Queens of A Radiant Tomorrow

A Writing Wednesday post, delayed!

I’ve had three or four topics drift through my mind as I think, “Man, I need to write my weekly post.” A post about what people seem to value in blogs, a post about the trouble with titles, a post about following the rules and how it does and doesn’t help–

But right now, the spinner has settled on ‘steampunk’ as a topic. The immediate idea comes from reading this post at Carina Press’s blog, but it draws on thoughts dating back much further, including a discussion of steampunk on the Satellite Show.

I’m afraid I’m one of those purists who draw a distinction between ‘steampunk’ and ‘gaslight fantasy’. Properly done steampunk is science fiction as much as its parent genre, cyberpunk. Weird technology in a Victorian setting isn’t steampunk unless it focuses on the technology, and how it influences the setting. If the technology is just flavor, just a part of the setting, it’s gaslight fantasy– which I do also enjoy. But the splat-punks have a special place in my heart.

I think Satellite Show said it well: “The “punk” aspect of Cyberpunk or any of its derivatives (of which Steampunk is only the most well known) is not just there for show, but because any of those genres should capture a spirit of a society bleeding out on a technological fringe, a technology that has the power to both free and oppress, a height of wonderment and possibility contrasted with a depth of exploitation and despair. These are the times and places where the rebels thrive, in the scientific revolutions that reshape the world.”

It was fascinating to read this definition, which encapsulated thoughts of my own perfectly, for two reasons:

1.) Most things I write have some element of that nature to them. I love technology, and watching how technology impacts humanity. And in all of my fantasy worlds, I tend to have a carefully developed technology that heavily influences the plot and the world– even the magic is usually more technology than magic. One of my favorite bricks-under-the-bed could be described as ‘angelpunk’. And yes, that means what it sounds like: angels used to power a technology, and how that shapes the world. How that both liberates and oppresses elements of that world.

2.) Think of the possibilities! You could take almost anything, add -punk to it, and using the above definition, have an instantly interesting world! (Maybe only interesting to me). As an example, at one point Jess Nevins mentioned ‘geisterpunk’, German for ghostpunk, on his twitter stream, which prompted a wild frenzy of speculation:

I imagined a technology inspired around using scientific proof of an immortal soul. Like, half of eternity is still eternity so POOF, power. So, a situation where you have immortal souls and they can be split– but the amount of work a soul can do via this technology is limited. Souls aren’t infinite, so there’s this back-alley bartering of fragments of one’s soul, and accumulating more soul is relevant and meaningful.

Tiny totally frayed souls in strung-out junkies, some of whom are desperately scrabbling for more soul to supplement those, and some who are barely more than zombies because they’ve given– or had taken– all they can.

Awesome, right? And I haven’t even gotten into the kinds of work that soul-powered machines might be especially useful for doing, the weird and wonderful advances enabled by ghostpunk technology.

But anyhow! I think the reason that steampunk is so interesting right now is because it lets us explore the potential consequences of what’s happening to our society right now. Cyberpunk is a little too close to home, but steampunk has that necessary remove which allows so many people to really think about an idea. Our own world is changing so fast, with so many varied threats and promises contained with the technologies we’re exploring. How do we cope? How do we even understand? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, I think that’s part of the power of fiction. We have everything we need to understand ourselves and our own world, right there at hand.


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