Steampunk is a wide open genre that seems to be, if you’ll pardon the pun, steaming right along, gathering new fans every day. Some come to it through the literary door: either by way of classics like Michael Moorlock’s Warlord of the Air, K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices, or William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, or newer entries such as Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series, Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris’s The Ministry of Peculiar Occurances series, and Karina Cooper’s St. Croix Chronicles.
But steampunk also has a history in the visual arts, whether in costumes, inventions, or a short-lived TV series. The latter is what caught my attention and brought me into the steampunk fold. Following is a short – very short – list of the movies, TV shows, and graphic novels that made me a fan of the possibilities of the genre.
Voyagers!: My first. Not that I realized this television show was steampunk at the time. No, when it first aired on NBC back in 1982 for its one and only season, I was more interested in watching the very cute Jon-Erik Hexum dashing about in quasi-piratical duds with young Meeno Peluce. It wasn’t until later that I realized the alternate histories they were trying to fix were often steampunk in nature.
Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water: This anime (Japanese animation) features the spunky, orphaned acrobat Nadia, the adorkable inventor Jean, Nadia’s pet lion King, the comic Grandis Gang, Captain Nemo, and the Gargoyle organization. Over thirty-nine episodes, viewers watch Nadia grow from a stubborn, narrow-minded girl to a compassionate young woman as she uncovers the secrets of her origin and learns to love the faithful Jean. Though the “
arc of the storyline moves a bit slowly for my taste, the series as a whole is
funny, romantic, gripping, and dramatic. It’s a classic for a reason.
Laputa: the Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle: Two films by the great Hayao Miyazaki. While they aren’t my favorite of his many works – my heart will always belong to My Neighbor Totoro – both really need to be seen by anyone who enjoys steampunk. Laputa is similar to Nadia – only without the submarine. Heroine Sheeta literally falls into hero Pazu’s arms from the sky, her glowing pendent protecting her from harm. Pursued by Ma Dola’s comic air pirates and a much more sinister organization, the pair discovers the legendary floating city of
forcing Sheeta to make a difficult choice.
Howl’s has only a surface
similarity to the Dianna Wynne Jones book it’s based on. However, if you enjoy cocky wizards with soft
hearts, smart-mouthed fire demons, and a heroine who finds the freedom to be
herself after she’s turned into an old woman, this is the movie for you. Both films are full of Miyazaki’s trademark flying scenes, strong
female characters, and visually stunning worldbuilding. Labeled children’s films, they’re very much
for anyone who enjoys great movies.
Girl Genuis: Originally a comic book by Phil and Kaja Foglio Girl Genuis has since become a webcomic, and a series of novels. Heroine Agatha Clay is a “spark,” an inventor of weird and wonderful gadgets. But she doesn’t know it. She does it in her sleep. She’s also heir to a fascinating legacy that puts her right in the crosshairs of the powerful Baron Wulfenbach and his son Gilgamesh. There’s also a talking cat, a bloodthirsty air-pirate queen, an army of monsters, an enthusiastic swordswoman, and plenty of mad science. While there’s action, adventure, humor, time-travel, betrayal and romance Girl Genius is at heart a story about the weirdness and wonderfulness of family.
The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Originally a comic book mini-series by Alan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neill featuring Victorian-era characters such as Mina Harker, Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, and the Invisible Man in a fight to save Britain from Fu Manchu and Doctor Moriarty, the League became a series of mini-series collected in graphic novels, and, eventually, a movie. While the comics are fantastic, showcasing
Moore’s imagination and intelligence, I
actually like the movie a smidge more.
If only because it has Sean Connery’s Quartermain mentoring Shane West’s
cocky Tom Sawyer. Mrrrwww.
The Adventures of Luther Arkwright: The original graphic novel by Bryan Talbot is dense with information and sometimes confusing, but it’s fascinating reading and viewing. In contrast, the sequel seemed kind of blah. Able to travel across parallel universes, hero Arkwright is taxed with protecting them from upset and ushering in a new age of humanity. It’s a more adult and philosophically sophisticated Voyagers, without the kid sidekick. Which brings me back to where I started.
Steampunk embraces a variety of styles and stories and is waiting open-armed for new readers. Dip in and try it. You might like it a lot.
Pinkerton agent Brom Donker’s arm and legs were taken from him during the American Civil War. Now, ten years later, although he’s adjusted to the metal limbs that replaced his real ones, there are times when he still feels like less than a man. Especially when he’s near Simon Wain, his physician/mechanic.
Simon has cared about Brom for years. As his patient. Lately, though, he’s been seeing the handsome agent as more than that. But how can a lowly physician/mechanic fit in with a man from a powerful and influential family?
As Brom deals with missing gun shipments, rogue Sasquatches, and disaffected Southerners, he and Simon confront their feelings about themselves and for each other.
The Tinkered Pinkerton is now available at Amber Allure.
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