steam-in-willowsRan across this Kickstarter project on GalleyCat. Australian writer Krista Brennan is raising money for “Steam in the Willows,” a “steampunk version” of the classic Kenneth Grahame novel The Wind in the Willows. It will be published in PDF, print, and (if a stretch goal is met) audiobook editions. Since the original book is in the public domain, people can of course publish or self-publish any version of it they like, and Brennan will be doing just that. Her project has successfully met its AU$6,600 goal (about US$5,985 at current exchange rates) with a week to go in the Kickstarter.

It’s great that she can do this, and it does look like she has some great illustration work going for her edition…but reading through the project description and peering at the illustrations left me scratching my head. I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s supposed to be “steampunk” about this project—or, at least, any more “steampunk” than the original early-Edwardian novel already was.

As far as I can tell from the sample pages, she’s using the original text of the public domain book, not rewriting it to give Mr. Toad a fascination with airships or steam-powered giant robots. (What’s worse, the paragraphs are not properly separated or indented on the sample pages, which makes the whole thing just look sloppy in the way that the worst self-published books are.)

Even the new illustrations don’t appear to be particularly “steampunk.” They’re just period, which isn’t quite the same thing. Steampunk grew out of a love of that period, but retrofits modern ideas and conventions into it—giant robots powered by steam, airships far more elaborate and commonly-used than they were in the actual period, and so on. The Wind in the Willows does have some sensibilities that would endear it to the same people who enjoy steampunk—particularly Mr. Toad’s fascination with cars, trains, and other new technology—but it is not, technically, “steampunk” in and of itself.

It looks to me like Ms. Brennan is just using a popular buzzword to try to entice people into putting money into her project. And since it’s passed its funding goal, it seems to have worked. Hopefully the backers will be satisfied with what they get. But after looking at the mess of text on the sample pages, I’d have to say that if I wanted to read the book, I’d just go to the Project Gutenberg version. At least their e-books are properly formatted.


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