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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WHAT IS SCI FI? - PART 1

Analyzing the Basics...
So exactly what is science fiction?

Wikipedia defines it as “a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting.”

That’s quite basic. And it gives us a platform to sequentially expand upon.

I believe that science fiction is a broad interactive platform that is only bound by the limits of ones imagination. The inquisitive arena of the human mind provides the effervescent breeding ground for ideas. And once those ideas are targeted at unknown technologies, imagined anthropologies and extrapolated communal ideologies, then the foundational cornerstones for the desired science fiction concept are set in place.

[Artwork courtesy of aiRaGe at http://www.deviantart.com/ ]

As can be inferred from the image above, foundations help to support buildings. And buildings are actually based upon blueprints. The blueprints are the seeds of the ideas spawned within the unfathomed pool of the creator’s mind. But when the human creator seeks to contrive ideas that are tied to undefined concepts set in alternate planes of reality, then the creative arena that is embarked upon is tied to the genre of science fiction.

Science fiction [or sci fi for short] is often tied to the future, per the unknown nature of events that the general populace imagines are destined to take place. And it is widely believed that these so-called future events—often cataclysmic in their predicted nature—will result in a complete decimation and subsequent remodeling of the current canvas of civilization. This in itself, is a paradigm of the negative view that some possess, tied to the pending evolution of mankind.


Steampunk Stuff!

Yet amidst the imagined stark reality recently mentioned, there are particular themes of sci fi that bravely emerge. The fascinating Steampunk genre is tied to this particular branch of speculative futuristic fiction. And in these fictitious worlds, the human population is presented as a war-torn race recently decimated by destructive phenomenon—ranging from alien invasions to global catastrophes. And the surviving members of the humanity have been plummeted backwards along the technological timeline, into a regressed phase where iron, steam, and mechanical innovations have become the foundation of sociological existence. The anthropological themes in such environments usually result in the discovery of sharp differences in the financial class of the surviving individuals. And most commonly, there are heroic scavengers and snobby aristocrats in those sci fi masterpieces.


[Star Wars Steampunk Cosplay poster / sci fi wallpaper]


By Definition, Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction, which came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes fictional works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used — usually the 19th century, and often Victorian-era Britain — but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, often featuring futuristic technology as the people of this historical period would have envisioned it to look like, i.e. based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, art, architectural style, etc. This technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer, but occurring at an earlier date. The Victorian era was the time period between 1837 - 1901 in which Her Majesty Queen Victoria reigned in England. And the Victorian era was succeeded by the Edwardian era [1901 - 1910].

Steampunk borrows from the styles of both periods, in terms of the fashion and environmental staging / architecture, while having a flurry of modern themes intertwined into gadgets and technological arrangements powered by steam and hydro-electric systems.


This piece of art titled "Steam City" was done by a conceptual artist from Denmark, named Jan Ditlev Christensen. There are both futuristic and classical themes intertwined into the drafted scene. The utilization of steam within heat engines as a source of generating mechanical work is evident. A walker unit is shown to the left, while there are elevated train tracks to the right. The pic is punctuated by a carriage in the center, right on the pedestrian crossing [and this carriage utilizes robotic quadrupeds for dragging it forward]. If you look closely, you will  notice flying machines in the background.


Steam engines were popular back in the 1800s and airplanes were not invented till the 1900s. Multifunctional robotic walker units didn't show up till about the 2000s, and even now they are still not commercially produced on large scales. And there are definitely no sentient robotic dogs, cats or horses on earth today that display fully independent natural behaviors. This forced fusion of a myriad of technologies within the same timeline is definitely a signature trademark of Steampunk sci fi.
Jan's deviantart gallery showcases more of his great work, which you can check out here: http://janditlev.deviantart.com/


The term Steampunk is actually very broad. And in modern times, it has become a broad canvas that even bleeds into COSPLAY themes, whereby fans flock to various conventions adorned in attire that reflects this particular concept.


Steampunkers are survivors: heroes and heroines that strive to make the best of a ravaged world. Often, the remnants of chemical pollutants and wide-spread caustic and septic influences have forced the focal individuals in such sci fi planes to adopt several technologies or even physical mutations that are key to their daily survival, amidst harsh environments. The knowledge of mechanical engineering and technical savvy are standard concepts in such scenarios, and Steampunkers are definitely known for their catchy sense of style and their spunky persona's. After all, they've survived earthly apocalypse and they still thrive, having edgy senses of humor and sexy appeals.


A Steampunk Artist/Colorist...

