Steampunk - what gives?

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Arcadius, Mar 6, 2016.

  1. Hello everyone,

    first thing first, if starting a thread in this section requires some sort of agreement with the moderators responsible, I apologize for skipping the process and would be thankful if the thread got locked until I arrange the necessary. Also, if this is not the right section of Iwaku for such discussion, I'd be obliged if it would get moved into the proper section.

    Now, for the actual reason I waste server space with this. For the past seven or so months, I have been trying to develop a steampunk setting, using a character as a narrator, narrating his experiences in first person past tense. Retrospection, as if the story was his memoirs of sort. Basically, the events of the story are supposed to be an article he's writing at first, though obviously by the end the length of the text obviously bit over the scope of a single article. For those of you who have read Metro 2033, it's quite similar to how the reader explores Moscow Metro through Artyom's eyes, since both Artyom and the reader know very little about the Metro at the start of the book.

    That is not a problem, or at least I think so. My problem lies with steampunk itself, and that is, defining it within what I see as "scientific" boundaries. No magic or fantasy elements, just science that took the turn left where "our" science turned righthand.Best example of this is, of course, the defining title of the whole steampunk genre The Difference Engine, where Charles Babbage actually finishes his work on the namesake Turing-complete device and changes the flow of history quite considerably. The science and engineering in the book stays notably sober about its predictions, a fact I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Steampunk, from what I have seen, usually tries to set itself somewhere around 1880-1910,style and "technology" wise. No plastics, no semiconductors, limited aeroplanes. To me, it seems that it tries to catch that zeitgeist of the turn of the century, where the future looked bright and possibilities of science endless, before future knocked the door down with flamethrowers and gassed everyone in the room with yperite.

    But is that the reason it go so popular? Often, it seems to me the text goes against what I think is very defining point, and that is, scientific credibility. Steam powered mechs and airship combat, huge architectural works, cybernetic augmentations and computers similar to the current ones in power and capability. All of this usually goes against rudimentary scientific and engineering knowledge, and gets somewhat forced into the setting while perhaps not adding that enhances the work. Classical science fiction goes around this issue by having the story set in future. A work that was written in 1880 that would predict quantum technologies and intricacies of space travel is indeed a classical sci-fi. Is work written today about the past allowed such means? Is the pivot of steampunk, simply said, a sci-fi, but with brass instead of plasteel and Zeppelins instead of spaceships?

    What I struggle with is, simply put, figuring out what exactly defines steampunk, and how to use this spice in reasonable amounts to keep the setting interesting, but also neatly packed and consistent. So I would like to ask you, what does define steampunk? Why do you like it?
  2. If you can see it, you can post in it!

    Now, *ahem*

    You'll get many different people telling you what "real" steampunk is, but really there's a thousand interpretations of it and they're all just as valid.

    if I had to cite a defining attribute (besides steam-powered technology)...

    It's what happens if you ask what would happen to technology if ____

    If we never invented electricity?

    If we had magic and machines at the same time?

    etc etc.

    The aesthetic is definitely attractive as well, and ranges from functional goggles to putting gears and clockwork and copper on everything just because it's cool. Again, both are valid; it's about having fun so do whichever is fun for you!

    I personally like steampunk partly for the gears, goggles, and copper aesthetic, and partly because I love to worldbuild unconventional cities and technology, and steampunk gives me unique parameters to do that in!