Working the pedals, moving the sticks, dancing to the silent jazz of turbulence in the air around her, she was Josephine Baker, she was Cab Calloway, she was the epitome of grace and wit and intelligence in the service of entertainment. The crowd went wild as she caught a heavy gust of wind and went skidding sideways toward the city’s treasured Gaudi skyscraper.
That jazzy movement reflects the energy of the story Zepplin City by Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick. I tend to stumble on these things, these really rich steampunk stories. I followed this one from SFWA to Tor Books where it was offered as part of its month-long steampunk blog, last year.
Besides the amazing illustration by benjamin carre, I was attracted by Radio, a gamin with a penchant for invention. As a ham operator of questionable skill, I am a sucker for anything that talks basic radio, and this one opens with tubes and tuning with needle-nosed pliers. Big sigh. Don’t get me wrong. Steampunk definitely. There are Zeppelins, and people whizzing through the air surrounded by big blades and gizmos, directed by Naked Brains. Definitely steampunk. And radio. How sweet of them to make me so happy.
The story definitely is not the usual image of steampunk, though. From the quote, we’ve got thirties sensibility for sure. All that does it remind me that at the core steampunk is using stories to talk about the role of technology, power, and politics. At least in Zeppelin City, it does. When the contexts are handled properly, steampunk reminds us of how little things have changed in the world. We might be more advanced technically, but the systems around us still operate pretty much the same way. What do we do, then? Is there a story that suggests how to act in the face of all that sameness?