The female showcased here is a perfect example of the Steampunk style and sensibility. Her web name is Bakanekonei and she resides on the West Coast. She's a professional digital colorist/artist, who has worked for the likes of Marvel and DC Comics, and she is known for breathing life into the artistic renditions for Zenescope.



While it is common for fans to imagine "armor plated storm troopers" or "robe wearing crusaders" as paradigms of sci fi, it should be noted that sci fi is just like a mighty tree trunk with multiple branches; and those branches all represent a varied presentation that is set in an alternate timeline, amidst various localized or globalized ecological conditions.
To view brilliant digitally painted artwork, Visit Bakanekonei's page at: http://bakanekonei.deviantart.com/ Trust me, you won't be disappointed.


Here are some more Steampunk costumes & cosplay outfits designed by Leder-Joe, a guy at Deviantart:
 
              


A Steampunk Seamstress...

A strong Victorian influence is evident in most of the current Steampunk costume designs that you can find online. And one of the most outstanding designers that I've found is a young lady named Kato. Originally from Wales in the UK, she has a strong British pedigree that is actually rooted in Steampunk themes.
Residing on the West Coast, she is the founder and chief seamstress of Steampunk Couture. She's been in business since 2005 and her Web site is being relaunched at the end of April 2011.

Here are samples of some of the cool costumes that she has created over the years.

 




 


Kato is shown in the top left. I believe she debuted that cool outfit at ComicCon in 2009. She also has a host of cool headphones and goggles that she creates, as special orders for her clients.

The curvy bustle dresses [shown on the left] are amongst my favorite designs. They take fashion queues from the clothing style that was prevalent in the 1800s, in the Western World and in England, where train tracks were the highway routes that amended popular cities and townships.

Commonly, contrived framework/wiring of some sort was utilized to enhance the view of the female's derriere, while the dress fabrics could range from silk to satin and cotton. Additionally, customized latex pants and cropped leather jackets [ending above the waist and having straps] have also made their way into the design palette for Steampunk fashion. And I believe that tall boots were more popular than heeled pumps back in the 1800s. Thus the complimentary shoes available for most Steampunk costumes usually have flattened soles, even when they rise a few inches.

Be sure to check out http://www.steampunkcouture.com/ and stay updated on the impressive products by Kato and her team.



**EDIT - NEW STEAMPUNK PICTURES ADDED ON NOVEMBER 24TH, 2011**

I found a host of Steampunk Cosplay pics on the Web and decided to insert them here. You will get to see Wolverine, Rogue, the Justice League, Abraham Lincoln, Ironman, Darth Vader and a host of other popular sci fi characters, represented by fans at Comic Conventions. First I'll showcase a young lady named Yaya Han. and Yaya has a profile at Deviantart.com, where she archives a host of her cosplay pics.







 

Yaya looks exceptional in her Neo-Victorian cosplay costumes. Plus the addition of the green and black corsets gives her outfits the sexy vibe that is easily identifiable with the early 18th century design themes.


This wallpaper / poster of the Justice League [labelled as the JSA from the source website] presents them in Steampunk attire, and it dates back to 2008; it was a toyline from DC Comics that was introduced in a promotional effort. I doubt any comic books were made tied to this theme.


    

The busty female on the extreme left above has peculiar dreads/hair extensions. The next image showcases three beautiful cosplay ladies, wearing corsets and cropped bustle dresses; they have a very vintage look and their accessories are very articulate. And I'm sure that Abe Lincoln likes what he sees, while Darth Vader opts to remain stoic...

Next, this cosplay guy definitely looks like Tony Stark, presented in a unique manner. The showcased armor for Marvel's Ironman appears to be very reminiscent of something that could have been contrived in a Neo-Victorian era, where Steampunk technologies were being utilized ingeniously.



Yaya Han is shown again [below], in a Victorian bustle dress designed to show off her figure and cleavage. And you'll also get to the the Steampunk-styled X-men...








The Western-Punks Sub-Genre!

In some instances, the mere presence of advanced technologies within classical Western settings is also tied to the sci fi Steampunk category… and one of the best examples of this concept’s manifestation is in the movie titled Wild, Wild West, featuring Will Smith and Kevin Kline, which hit theaters back in 1999. In fact, it was tagged as a “science fiction Western action-comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld,” and it was heralded as a movie that showcased “highly advanced, implausible Steampunk technology and bizarre mechanical inventions”.

