintended consequences.
Imagining our future changes our perspective. As such, Science Fiction has long provided its writers remarkable leverage for political and social commentary, touching on practically every major sociopolitical theme throughout the history of man. When the writers Star Trek created conflicts between the crew of the Enterprise and alien life, they were using Science Fiction to deal with issues of race, Cold-War fears, and American imperialism. What kind of long-term effect this had on the political consciousness of its watchers is difficult to judge, but such engagement with complicated social issues is not a rarity in the genre; it’s the norm.
True to its Science Fiction roots, Steamfunk takes our fears, hopes, and anxieties and frames them in a form that provides long-lasting meaning and value.
Famed Science Fiction author, Isaac Asimov observed that, “science-fiction writers and readers didn’t put a man on the Moon all by themselves, but they created a climate in which the goal of putting a man on the Moon became acceptable.”
The authors of Steamfunk continue to create such climates. What will the next “cyberspace” be, or the next Moon landing, and who will invent it? Will “Steamfunk”, “funktastic”, or “Steamfunkateer” become household words in the next ten or twenty years?
Science Fiction writers in the year 2050 will be imagining the year 3000, and beyond, and so on. It is a living, breathing tradition that informs the very world it critiques, inventing new myths, words, worlds and realities.
Fantasy, like Science Fiction, is a powerful tool for social commentary.
Loyalty, faith and identity may seem abstract to many, but in Fantasy, we do not experience these concepts in the abstract. They are, after all, real to the hero, in ways that evoke intense emotion in him or her and in the reader.
Our need to see the hero torn between loyalties, faiths and identities arises from a need to be torn ourselves – to do what we must; to believe as we do; to be who we are.
Fantasy stories, are fables of identity, set in a world where the demands of loyalty and faith are often absolute.
We writers are, indeed, some deep folks, ain’t we?
So, yes, dear Steamfunkateers, as you peruse the pages of Steamfunk and lose yourself in all that funktasticality…realize that what you hold in your hands just might be the window to your future, or the keys that unlock the mysteries of your past.
So keep your goggles shined and your top-hats at the ready Steamfunkateers. The airship Sweet Chariot has landed and it’s delivering uncut (Steam)funk!
Please, check out the rest of the hearty crew of the airship Sweet Chariot:
Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com andwww.wagadu.ning.com .
Ray Dean – Growing up in Hawaii, Ray Dean had the opportunity to enjoy nearly every culture under the sun. The Steamfunk Anthology was an inspiration she couldn’t pass up. Ray can be reached at http://www.raydean.net/.
Malon Edwards – Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area. Much of his speculative fiction features people of color and is set in his hometown. Malon can be reached ateastofmars.blogspot.com.
Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ .
Rebecca M. Kyle – With a birthday on Friday 13, it’s only natural that the author is fascinated with myths, legends, and oddities of all kinds. Ms. Kyle lives with her husband, four cats, and more rocks and books than she cares to count between the Smokies and Cumberland mountains. Visit her at http://bexboox13.blogspot.com/.
Carole McDonnell – is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson; Jigsaw Nation; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others. Her reviews appear in print and at various online sites. Her novels are the Christian speculative fiction, Wind Follower, and The Constant Tower. Her Bible study is called: Seeds of Bible Study. Her website is http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/.
Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steamfunk); “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” (Sword and Soul); “Redeemer” (Urban Fantasy) and the film, “A Single Link” and “Rite of Passage”. Finally, he is Co-Author of “Ki-Khanga: The Anthology” and Co-Editor of “Steamfunk!” Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.
Hannibal Tabu – is a writer, a storyteller, and by god, a fan. He has written the novels, “The Crown: Ascenscion” and “Faraway” and the upcoming scifi political thriller “Rogue Nation.” He is currently the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Black geek website Komplicated at the Good Men Project, and uses his Operative Network website (www.operative.net) to publish his poetry, market what he’s doing, rant at the world and emit strangled cries for help.
Geoffrey Thorne – Geoffrey Thorne has written a lot of stuff in a lot of venues and will be writing more in more. It’s his distinct pleasure to take part in another of these groundbreaking anthologies. Thanks for letting me roll with you folks. For more (and God knows why you’d want more) check outhttp://www.geoffreythorne.com/.