Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I have long been fascinated by the Edwardian cult of technology. It was the launch pad from which the twentieth century's rocket of tech was launched. It did not give rise to the automobile, but it allowed the automobile to evolve to its highest forms, both in the high and the low end. The steam locomotive advanced by leaps and bounds and science, in general, took gigantic steps forward. It was in this era that men sprouted wings of wood and silk and took to the air, and monstrous craft, lighter than the air that they glided through, were the promise of the future. Much of what Verne envisioned in Paris in the 20th Century was, in fact, part of Paris at the dawn of the 20th century. This was truly the golden age.

My love of this early twentieth century technology is oft perceived as a fondness of the "Steampunk" genre. It is true, as I have discussed elsewhere, Steampunk had a great deal of potential as a science fiction and design genre at one point, but it has taken a turn for the juvenile and the trashy, which, in my view, has utterly undermined any virtue that it might once have had.

I think that the genre of "Futurism", or the prototypical science fiction of writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, should not be lumped in with Steampunk, as it often is, because those were works of carefully thought out genius. Within the Steampunk genre, The Difference Engine should be considered a stand-alone work, transcending and inventing the genre as a whole. Everything else in the Steampunk genre is unmitigated crap. Garbage. Sewage. The very worst of the literary dump.

In any case, whilst on a hike in Folsom, California the other day I happened upon a magnificent old iron bridge. It was made by the San Francisco Bridge Works in 1895 and it served as the sole bridge across the American River into Folsom until 1917 when the larger, stone "Rainbow Bridge" was built. At that time the city of Folsom sold the old iron truss bridge to a buyer in Japan, but it was never shipped and it stayed in place until 1930. In that year the State of California bought it to span the Klamath River on Walker Road in Siskiyou County, and there it stayed until 1998. The City of Folsom bought the bridge back in that year, and it was reinstalled here as a foot and bicycle bridge, running next to its replacement.

What really caught my eye about this old bridge is that, from a distance, it is a purely functional span. As one draws closer to it, however, you begin to notice the Edwardian detail – the decorative iron work and the beautiful punched sign declaring the manufacture of the bridge. Once you are really close to foot of the bridge you notice the original signage: "$5 fine for driving over this bridge faster than a walk. $25 fine for driving more than 20 head of horses, 50 head of cattle or 200 sheep, hogs or goats over this bridge at one time." This is a magnificent coalition of technology, art, the modern age and the age gone by. This is what Steampunk should be about.

No comments: