Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A Steampunk's Guide to Sex

This dropped through the letterbox about 10 days ago. I was expecting it since I was one of the people who'd helped fund it through Kickstarter (and, yes, it got hugely more funding that it needed for the print run).

It's modest in size - 7x5 inches - but carries more entertainment per square inch that almost any other book I can think of.

For those who don't know, steampunk is an outgrowth of goth that revolves around a somewhat updated Victorian sense of style, heavy with science and engineering, and a thoroughly modest and somewhat anarchist approach to life. Its icons include brass goggles and airships. Its music is Abney Park and Vernian Process. Its literary doyens are people like Neil Gaiman. And its visual fantasies are probably supplied by people like Alam Moore, through his graphic novels (a term he's now moved away from) and the films based on them, like A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. More of Alan Moore later.

This collection is anarchic, in the best possible meaning of that term. Reading it makes you feel you're in the company of maverick scientist-buccaneers, taken back in time to tour the underbelly of a late 19th-century metropolis. A metropolis that you know, somehow, contains all the elements that have become the bad features of today's society and yet remains hugely engaging.

What you get is five chapters: Propriety Under Siege, The Illustration of Vice, On the Labor of Sex, Sex Most Perverse and Joyous, and The Art of Love. But each chapter isn't a complete narrative: it comprises five or six shorter pieces, mostly but not exclusively written by Professor Calamity, Alan Moore and Luna Celeste.

Alan Moore, writer, artist, magician and many other things besides, coincidentally popped up on my radar recently for quite other reasons. He was the originator of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta and Watchmen, all graphic novels which have since become major films - which he had no input into or influence over because the rights were held by the publishers. The white mask used by many anarchist protesters, the Occupy movement, Anonymous, LulzSec and others originates from his original V for Vendetta.

The book doesn't shy away from uncomfortable truths about Victorian sex (and indeed contemporary sex) such as sexually-transmitted diseases. It argues that many of the things we think we know about the Victorian era (and indeed about our own society) are in fact myths. It teaches you how to make your own flogger. It tells you how to behave should you find yourself in the presence of sado-masochistic sexual play. It does a lot more, does it with great style and is always engaging.

Oh, and tintypes. The book reproduces tintype images, contemporary pictures made using an original Victorian photographic process. 

If this is a book you'd like to own, you can buy it from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, direct from the publishers Combustion Books, and probably other places.

If this recommendation doesn't convince you you should own this book, or if you're just curious to find out more before producing money from your wallet, out of your corset or wherever you happen to keep it, the original Kickstarter funding pitch video is still available even though the book's now out, and if you prefer you can see it on BoingBoing or Steampunk Magazine instead.

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