Steampunk! Vapore Italico

With the rise of interest in Steampunk culture across the world, we didn’t have to wait too long before an Italian publisher decided to print the first anthology of this genre: Edizioni Scudo announced in October 2010 they were looking for stories in order to realize the first anthology of Italian Steampunk tales.

The feedback was bigger than expected: while Edizioni Scudo wanted to realize one anthology, they got enough good material for three books.

The first book, Steampunk! Vapore Italico (Italian steam), was published in April 2011. It features fourteen tales that are an interesting interpretation of steampunk themes, viewed and filtered through an Italian cultural background.

Italy is a young nation (it was unified in 1861) but at the same time very old and full of histories and cultures that across centuries have settled into the Italian subconscious: in Italy also rocks have a background.

From the uniqueness of Italian experiences descends specific variations and very interesting ideas about the possible role of steampunk in Italian culture. Italian unification, even if happened 150 years ago, has not been completely metabolized and elaborated by the Italian people: there are people who still wish the splitting of Italy or sigh for the reigns present before unification. Steampunk thus allows us to return to that period in order to re-evaluate it from a new point of view, for example by searching for possible alternatives to official history.

It is for this reason, in my opinion, that many tales present in the anthology deal with founding elements of Italian identity.

For example “I Giganti di Ferro” (Iron Giants) by Giorgio Sangiorgi is set during the Resurgence (which led Italy toward unification) and offers an alternative result for the Italian struggles of that period. “La Piave” (The Piave) by Diego Bortolozzo is set during World War I and features “new” technologies employed by Italian and Austrian armies while fighting for North-East Italian territory.

Other stories have a more common Anglo Saxon steampunk setting, among these we can remember “Piombo contro acciaio a Elderberry Field” (Lead against steel at Elderberry Field) by Andrea Viscusi, about mechanical gun fighters in the Far West and “Scaglie d’oro” (Golden Scales) by Claudio Cordella about the scientist John Moreau who discovers vestiges of a reptilian pre-human civilization: this story is full of references to authors of the 19th and early 20th century like Mary Shelley or H. P. Lovecraft and to scientists like Richard Owen and Othniel Charles Marsh who discovered the first dinosaurs.

Some stories also present considerations on Italian ancient and present society, like “Napoli 1810” by Davide Giannicolo or “Notte Senza Stelle” (Night without stars) by Marco Filipazzi.

I had the chance to interview Giorgio Sangiorgi, the head of Edizioni Scudo, and to discuss Vapore Italico with him.

Doctor Fantastique’s: What is “Edizioni Scudo?”

Giorgio Sangiorgi: Edizioni Scudo is an initiative of the Cultural Association Scudo that aims to host graphical and literary productions that otherwise wouldn’t be considered by the professional book industry and to promote its authors, with the help of new informatics instruments. At the beginning this initiative started from the awareness that Science Fiction spaces for Italian authors are becoming smaller, and then we widened our offer to other genres that are in the same situation.

DF: Who are you?

GS: We are two crazy fans of speculative literature, graphic and cinema. We are Luca Oleastri and Giorgio Sangiorgi, each one with his competences and experiences, different but complementary in the book industry field, and in many others…

DF: Why did you decide to realize a Steampunk anthology?

GS: Oleastri discovered that on the Internet the word “Steampunk” had more contacts than the word “Fantasy,” that at the moment is very popular. We recognized that it was a genre not yet very used in the territory of genre literature. For this reason I insisted to realize a sumptuous edition. We really have done something unprecedented in the history of Italian publishing.

DF: Why wasn’t it done before? Why did no one think about it in Italy?

GS: I think for two reasons. The first reason is that it is a genre of science fiction literature and in this period the publishers publish science fiction only if they don’t say that word: they convinced themselves that readers don’t want it and at the end this has become true. The second reason is that steampunk is not well known in Italy and authors have not yet understood the amazing narrative possibilities.

DF: Reading the stories, what future do you foresee for Italian Steampunk? Is there an Italian way of steam?

GS: This is probably the major contribution that we at Edizioni Scudo have given in order to promote steampunk in our country: we asked our authors to focus on tales set here, in Italy. This resulted in a Resurgence flavor present in the anthology, which is tied in with the 150th anniversary of Italian reunification occurring this year. We hope to have given a spur at steampunk development.

DF: Which can the contribution of Italian steampunk be to this genre? Is there for example something not present in the classic Victorian steampunk?

GS: First of all our authors didn’t have any difficultly in placing themselves in the Victorian period and in setting their stories, like they were born on Thames shores. But working on our country’s background, strange things happen. For example if we go away temporally from the 19th century, and we set our story in previous time periods, the impact of premature technologies on history becomes even more traumatic and deep. Our authors did it, I don’t know if Anglo-Saxons ever thought about it. In other countries there is not the historical complexity we have in Italy (because Italy is not a unique state, but a whole of several histories and cultures: I really would like to see a Calabrian steampunk). On the other side, this non-conformism leads our authors out of track, employing for example aliens or time travelers. The third book of our anthology will be dedicated to the stories that went out of track.

DF: You received enough material to fill three books. “Vapore Italico” will become a series or the experience will end with these three anthologies?

GS: Now there is a specific series inside Edizioni Scudo dedicated to Steampunk: Vapore Italico. Steampunk authors can find refuge at Edizioni Scudo – also because I believe that difficulty other publishers would dare so much. And we already have three steam novels scheduled for future publication.

DF: Which was the source of inspiration for the illustrations coming with the book?

GS: The sources of Luca Oleastri are in his unconscious and in his sophisticated imagined culture that grew in him across the years. In this specific case, he did the illustrations starting from the tale of the author, in order to make more vivid and tangible the presence of his creation. This is the wonderful job of the illustrators.

DF: Can you tell us something about other Edizioni Scudo initiatives?

GS: We have to deal with a huge amount of tales and novels that Italian authors send us every day. At the moment we have many projects of cooperative writing like Vapore Italico, Mahayavan (that is a series of tales set in a common fiction world) and Robot Ita, which is our last project: an anthology of stories about robots set in our country, Italy. It is an interesting challenge: will we find authors who accept the challenge?

Concluding, this initiative is surely welcome within the Italian literary context and possibly could bring to light the steampunk culture present in my country, inspiring people and setting the basis for a dialogue about this genre.