Aug 132008

Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction that alternates between fascinating me and making me snicker. The most common definition of Steampunk is a Victorian period setting with a higher technology level derived from lower technology applications. For example, creating robots who run on steam and use phonograph cylinders for their programming. Grand zeppelins are popular too as well as cybernetics that are made of amazing clockwork gears. It’s about achieving more with less, and the galvanizing effect it would have on a primitive society.

If it was all about the technology, I think the genre would die quickly. I really beleive what sustains it is the look. Victorian clothes are spiffy. Corsets, top hats and vests are cool to look at anyway, but throw in a complicated gear and some tubing and you got something really cool. For a subgenre of fiction, it is a really visual medium. That fascinates me because I see the chance for personal innovation. You can create your own steampunk top hat with telescoping monocle and no one can tell you that you did it wrong. Everyone becomes their own craftsman creating new designs as opposed to slavishly reproducing a set fiction like say Star Trek.

Part of what makes me snicker however is the fact that the Victorian period is adopted for the base. The Victorians had awesome clothes but good grief, they were a nasty xenophobic misogynistic bunch. These people believed in Imperial Destiny and if they had higher technology it only meant they would be killing more non-whites. Do not even get me started on how limited the rights of women would be. Victorians would despise the very people who seem to embrace steampunk the most.

But lately an idea as occurred to me. The Victorian Age was known for something else other than Sherlock Holmes, Captain Nemo and Dracula. It was known for it’s porn. Such a tightly rigid repressed society had outbursts of erotica. Strict Governesses, Vigorous Usings of the Crop and Prostitution were popularized fads. If Steampunk loves everything Victorian, where’s the steam powered love machine porn?

I did find some online. Steamypunk wins the contest for best genre name I have to say. I was more amused by the warning label I saw on one story- ‘Warning: Contains no explicit sex scenes! This is a work of romance.’

Whew, I’d hate to see sex dirty up a period science fiction erotica piece.

The rest of what I found was mostly art, which didn’t surprise me. I also read a few discussions among steampunk fans who had sneering comments about erotica in general. I know that is not indicative of all steampunk fans but I am always amused by the idea of a small subgenre looking down it’s bifocaled nose at another genre. When someone insisted that all steampunk erotica should be sex positive, I choked with laughter. Those wacky Victorians were all about the female empowerment.

When I finally did find some steampunk erotica, I was disappointed. At the end of my long journey I found stories of sex wrapped in incomprehensible world building. Characters with pretentious names explained the most irrelevant histories before getting into light flirting. I grew up reading Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, I should be eating this shit up. Instead, I found it really hard to give a fuck.

I have to say that my lack of enjoying steampunk erotica has me reevaluating my own stories. I write about mad science, sexual magic and secret societies. Am I wrapping my stories in similar impenetrable dense world making? There is always a danger in writing something so far removed from reality that there is no personal connection for the reader. I am very aware of the irony of a man who writes about an erotic beach volleyball tournament scolding people who write about steam goggled sex.

I do have one bit of advice for steampunk erotica writers that would help 90% of the stories I saw. Erotica is ultimately about people. It’s about personal dynamics more so than physical intersections. I think writers should go all out and explore their interests, but if the world itself is more interesting than the characters fucking, maybe erotica isn’t something you should be writing.

  4 Responses to “Steampunk Erotica”

  1. I cannot help but laugh and feel as if we’re traveling on parallel paths. Steampunk, for me, also teeters on the edge of fascination and mockery.

    I think, taking your question about your own writing, that there’s always a suspension of belief to be had when reading fiction of any kind. That’s why it’s possible to bend towards believing in magic, scientists, and many of your other previous ventures.

    If it’s easy, no, effortless, to slip into the fantasy, then, by all means, building the sex, the erotica – that’s all possible.

    But yes, another good point – the world by no means should outweigh the purpose of the writing. That’s in everything, though, not just erotica (but of course that’s what we’re dealing with, here!).

    Perhaps I should take up writing some steamypunky ideas down…


  2. You know, now I think the reason steampunk art and costume design is so good is because the creater can’t tack on his six page thesis to his overcoat. Maybe steamypunk erotica could use the same brevity.

  3. Well, I happen to be a sucker for steampunk and I am indeed surprised as to the lack of sexual activity on some of the best novels of the genre. I mean, if you’ve read the excelent essay THE OTHER VICTORIANS, you know they were not free of debasing themselves on prostitution while expounding the principle of proper conduct (for women) at home.

    However, I’d like to point you to two opposite instances of excelent steampunk with some erotica:

    First, last year’s revelation, THE GLASS BOOKS OF THE DREAM EATERS by Gordon Dahlquist (I believe the sequel has just been published). It is an excelent steampunk novel, that doens’t shy away from the “ugly” (read sexual) aspects of the time. And its main female protagonist, Miss Temple, is a very erotic creation. You should try it.

    On the other hand, bordering more on porn, you have the FRANKESNTEIN version of Amarantha Knight (Nancy Kilpatrick). It features some very strange sex machines and dables endlessly in spanking and sex. Knight also wrote erotic versions of DRACULA, DR JEKYLL & MR HYDE and THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GREY, but these don’t have steampunk overtones. The best one (although not victorian) is her take on THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM.

    Well, just a few thoughts.

  4. Hey Barros- I just saw your comment today. The Frankenstein story sounds neat. I’m going to have to check that out.

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