Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review / Preview: Steampunk for Simpletons

I mentioned before that some of my tutorials will be in the upcoming book Steampunk for Simpletons.  I also volunteered as a beta reader for the book and so I got to read the beta version and was given permission to review it here.  Obviously I have a vested (non-monetary) interest in promoting this book, since my work appears in it, but, well, I think you guys know I wouldn't lie about it in a review.

So, what exactly IS Steampunk for Simpletons?  The goal behind the book is to be a complete guide to steampunk, aimed at someone new to the subculture.  There is a big need for such a book, actually.  I constantly meet people who are interested in steampunk but don't know where to begin.  Many have questions that they are ashamed to ask or don't know how to find the answer.

And let's face it, steampunk is hard to pin down.  It's an aesthetic, a literary genre, a fandom, an alternative subculture...  Steampunk is everywhere, but it differs not only from region to region but individual to individual.  It can be really overwhelming for a newbie to really come to grips with what steampunk is and what is out there.

I'm very impressed with what Wendy L. Callahan and Travis I. Sivart have done with this book.  I haven't read all the books out there on steampunk, but I'm familiar with most of them and I don't think anyone else has come this close to creating the definitive guide to steampunk as a culture.  If you want to get involved in steampunk, but feel overwhelmed or unsure of yourself, this is the book for you.

They start by defining steampunk in a few different ways and presenting some of the history of the genre and basic information it's important to know about the Victorian period and Victorian science fiction.  Then they basically take the reader through a "how to be a steampunk" course covering clothing, persona, crafting, and attending events.

The second part of the book covers "Steampunk Arts" and introduces the reader to examples and types of steampunk music, art, movies, games, and books.  There's also discussion of communities, both online and offline, in the US and worldwide.

Throughout the book there are short pieces written by various notable steampunks on various topics.  And finally, there is a section of DIY tutorials with 12 steps or less.  That's the only part of the book I haven't seen, aside from my own two contributions.  But from the Table of Contents, there are 14 of these DIY entries and they sound good from the titles.

Above and beyond pure content, I love the attitude of this book.  The authors stress over and over again that there is no one "right" way to do steampunk and you should avoid (I believe their words were "run away quickly") from anyone who tries to tell you that you're doing it wrong.  They really capture the great things about the steampunk spirit and the community at its best.  I found myself reading with a grin on my face as I recognized things I've witnessed in the community and vigorously agreed with pretty much everything they said.   Readers of this blog should have a similar experience.

Honestly, I can't recommend this book enough.  ESPECIALLY for anyone who is just getting into steampunk.  This book will make you more knowledgeable about the history of steampunk and the community as it exists now than most steampunks out there.  It should give anyone the confidence to walk into a steampunk gathering without being afraid they will commit some horrible faux pas.  (Generally, there aren't a bunch of rules anyway, so long as you act like a decent human being, but it's something people worry about.)

For more experienced steampunks, I still recommend giving this a read.  I think there's probably something in here that most steampunks aren't aware of, or which may give them a different perspective on things.  I loved finding out that although there are regional differences steampunks are still steampunks everywhere and certain behaviors come through.  (We DO drink a lot.  And offer each other weird alcoholic beverages from flasks and mysterious bottles.  We WILL stop for photos pretty much instantaneously.)  I also found a lot of the information about steampunk in other countries fascinating and learned a lot.

In short, you should all go support the Kickstarter, which is still running until Feb 20th, and get yourselves a copy!  (Plus, they are really close to funding more art for the chapters, which would be awesome.)

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