Steampunk, n. a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.
Tonight I finished a rewatch of the early 00’s Disney film Treasure Planet, a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island which replaces the high seas with outer space and combines Victorian culture and sailing ships with the high technology of laser cannons.
The story is great, the dialogue is snappy, and there’s hardly a wasted moment. This movie was underrated.
And a big part of what I loved was that intersection: a convention called “steampunk.” This movie made it feel natural that Victorian century dress, speech, and music should live alongside machines, solar sails, and rockets.
This steampunk combination appeals to me because it rhymes with my sense of the connection between culture and technology.
Sure, the Victorians had no such spacegoing vessels. But they were exactly the kind of people who would have made fine use of them. Theirs was the age of exploration, and theirs was the culture that bred explorers like rabbits.
Our modern cultures have high technology. But it’s hard to argue that today’s culture is capable of generating men and women with the same adventurous spirit as that of men like Shackleton, Livingstone, or Fawcett. We may keep developing our silicon chips to hold more data and more of our Instagram photos, but will we have the curiosity or the courage left to go to distant planets.
When I see – even in fiction – the adventurous societies of the past outfitted with the technology of the present (or even our future), there’s just something that makes sense. And Treasure Planet is a pleasing example.