1.- The interviewee
Dr. Mike Perschon (aka Steampunk Scholar) is a father and a husband, living in Canada. He teaches English full-time at Grant MacEwan University, researches steampunk, and blogs about SFF books and films. He is a Dungeon Master and on occasion, sits on the other side of the DM’s screen. Mike used to be an indie musician, and was “Most Promising Art Student” in high school; sometimes, he still finds time to engage the pen, pencil, and Photoshop. While he wishes he’d gone to film school instead of seminary, he’s making up for lost time now, engaging the world of creativity instead of theology.
2.- The interview
I am not going to be wrong if I say that Dr. Mike Perschon is one of the best known Steampunk connoisseurs all over the world. His academic approach to Steampunk has turned him into an authorized voice and we are thrilled to share views with him.
Q.- First of all we would like to congratulate you for your successful PhD defense. This is the culmination of a long process, what’s your next goal?
A.- More sleep, more time with my kids, more time with my wife.
Q.- Not only both Irene and I have got university degrees, I have postgraduate education and Irene has some years of experience as scholar. Besides, we have some friends who are making career as university teachers in Spain. I guess that we follow up the evolution of college education in some way and, in fact, we are very interested in the thesis of academics such as the Royal Society Research Professor Tim Gowers, who are questioning the traditional peer-review system. Does this ‘publish-or-perish’ system need a revision?
A.- Definitely. I work at a teaching institution where our workload can involve research, but doesn’t necessarily have to, and I can readily attest that it makes for a more congenial workspace. Research institutions tend to have an unhealthy tension about them.
Q.- And what do you think about initiatives like edX? May this be the future of universities?
A.- I’m unfamiliar with edX, so I can’t comment.
Q.- Taking your own experience as point of departure, does the academic world welcome the study of ‘atypical’ subjects such as retrofuturisms? How can these movements contribute to the research activity of universities?
A.- I think it depends on your department. Some are very forward thinking, and encourage new and potentially atypical subjects. In my experience, English departments are fairly conservative: they’re looking for another Victorian literature guy, not a guy looking at neo-Victorianism in Science Fiction, which is too bad, given how it could give enrollment a boost.
Q.- Your definition of Steampunk as an applied aesthetic has become widely accepted: ‘it is a retrofuturistic, neo-Victorian, technofantasy look and feel applied to narratives, movies, art, gaming, and costumes among other items’. Some time ago we dared to define Steampunk as a ‘Victorian retrofuturistic uchronia’. Would you share with us what you like and what you don’t from this definition?
A.- Well, for starters, the use of Victorian without any modification. There are certainly works of steampunk that can be defined as Victorian, but there are many other works that lie outside the world and time of the Victorians. I’ve been thinking I need to amend my neo-Victorian aspect to “Hyper-Victorianism,” since steampunk is often about an exaggeration of the Victorian period. As for uchronia, steampunk uses elements of alternate history, but is as often about alternate worlds. Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian series, Felix Gilman’s Half-Made World, and Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls all take place in secondary worlds, not alternate histories. Again, I’d say the steampunk aesthetic gets applied to the genre of Alternate History, as opposed to Alternate History/Uchronia being a feature of steampunk.
Q.- This said, how would you describe Steampunk jewelry?
A.- Again, we see elements of the aesthetic. Steampunk jewelry often includes two or three of the aesthetic elements – a Victorian-era cameo combined with clockwork, or something like it.
Q.- Would you dare to define it with a single word?
A.- I can’t – while I’d readily admit that the majority of steampunk jewelry I’ve seen in vendors’ halls is hopelessly derivative, there are still those few artists who are creating unique and interesting expressions that defy a uniform assessment.
Q.- Christopher García stated that ‘some of the best scholarship being done on the subject of Steampunk has been by Mike Perschon on his blog, Steampunk Scholar’. We do agree with him and, besides, your blog includes some awesome top lists (literature, comic, cinema…). Why blogging?
A.- I’ve been a performer my whole adult life. I respond well to a crowd, and I knew that having a blog might attract one. Your readers push you to write. They ask when you’re going to comment on this book, or that film, or they challenge your arguments. I met a Polish cartoonist through the blog who really challenged me, and I can say with confidence that I would not have finished the dissertation if it hadn’t been for my readers like him challenging and interrogating my thesis.
Q.- . As Steampunk scholar and blogger, what would you tell Steampunk jewelers? What challenges do they face?
