In his new riff on steampunk, Jean-Christophe Valtat presents a city teetering between the absolute zero of death and a glacial reimagining of Eden.
by Jean-Christophe Valtat
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Since its christening in the late 1980s by science-fiction writer K. W. Jeter, the steampunk subgenre has undergone few changes to its gaslight-romance-by-way-of-Wired formula. Along with Jeter, authors James Blaylock and Tim Powers translated the dystopian fables of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick into anachronistic fantasies, replete with images of jet-propelled dirigibles, pneumatic-tube ways, and the eponymous steam engine. Steampunk located itself in the Victorian fin de siècle, where London itself became a character, an industrial metropolis as imagined by H. G. Wells or Arthur Conan Doyle.
Jean-Christophe Valtat's Aurorarama follows steampunk's basic conventions, but its influences and setting are of a different species. Narrated as a trans-Arctic alterna-history, Aurorarama harks back to Jules Verne, Raymond Roussel, and Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. Here, a pearlescent city-state—New Venice—rises from the rugged terrain of the polar ice caps, Inuit tribes battle Anglo imperialists for rights to territory (and magic), and America's and Europe's roles as international superpowers are nothing but footnotes in the history of globalization.
New Venice is introduced as a city teetering between the absolute zero of death and a glacial reimagining of Eden. Amid the burgeoning ethnic and economic unrest, Brentford Orsini and Gabriel d'Allier, scions of the city's preindustrial "arcticocracy," have submerged themselves in the underground world of "polar pop," narcotics, and Eskimo resistance. As they navigate networks of scavengers and anarchists, Orsini and d'Allier