Back in 2011, The Steampunk Bible provided an “illustrated guide to the world of imaginary airships, corsets and goggles, mad scientists, and strange literature.” It was one of the more comprehensive books that tried to tackle the larger definition of the steampunk movement, and I’ve actually loaned it out to a few folks who responded that it really helped them understand the lifestyle, music, art, and literature associated with the word steampunk. Written by Jeff VanderMeer with S.J. Chambers, it’s one of those reference books that all steampunk fans should have on a shelf. (My original review can be found here.)
Jump forward three years, and Jeff VanderMeer has returned along with Desirina Boskovich (a fellow Atlanta resident!) to offer up a sequel of sorts — The Steampunk User’s Manual. As with its predecessor, this full-color hardback reference provides dozens and dozens of essays, photos, interviews, and more… but this time around with a slightly different intention.
Whereas The Steampunk Bible attempted to explore as many aspects of steampunk as possible, The Steampunk User’s Guide is all about offering advice to artists, writers, musicians, and anyone else desiring to live and/or create (re-create?) in this fictional Victorian-esque world.
Whether you’re considering writing a novel, painting a landscape, sewing up a vest, or casting some jewelry, the book opens by suggesting a four-part creative process to keep in mind as you explore the rest of the book. The book is broken into five chapters:
Chapter 1: Steampunk Art and Making
Chapter 2: Steampunk Design: Fashion, Architecture, and Interiors
Chapter 3: Steampunk Storytelling
Chapter 4: Steampunk Music and Performance
Chapter 5: Retro-Future Fantasies and Steampunk Dreams
Each chapter focuses on its title concept(s) and with discussions focusing on the actual hands-on activities and planning involved. There are interviews with all sorts of individuals who not only work and play in a steam-driven world, but who also continue to push the genre in new and unique directions. If you’re looking for instructions on making a pair of goggles and where to buy a suitable vest, this isn’t that book. While there are actual hands-on projects you can follow, I believe what you’ll find most useful are the six sections that are consistent across all chapters, with headers such as “Past and Future: Steering Clear of Clichés,” “Finding Inspiration: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” and “Seven Pieces of Advice.” If you’re like me, you’ll quickly find your favorite section — mine is “The Working Process” that offers up very personal looks at steampunk makers, writers, and artisans and how they make stuff happen.
The Steampunk User’s Manual is a beautifully-designed and well-written book, and it’s got so much eye-candy that you’ll be forgiven for ignoring the text initially and just thumbing through all 250+ pages to stare at all the wonder. However, the book is ultimately about encouraging creators interested in this culture to help grow it and keep it alive. I cannot imagine a true steampunk fan not finishing this book and feeling inspired to do so… I’ll be marching down to my workshop this weekend with a few ideas already in development in my head…
In New York City this weekend? Abrams Image, publisher of The Steampunk Bible and The Steampunk User’s Guide, is partnering with Barnes & Noble and inviting you to a panel discussion on The Steampunk User’s Manual: An Illustrated Practical and Whimsical Guide to Creating Retro Futurist Dreams on Sunday, November 23rd at 2pm EDT. VanderMeer and Boscovich, along with a few other contributors to the book, will be on hand to sign copies. Attendees are also welcome to join the authors and contributors at Madame X bar (94 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012) from 5-8pm (cash bar) for a chance to mingle and chat with other Steampunk enthusiasts. I wish I could be there to attend!