A.- I think the steampunk blogger and the steampunk jeweler face the same problem: how do you make yourself stand out from the countless other bloggers and jewelers claiming to do the same thing? I think you have to craft a niche for yourself. Making steampunk jewelry won’t make you unique any more than having a steampunk blog. They’re a dime a dozen right now. But focus, consistency, and quality will set you apart from the crowd. I decided early on to have a literary focus, since few steampunk blogs were just about the literature. Then, I endeavored to update regularly. And I won’t update if it isn’t up to the quality my readers have come to expect. This makes the work harder, but ultimately, it gets people like Chris Garcia saying nice things about you, I guess.
Q.- Not so long ago we made this question in our interview to Kevin Steil (aka Airship Ambassador): ‘Steampunk literature is one of your main fields of expertise. A piece of jewelry plays an essential role in the plot of ‘The Gold Bug’, the unforgettable short story written by the American master Edgar Alan Poe. Do you remember any other book in which jewelry has a prominent role?’. Based on your comprehensive knowledge of Steampunk literature, can you think about any book with jewelry playing an important role in its plot?
A.- Dead Iron by Devon Monk features a clockwork amulet that she describes as a mix of device, art, and design, or something like that. It’s effectively a doomsday device, but also a thing of beauty. While the film isn’t steampunk, the clockwork vampire device in Guillermo Del Toro’s Cronos is certainly steampunk in its aesthetic, and would definitely be considered jewelry. I think we’ll see more crossover from steampunk art into the fiction, in the same way the goggles were given explanation in Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, or Jay Kristoff’s Stormdancer.
Q.- Being not only researcher but a Steampunk aficionado too, do you have any jewel you would label as ‘Steampunk’ that you are specially fond of?
A.- Ornate pocket watches are my jewelry, in general. I don’t own a particularly ornate one, but I once saw a pocket watch that had a ship’s wheel as the hands, and I thought that was very cool, since I’m a big fan of Captain Nemo.
Q.- We think that Steampunk jewelry for gentlemen should receive more attention and this is why we are developing the Sky Captain series, which includes lapel pin, tie clip and cufflinks. Do you agree with us? Is men’s jewelry not receiving attention enough?
A.- It’s all about the market. Women are socialized to wear jewelry, so it only makes sense that the lion’s share of products would be for women. That said, I think we’re again speaking to the idea of standing out in a very large crowd: designing steampunk jewelry for men would definitely make a jeweler stand out.
Q.- May men’s jewelry be recovering part of the importance that it had in other periods of history?
A.- It depends on the culture and period. But insofar as lapel pins, tie clips and cufflinks go, I’d definitely say yes. We don’t see people wearing those in everyday circumstances. I know my students would notice if I was wearing such items. They draw the eye, and in a world of t-shirts and blue jeans, it certainly makes a fashion statement.
Q.- Some months ago we published a blog post entitled ‘The 5 secrets of Steampunk fine jewelry’. Is there a place for Steampunk fine jewelry?
A.- Absolutely. My wife can’t wear base metals, so I can only buy jewelry made, as you say, “from the best materials” for her. That alone would be a reason. But I think quality is valuable – I love what Dark Garden corsetry does: again, in a vendor’s room filled with cheaper corsets, Autumn Adamme’s fashions always stand out.
Q.- Last but not least, some exciting news: you have a new project called ‘Force Moreau vs the Martians’. Would you be so kind to tell us a bit about it?
A.- It’s a mashup of H.G. Wells’ most famous novels. It will be a combination of webcomic and serialized fiction: I’ve really missed writing creatively and drawing, so this is a way to get back to that. In short, imagine that the Time Traveler finally returns, and when he does, it’s to a world where the Martians also came back, and this time, they didn’t catch a cold. He discovers a world where humans have been driven underground, as one of the characters from War of the Worlds imagined they’d might. And to strike back, they’ve called on Dr. Moreau to enable them to fight a guerilla (or gorilla!) war against the Martians. I have initial sketches, but between graduating and grading papers, I won’t be able to make the big reveal until November. Watch for it at Steampunk Scholar.
Q.- Is there anything else you would like to add?
A.- Just a huge thank you to the steampunk community that cheered me on over the past four years. As I’ve already said, I could never have done this in this time frame without the generosity and helpfulness of the steampunks I’ve met both in person and online.
Disclaimer.- The opinions or statements expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decimononic.
3.- Next interviewee!
On the 15th of December we are publishing the interview for Robert Brown (aka Captain Robert). Founding member and frontman of Abney Park, he is a Steampunk songwriter, novelist, community organizer, blogger, game designer, craftsman, and fashion designer. He’s been interviewed by several TV shows and Magazines, like MTV, and the New York Times.
Remember that all the published interviews are available for your delight: ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ the brief interviews series by Decimononic.