Notable amongst the technologies showcased in this movie was the giant tarantula that was featured in the third act of the film, controlled by the main villain, Dr. Loveless. This giant contraption was cluttered with pulleys, links, pistons, levers and flame throwers, having multiple levels and other steam-powered gadgets that caused it to rival giant MECHs in its maneuverability.
EDIT: Youtube deleted the original vid, So a new movie trailer had to be sourced:



Now lets travel eastward across the Altantic Ocean, for more examples:

Set in the United Kingdom, the modern movie remake of Sherlock Holmes [released in 2009] also showcased Steampunk technology and clothing themes. It stared Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, two actors who had a very dynamic chemistry; one was a very practical and disciplined gentleman, while the other was a troublesome free-spirited adventurer. Yet there were certain inventions showcased in the movie that dictated futuristic themes - since Sherlock was presented as a genius capable of contriving tools and gadgets that were ahead of their time. Check out the nostalgic clip below.




Steampunk Anime Concepts

Various high-octane animes [Japanese word for “cartoons”] have also been created with underlying Steampunk themes, such as Full Metal Alchemist, Gunbuster 2 [often called Aim for The Top 2], and the Last Exile anime series. In fact, the sea-faring adventures of Luffy Straw Hat and the gang, in the anime called One Piece, has been shifted into the Steampunk category, although it features pirate concepts, in a world that’s almost completely covered by two vast oceans.



The clip above is proof that sci fi doesn't have to be set in the future in order for it to be abundantly fascinating. Full Metal Alchemist features two brothers that dab in the mystified art of alchemy, in a daring attempt to resurrect their late mother. Their enchantments go awry, and their powers evolve from there, along with their quest through their Steampunk world to return themselves to normal and revive their dead mother.

Of course, when it comes to cartoons, especially anime, then it's either hit or miss, on two distinct levels. First of all, you have to be an open-minded fan of this form of visual entertainment; if you don't like cartoons in general, then you're probably not going to like a sci fi anime. Secondly, once you've admitted that you still have a place in your soul for cartoons, then you have to appreciate either the art-style or the story presented in the anime.
For example, simply because you loved Dragonballz doesn't mean that you're destined to have a keen interest in Full Metal Alchemist. Yes, they are both anime, but they're based on two entirely disparate concepts. Also, 2D anime cartoons have their own appeal, which is separate from the magnetic vibe felt by 3D animes. And eventually, our discussions will steer into those deep waters in search for more sci fi gems.
But it should be noted that in all the Steampunk cartoons, the presence of various peculiar and anomalous items—such as a myriad of electronic gadgets, portable remote communicators and other space-faring vehicles—illustrate the undeniable fact that an insatiable thirst for elaborate futuristic innovations exists in the minds of artists and creators that strive to produce entertaining sci fi concepts.

And while we're at it, if you don't like anime, then perhaps you grew up at a time when there were a plethora of Saturday morning sci fi cartoons that you obviously preferred, which looked a bit like this:




The 80s saw a lot of exciting cartoon series come and go, including BraveStarr [shown above]. And I dare say, per the drafted concept of cowboys in space, that the Steampunk ideology may have been subconsciously intertwined into that cartoon.

Journey to a Galaxy, Far, Far Away...

Now we flip the coin. Sci fi has also been notoriously known for being the birth canal for the visually stunning and the incredibly entertaining. Giant robots, spacecrafts, alien beings and uncharted worlds have all been mainstay foundational features in stories that are set in carefully contrived futuristic worlds that span uncharted galactic planes.
One of the classic stories that brought sci fi into the homes across the US was titled Lost in Space. It was created by Irwin Allen and broadcasted on CBS. That initial TV series ran for three seasons, with 83 episodes airing between September 15, 1965, and March 6, 1968. Their first TV season was filmed in black and white, but the rest of them were filmed in color. I actually remember watching the black and white episodes as a kid [but these were reruns of course… I’m not THAT old].

Per the plot of this series, the year was 1997 and mankind was poised to embark on the colonization of deep-space. The Jupiter 2, a saucer-shaped spaceship, was launched into space with the Robinson family [not to be confused with the retro Swiss Family Robinson], and per a near-sabotage attempt, the craft gets lost. Thus the entire premise of the TV series is the odyssey that the family embarks upon as they strive to find their way home.
The idea of mobile, intelligent, interactive robots [modernly tagged as droids or sentient AIs] was one of the key appeals of this series. And it was definitely only the beginning of featured robotic concepts, which would come to be known as a main foundational element of all modern space-based sci fi series. Of course the core concept of robots dates back probably to the 15 century, but for the purpose of our discussion tied to cornerstones of the entertainment industry, this reference point will suffice.

A feature movie of the same title was launched in 1998, and it stared one of the popular “Friends”, Matt Leblanc. This Lost In Space movie was quite entertaining, but it wasn’t staged to become a movie franchise… and that subtracted from the depth of the plot intertwined into the film.




