Like steampunk, silkpunk is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. But while steampunk takes as its inspiration the chrome-brass-glass technology aesthetic of the Victorian era, silkpunk draws inspiration from classical East Asian antiquity. My novel is filled with technologies like soaring battle kites that lift duelists into the air, bamboo-and-silk airships propelled by giant feathered oars, underwater boats that swim like whales driven by primitive steam engines, and tunnel-digging machines enhanced with herbal lore, as well as fantasy elements like gods who bicker and manipulate, magical books that tell us what is in our hearts, giant water beasts that bring storms and guide sailors safely to shores, and illusionists who manipulate smoke to peer into opponents’ minds.
The silkpunk technology vocabulary is based on organic materials historically important to East Asia (bamboo, paper, silk) and seafaring cultures of the Pacific (coconut, feathers, coral), and the technology grammar follows biomechanical principles like the inventions in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The overall aesthetic is one of suppleness and flexibility, expressive of the cultures that inhabit the islands.
A lot of my ideas about this alternate technology aesthetic were inspired by W. Brian Arthur’s theories about technology, especially the notion of treating engineering as a creative art that solves problems by recombining existing machines into a new machine that achieves a new purpose — in a sense, engineering is very much like poetry.
Liu's novel, The Grace of Kings, was released to critical acclaim. I've started reading it myself, and whole-heartedly recommend it.