Friday, October 22, 2010

When Young Folks Get Steamy: What’s a Parent to Do?

'Firefly' artwork courtesy of Brigid Ashwood
So Miss Teenage Daughter, a.k.a Kyra, had her boyfriend over for a visit again. And things were awfully quiet upstairs. Not wanting to miss another opportunity to impose my “mature morality” upon her, I ascended the stairs quietly. Were they in “both feet on the floor” mode in her room?

No! They were not in her room at all.

Hoping to avoid the dreaded "Sorry, we lost your son" conversation with the boyfriend's parents, I began searching for them. I did a room by room sweep of the house, but there was no sign of them.

There was only one more place to check ... the garage. I quietly opened the door from the back room to the garage. There, on the far side of the garage, from behind the workbench, I saw smoke rising. I walked directly up to the bench, way beyond stealth mode now. And there they were, soldering! Yes, they had one of my solder guns out and were busy attaching wires to LEDs, batteries, a tiny fiberglass circuit board. Their project? A crystal, lit by LED power. Their tiny creation made multiple colored LEDs light the crystal in a myriad of slowly changing color patterns. Strictly decorative, but very cool.

I counted my blessings. The smoke was not from one of those other sources. How could I complain? It was actually one of the first times any of my daughters had demonstrated even passing interest in things electronic. Or mechanical. Or having anything to do with engineering or technology (not counting their cell phones, MP3 players, or laptops, of course). I had long since given up on the notion that the family engineering gene would find a toehold on their generation.

Since then, the two young creators have been spending afternoons and weekend hours putting together all sorts of jewelry and gizmos, using parts from old clocks, watches, and all forms of discarded machines, objects scavenged from garage sale, flea market bins, and the neighborhood Goodwill store. This was just their latest steampunk technology project. They are into it: steampunk as art, a way of channeling all that creative, crafty DIY (do it yourself) energy into personal expression. And what’s not to love? They are even going to this month’s Sadie Hawkins dance in full steampunk regalia.

Steampunk is leaving its tracks elsewhere in mainstream media on a regular basis. Just last week, ABC’s Castle TV series aired a steampunk-themed episode. ( And of course, Castle’s star, Nathan Fillion, is himself a veteran of arguably one of the most popular scifi cult classics of recent years, Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Firefly could well be described as a steampunk story, with its Old West slash space opera mashup.

Work that falls under the broad definition of steampunk predates the coining of the term (references to K.W. Jeter’s l987 letter to Locus abound). Those who have been immersed in the steampunk world since then have lots to say about its virtues and limitations. Two print publications with some great articles on the steampunk theme include the September issue of Locus and the October issue of Analog. The Locus issue has several outstanding articles and essays about the history and state of the steampunk universe. The October Analog’s “The Reference Library”, a column by Don Shakers, nicely covers some of the history while introducing recent entries into the field. If you are looking to learn more about the field, whether you consider it to be old or new, get your hands on a copy of either of these recent magazines or check out the myriad of great on-line articles available now. I like the Wikipedia article:

If you are looking for reading suggestions, check out Paolo Bacigalupi's Windup Girl, a recent Locus award winner and Hugo nominee. There is also Soulless, from Gail Carriger. (See Ann Wilkes' review here.) And Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. Note that both Gail and Cherie are on the cover the Locus issue mentioned above.

It’s not all about Victorian gowns and goggles, though I love a good bodice as well as the next typical male observer. Whether you consider steampunk to be a trend, a fad, a movement, a passing fashion statement, a philosophy, a distracting hobby, an emerging lifestyle choice, or simply as anachronistic entertainment with style, enjoy it! Any sub-genre that legitimizes fun while also selling books gets at least one thumb up from me.

"Firefly" Article Image © Brigid Ashwood 2010

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