MAKE MY FUNK THE STEAMFUNK, I WANT MY FUNK UNCUT: Steamfunk as Social Commentary

 

Django 8Steampunk 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.

African Steam 2Most 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.

Why?

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.”

African Steam 1Science 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.

AIRSHIP10Imagining 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.

Never Forget!In addition to Steamfunk’s powerful expression as Science Fiction, just as powerful is its manifestation as Fantasy.

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: https://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/.

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

23 responses »

  1. Said in Los Angeles says:

    I like the article, but I’m not sure of the connection between Steamfunk and my countryman riding the tchukudu and the people fleeing a vicious militia attack in the background. Its close to home.

    • Balogun says:

      Steamfunk deals with social issues that other subgenres of Science Fiction and Fantasy sweep under a rug. The connection is we authors of Steamfunk bring the hard issues to light, such as the plight of your countrymen, through well-crafted stories, more digestible and more powerful than any blurb in the news. Thanks, for your comment.

  2. teemtwo says:

    Excellent points made, I enjoyed this very much!

  3. Fujimoto says:

    That was really beautiful. I only read the first two stories in Steamfunk! but they were fantastic. You got some great writers to work with there.

  4. SeaSteam says:

    First, thank you for producing such a fabulous blog. Is Steamfunk available in print? Or for Kindle? Either way I can’t wait to read all the stories!

  5. Cilean Stirling says:

    As a black woman, I have been part of many genres of the Fantasy experience, whether in Renaissance England, or Italian City States, one thing is true This is not a Historical prospective. Steampunk is not real, it has never been based in reality and personally? I don’t much need it to be so. My Character has money, as does my family because we worked hard and were able to be educated. I don’t do Civil War Reenactment, because that is a Reenactment I don’t do no ones laundry. But then I don’t also base my life on the color of my skin, nor was I raised to do so. Instead I have Cosplay for fun. I don’t reduce my experience to simply what nationality my forefathers were, but what COULD have been. That is what Steampunk is about, the sheer what if, and what would I have been….

    • Balogun says:

      That’s the beauty of Steampunk and Steamfunk – we write / play / do it as we choose. Thanks, so much, for your comment! 🙂

    • Milton says:

      I agree that one aspect of Steampunk is fantasy, but not pure fantasy. Remember, the tone of Steampunk as it is practiced is based on Victorian England culture and sensibilities. That is real history. The corsets, top hats, hoop skirts and derbies, social greeting and customs are real history. The steam technology has a non-fiction basis as well.

      That being said, the beauty of the Steamfunk! anthology is that it presents Steampunk in all its aspects, from pure fantasy to steam/aether laced alternate history. Once you (hopefully) read it you’ll see.

  6. […] guest blog from author and editor Balogun Ojetade was originally posted at The Chronicles of Harriet and is reprinted with […]

  7. The post is very informative. I especially like the play on the Parliament Funkadelic in the title :).

  8. giggirlny says:

    Sadly, I do not own a kindle. I would have loved to have purchased a hard copy of Steamfunk! The cover art by Marcellus Shane Jackson is gorgeous and your article ‘MAKE MY FUNK THE STEAMFUNK, I WANT MY FUNK UNCUT: Steamfunk as Social Commentary’ presents such a fascinating dimension to the steampunk movement. Really inspiring.

  9. […] I am a Steamfunkateer. Like Steampunks, we subscribe to the Do-It-Yourself Mentality. […]

  10. […] you will find discussions, photographs, fiction and articles on Steamfunk, Rococoa, great Black Authors, Black fandom, the craft of writing and Sword & […]

  11. […] grab your goggles, throw on that bomber jacket and climb into the cockpit of the airship Sweet Chariot with me as we get a bird’s-eye view of those pilots – and other great Black aviators – […]

  12. […] and salutations good people of Planet Earth. I am – once again – on board the Good Ship Sweet Chariot, traversing the aether in search of new Steamfunkateers to accompany me on a funktastic journey […]

  13. […] Steamfunk edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade – This is the definitive work of Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines Black culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or  steampunk fiction – featuring fifteen masterfully crafted stories by fifteen amazing authors. […]

  14. […] have a Black protagonist. No, these are books written by authors who proudly identify their work as Steamfunk and who skillfully deliver Funktastic stories in the […]

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