Review: Steampunk Soldiers – Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam

Steampunk Soldiers coverSteampunk Soldiers – Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam by Philip Smith and Joseph A. McCullough is more than just an illustrated encyclopedia of Victorian era military garb. The book from Osprey Publishing will entertain anyone with a pulse. Beginning with a backstory about the conception of the book before diving into page after page of detailed illustrations and concurrent explanations of each image, readers will immediately be drawn in and find it difficult to put down.

Presented as the wondrous early steam era following the meteor shower of 1862 which brought the world vast deposits of the strange new element known as hephaestium, more than just landships, walkers, submarines and airships evolved.

As described in the publisher’s marketing blurb, “Between 1887 and 1895, the British art student Miles Vandercroft travelled around the world, sketching and painting the soldiers of the countries through which he passed. In this age of dramatic technological advancement, Vandercroft was fascinated by how the rise of steam technology at the start of the American Civil War had transformed warfare and the role of the fighting man. This volume collects all of Vandercroft’s surviving paintings, along with his associated commentary on the specific military units he encountered.

The premise of the book is the perfect canvas to tell the story of Steampunk culture. What better way to provide authenticity than through the extensive research of unpublished manuscripts as well as many believed to have been lost paintings? We learn that advancements of the period were not limited to equipment and weaponry. The soldiers who manned these powerful inventions and fought in the subsequent battles around the globe displayed their own dashing pageantry worthy of display. And that is what brings us to this artful publication.

The art is divided into chapters covering the most influential dress by regions around the world including Great Brittan, France, Germany, United and Confederate States of America, Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy, Japan, and a collection of Minor Powers worth mentioning.

This division allows readers to compartmentalize the differing styles based on specified cultures. But it also provides a better map of the socioeconomic influences of Steampunk on the select regions. From the extravagant gadgetry and technology to the practical fabrics and tools on their belts, the elements of art, music, literature and religion can be gleaned from the wardrobe of fighting men.

Steampunk SoldierAs a fan of Steampunk literature, I’ve also noticed that the book can be a valuable resource for character building and research. Each soldier represents a different faction of social status and Smith and McCullough has provided just enough biography for each image to give future writers some wonderful ideas. We are not talking plagiaristic work, but more of a fictional muse to draw their own characters from.

Some might put Steampunk Soldiers – Uniforms & Weapons from the Age of Steam in the category of artful coffee table literature. But Philip Smith and Joseph A. McCullough has produced something much more prevalent. Be it the Steampunk story, the time dated artwork, or the social influence of regions, fans are sure to find something entertaining in this book.

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