by Paoli du Flippi
Detroit, April 1, 2013—Break out your goggles and corsets! It’s goodbye to twenty-first-century Detroit and hello to Victorian Boilertown!
Today Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit summoned the media to a scheduled press conference at City Hall for the purpose of detailing the strategy devised with the Michigan state government for restructuring the finances of the ailing municipality, once an industrial powerhouse of the United States, but today merely a hollow, mismanaged, undercapitalized shell of its former self. Present at the start of the conference along with Mayor Bing was Governor Rick Snyder. But there was no immediate sign of the unnamed individual appointed as the city’s Emergency Manager, a powerful figure whose identity would become apparent only at the end of the conference.
Mayor Bing began his speech with a statement of the city’s well-known dilemma: corruption and a loss of jobs and population had resulted in an urban wasteland with an inability to fund government services at the very time they were most needed, leading to a sense of despair and hopelessness among the citizenry. The Mayor concluded by saying, “We must follow a careful yet daring plan into the future, one that will restore Detroit’s glory days. And that roadmap to the future ironically features a trip back to the past. But not to the past of the 1950s. No, those days of gas-guzzling automobiles as the foundation of our economy will never be practical again. In fact, I’m sure you will be surprised to learn that we’re not even going back to a real past. Rather, we are reaching for a wonderful fantasy past that will allow Detroit to paradoxically become a harbinger of the future!”
At this point Governor Snyder stepped forward with details of the program.
“As of today, the city of Detroit is no more. In its place is born Boilertown, the first all-steampunk city in America!
“Those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon of steampunk should simply know that it’s a return to all the virtues and ambitions, technology and dreams, inequalities and opportunities that made the world of the nineteenth century such a vibrant, exciting and Darwinian era. But the past is not merely returning to us in pristine historical form. No, steamunk adds a fanciful dimension of fun and games to days of the Boer War, cholera and Jack the Ripper in a way that has been proven, time and time again, to excite people and stimulate the economy.
“First up, the city of Boilertown is going to embark on a massive program of civic reconstruction, turning all modern buildings into Victorian edifices, powered and illuminated by America’s plentiful supply of natural gas. Luckily, we have a large stock of period structures already in place. But the teardowns on modern buildings alone will provide thousands of jobs, and the construction of vast train stations, blimp hangars, academies of mesmerism, slums, and difference-engine factories will deliver thousands more.
“Additionally, every citizen of Boilertown will be outfitted with a complete wardrobe of steampunk clothing that must be worn at all times—even those scratchy flannels in bed. Visitors to the city will be required to rent appropriate costumes during their stay. This will introduce another revenue stream to the city, offering employment to hundreds of drygoods merchants, milliners, corsetieres, leatherworkers and goggle-lens polishers.
“Blacksmiths, ironmongers, maids, butlers, bathyscaphe barnacle scrapers and steam technicians will find endless job opportunities. These are all jobs that require minimal training, with any necessary formal schooling falling well short of even a GED, thus allowing the city to free up funds formerly spent on education and also negating any national stigma attached to our high dropout rates. Another benefit is that these jobs involve long days of wearisome manual labor, leaving young adults too tired for any night time acts of juvenile delinquency. And of course, as another period touch, unions will be nonexistent in Boilertown, a forward-thinking, utilitarian policy I have been trying to implement for some time now.
“To attract steampunk creators such as musicians, puppeteers, swordsmen, writers and artists, all of whom who will add much value to our city’s entertainment life, we will offer tax breaks and free living quarters, as well as exclusive privileges at any of the many fine stews, fancyhouses, Hellfire Clubs, saloons and brothels we intend to install. So far we have solid commitments for relocation to Boilertown from James Blaylock, Tim Powers, Cassandra Clare, Cherie Priest, Gail Carriger, Jake von Slatt, Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, the Decemberists and Paul Guinan.
“Since its codification in 1987 by K. W. Jeter—who, by the way, has just been appointed as Boilertown’s Aetheric Communications Poobah—steampunk has proven enormously popular with an ever-expanding group of readers, musicians, cosplayers, makers, artists, moviegoers and fashion designers. Its mix of antiques and anachronisms facilitates a solidly conservative political strategy which we are proud to be the first to implement on a large scale. Even our criminal justice system will benefit from policies similar to those in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age—although summary executions by nanotech are, regrettably, not yet a possibility. By aligning our fair city with this burgeoning, unstoppable movement, we are hitching our wagon to a tireless robot horse that will carry Boilertown into a rich future that looks just like Queen Victoria’s reign as imagined by Hollywood, Hasbro, Lady Gaga and the Koch Family Foundations.”
As Governor Snyder concluded his speech, Mayor Bing stepped forward. “And now we introduce our Emergency Manager, the one man who can be counted on to make this bold program work. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the author of The Steampunk Bible, that fine document that will serve as Boilertown’s new charter—Mr. Jeff VanderMeer!”
Emerging from backstage, the noted writer, bedecked in Edwardian finery, carried with him a copy of his famous guide to all things steampunk. At the microphone, Mr. VanderMeer said, “I won’t take much more of your time today. We have an enormous amount of work to do, and I’d like to begin right away. Let me just leave you with this thought. While ‘the past through tomorrow’ might have been good enough for Robert Heinlein at a time when Detroit was first doing big things, only the philosophy of ‘tomorrow through the past’ will serve us today!”