Book Review: The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer

Oh steampunk, steampunk how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Actually I’m still a relative steam virgin if I’m honest. My exploration of this bizarre subgenre has really only inched forward in the last two years with the previous work I read in the being The Windup Girl almost 18 months ago now. Shameful really considering I come from a railway town.

At present I am currently reading China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and recently acquired Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker so I thought it would be a good idea to dive into this resource alongside it. And that is what this book is, a resource; however it does read well as a cover to cover piece or non fiction too.

Full of glossy photos, inspiring artwork and gorgeous girls in cosplay outfits, whether you’ve come at this from intrique of the art (like I have), an attraction to dressing up in quirky outfits or simply because you like your science fiction at the weirder end of the spectrum, this book will have something for you.

So who wouldn’t it be for? If you like your Victoriana toward the straight end of the spectrum then you may find steampunk is not for you and consequently may shy away from a volume like this. That’s not to say you wouldn’t or couldn’t enjoy this though, it has a fascinating insight into all aspects of the genre and associated culture.

Vandermeer knows and loves his subject right from the dawn of scientific romance of the likes of Jules Verne and HG Wells to the modern movement that incorporates so much more than prose on offer. There’s also summaries on the sub sub genres of dieselpunk, gaslight romance, clockpunk and several more. There are guest articles by other writers on certain aspects of steampunk and it is set out very much like an accessible Time Life book.

No stone is unturned as it looks not just at books, film and TV but also at the key artists, figures in the music scene, fashion and even how to design your own outfits. This is as much a lifestyle book as a biography of a pop culture movement.

So what’s not to like? Actually, the degree of cliqueness and snobbery and the creation of boundaries about who is doing steampunk properly and who, through scientific laziness, is only providing a poor imitation for the ignorant masses. Literary elitism is bad enough in high literature but let’s not pretend that steampunk is the scientific equivalent of Dostoevsky here, please.

Overall, this is a fascinating read and I feel I know far more about steampunk than I did before. At a shade over 200 pages and with lots of pictures, you could easily read it all over a lazy weekend.

The book now has its own blog/website here

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