Traveling across the STARS

Speaking of sci fi franchises, some of the most popular franchises have been Star Trek [created by Gene Roddenberry, which debuted in 1966 and initially ran for three seasons] and Star Wars [conceived by George Lucas and the first film in the franchise was originally released on May 25, 1977].



I may be biased, but I prefer Star Wars to Star Trek, merely per the entertainment factor presented by George Lucas’ revolutionary ideas: warring eldritch species, brilliant light sabers, dark Sith lords, benevolent potent Jedi, comedic droids and the classic regal damsel in distress.


This Star Wars poster is based on Episodes 4, 5 and 6, from the franchise. Although it often confuses some people, since the three sequential movies were released with the tags of Episode I, II and III.


One of the major points of leverage that made fans believe that Star Wars was based in an alternate galaxy was the presence of other eldritch species. And per the wide variety of "Voluptuous Jedi Babes" that were always showcased in the supporting films, comics and cartoons of the franchise, it was quite understandable why fans quickly accepted the presentation of new intriguing lifeforms from distant worlds.
The pic presented here is by the Iconic artist Adam Hughes, who is known for being able to draft some of the most alluring females in the entire comic industry. He certainly did an excellent job in showing the power of the force, as expressed in Master Yoda's pleasant dream.

In addition to beautiful alien females, the presence of futuristic technologies have always been a strong lighthouse in the uncharted sea of space. And the multi-functional sky towers that breach the base of the clouds, along with the various hovercrafts and hyper jets that zoom by them have come to be known as standard features for most sci fi adventures and space opera stories.
Orbital elevators and colonized moons are also becoming extremely common, and the "metallic halo" concept of having a band around a planet that consists of habitable quarters and farming establishments located closer to dwindling solar energy supplies have also become quite common in sci fi books and comics alike.
Coupled with breakthroughs in quantum physics, robotics, system engineering and aerospace engineering, nanotechnology has almost become synonymous with futuristic sci fi. And the extensive branches from this anastomotic concept will only reach further and further into the uncharted regions of deep-space, as the imagination of the human mind continues searching for more innovations to present.

Star Trek, although it was and still is a cornerstone franchise in the genre of science fiction, was always intended to be about discovering new worlds and establishing peaceful connections between mankind and their wondrous neighbors situated across the vast airless sea of space. Thus, cataclysmic space battles on massive scales were really not the focal idea of the writers of the series.

Whether it was The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager or Enterprise, fanboys and fangirls alike were always treated to stimulating space vistas and intriguing visuals of alien races and other interstellar establishments that showcased the existence of intelligent life beyond the bands of the milky way. Plus the presence of alluring alien woman that specialized in wooing the captain of the crusading star fleet were always a draw for those who loved the theme of inter-species romance.

 






Additionally, since Star Trek was an extremely fascinating series, it swiftly made the jump from the small to the big screen. And despite what the critics say, all their movies were actually quite… fascinating [cough].


But I must tip my hat to the Star Trek movie released in 2009, directed by by J. J. Abrams, and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. In my opinion, it was the epitome of interactive space exploration, as far as the franchise is considered. It was the sort of movie that non-Trekkies flocked to see, because it was so damn entertaining from start to finish. And my opinion is boosted by the fact that Star Trek was the 13th highest grossing movie of 2009, proving that audiences around the world were definitely intrigued by what they saw. This movie was a triumph for the sci fi genre. It was extremely riveting and the special effects were superbly done. The writers took their time with it, and the director did and excellent job of interpreting the actions and emotions perfectly, so you actually sensed ripples of humanity coming through the big screen, while you observed the cast amidst the unfolding climatic sequences. And this movie proved that Star Wars wasn’t the only space-based franchise that could create a massive global buzz, amongst individuals who weren’t traditional sci fi fans. Chris Pine [Captain Kirk] and Zachary Quinto [Spock] both did outstanding jobs... and I'm looking forward to seeing them in the forthcoming movie sequel. And the current word is, Paramount is planning to release the sequel on June 29, 2012.




There isn't enough time to dive into other movies set in diverse timelines, which are also tied to the Steampunk genre, including:
  • Sherlock Holmes [the 2009 flick starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law]
  • Hellboy I and II [released in 2004 And 2008 respectively]
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen [launched in 2003, the last movie by the legendary actor Sean Connery]
And the list goes on.


This discussion is far from over. But I’ll stop the expose here and kick off more discussions on classic and contemporary sci fi features next time. Stay tuned…

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