Fri
Oct 16 2009 10:26am

The Revolution Will Not be Telegraphed: The Sociopolitical side of Steampunk


[“The Revolution Will Not Be Telegraphed” image by David Malki. You can buy the shirt here!]

Steampunk is here to stay. There’s no doubt about it. But as much as I am glad to see my favorite genre of speculative fiction get its due, I am a little disheartened by the lack of something present in today’s incarnation of the genre.

When I look back at the literature that got me interested in this style in the first place, I think of the classics such as Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island, Robur the Conqueror, Paris in the 20th Century, Around the World in 80 Days. Or Wells and his classics The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and War of the Worlds.

The one thing that held most if not all of the early Scientific-Romance novels together was a heavy amount of not-so-thinly veiled social and political commentary. Both Verne and Wells constantly called out the corrupt nature of imperialism, and the negative effects of colonial expansion in their works. Not to mention being some of the first authors to address environmentalism, and the dangers of science run amuck. These were prophetic men with something to say and causes to fight for. Even the early works of authors like Jeter, Sterling/Gibson, Blaylock, etc. in the 70s, 80s, and 90s kept true to these ideals. Steampunk was after all, an offshoot of the sociopolitically motivated “Cyberpunk” genre.

However, it seems to be a dying trend with today’s writers, musicians, and artists in the Steampunk style. It doesn’t seem like many people have much to say about the state of our world. Or if they do, they seem to be content on focusing on the more “Gaslamp Fantasy” side of the genre.

I mean, sure I love airships, and submarines, and time machines as much as the next Steampunk fan. But I want more out of my Steampunk than dressing up like an Airship Pirate and pretending I live in the 19th century.

While fiction, music, and other forms of art are the primary way to share a message with the world, in this day and age the internet and its social networking can be just as powerful. Currently it seems as if there are two primary camps in the subculture online. And these two are represented by very different groups. On the one hand you have the members of “Brass Goggles” (The self-proclaimed “Lighter side of Steampunk”), whose members do seem to have an interest in the political and social aspects of Steampunk, but aren’t really allowed to discuss those things because of the forums “no religious/political discussion rule.” Of course I understand why the founders created the rule. It keeps conversations civil for the most part. But I can’t help but feel that it also stifles the creative discourse that can come from such discussions.

Now on the other side of the coin are the people behind Steampunk Magazine. Who actually have a manifesto present right up front in their publication and website. They seem to be a little more extreme about their political ideals as they apply to the Steampunk subculture.

To me, sociopolitical discourse should be something that gets an individual thinking for themselves, and encourages them to take whatever action they feel necessary to change their world. Revolutionary groups tend to coerce individuals into what they should say and think concerning the goals of the organization as a whole. But that is no better than living under a totalitarian state that does the exact same thing less subtlety. I’m not trying to decry the motivations of the Steampunk Magazine crew, as I think they are admirable. But I do have issues with revolutionary groups in general.

Somewhere between these two extremes rests “The Gatehouse,” and their forum the Smoking Lounge. Nick Ottens runs this group, and he seems open to people discussing anything they like as long as they keep it civil. The only problem is that compared to both Brass Goggles and Steampunk Magazine, Nick has a fraction of the members. So naturally there isn’t nearly as much activity on those forums.

Personally, this is something that we are trying to address through our work as Vernian Process. There are things about this world that aren’t common knowledge, and those are things we want more people to know about. We don’t like Imperial glorification, and national pride. We want people to know the history of the governments they so adore. The heinous acts that they have gotten away with over the centuries. The events that were swept under the rug of history so to say. These are important issues to us, and we hope that more of you feel the same. Sure thinking about the reality surrounding the genre we all love and adore can be depressing. But isn’t it better to address the very real issues our founders were so passionate about, then to run around with rose-tinted goggles ignoring all of the dark and horrific issues of the 19th century (issues that remain relevant even today)?

So what say you? Would you like to find more serious issues addressed in your Steampunk media? Or are you content with the more superficial aspects of the genre?


Joshua Pfeiffer is the founder of the Steampunk band Vernian Process, and co-founder of the steampunk-centric record label/collective Gilded Age Records. When he isn’t working on music, he is probably working as middle management in the video game industry.

This article is part of Steampunk Month: ‹ previous | index | next ›
33 comments
Jaymee Goh
1. Jha
If the Revolution will not be telegraphed, can it be faxed? Or mailed? Do we take over the Babbage Mailing System?

OK, OK, I'll quit.

Anyway, you probably know my answer.
René Walling
2. cybernetic_nomad
Would you like to find more serious issues addressed in your Steampunk media?


Yes!

The best, most mind blowing Steampunk let's us look at where we went right or wrong socially and politically in the last 150 years and makes us think about how we can avoid repeating those mistakes in the future.

Don't get me wrong, light escapism is nice too, but and entire genre can't be just light escapism (or just talking squids, but that's another discussion)
Elizabeth Delafield
3. Chasingisis
I agree whole heartedly. I do think that in some of the splendor of the ideas in steampunk, we're forgetting about its role as a social commentary. I think the genre works best when it not only delights in the anachronistic world it creates, but when it also critically examines the darker side of the Victorian world and our own.

So I guess that's a big yes to more serious issues in Steampunk!
Kristin Franseen
4. musichistorygeek
So what say you? Would you like to find more serious issues addressed in your Steampunk media? Or are you content with the more superficial aspects of the genre?

Yes...and, um...yes.

The lighter side of steampunk is fun, and as Cybernetic Nomad just posted, a great form of escapism. That being said, unless we're willing to really look at serious socio-political issues here, there's more than a few problems with appropriating Victorian aesthetics and culture.

I think we need both elements for the steampunk movement (subculture, style, thingamabob?) to really be meaningful and inclusive. Intense political discussion and talking squids, together at last! (Wait! Isn't that "A Study in Emerald"?)
Nader Elhefnawy
5. Nader Elhefnawy
I made a point of addressing the sociopolitical side of steampunk writing, as well as its aesthetic dimensions, in my article on steampunk in the July 2009 edition of the Internet Review of Science Fiction (accessible at http://irosf.com/q/zine/article/10562).

I do think it should be flatly pointed out, however, that a great many political commentators and even office-holders see in what others regard as the "dark side" of the nineteenth century something to admire and even emulate. (I'm not one of them; but given the impact such figures have had on world politics the last three decades, one has to realize that this way of looking back at the Victorian era-consciously or unconsciously- is a force in real life.)
Michael Grosberg
6. Michael_GR
Verne and Wells were of their time, and worte about the problems of the day. Current SF / fantasy writers do the same; but writers of retro-futurism have a novel problem: their genre is irrelevant to their own time by design. Steampunk (and retro-futurism in general) attempts to invoke a mood that is almost gone from modern SF: the glee of unencumbered scientific progress, of new horizons and strange new lands to explore. This is the antithesis of the cautionary tale. William Gibson summed up retro futurism well in The Gernsback Continuum:

"Here, we'd gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose"
Nader Elhefnawy
7. Mike Perschon
I agree Joshua, but with the same reservations as others. And, I'd argue as a proponent of New Criticism that even the fluff is saying something, but it's in the subtext. Nevertheless, this is what I challenged the attendees at Steam Powered in fall of 2009 with in my presentation on Captain Nemo as a proto-steampunk hero. Nemo's journey ends in humanitarian philanthropism - his metamorphoses of identity results in a person whose integrated self seeks to help strangers, something I saw echoed in my recent read of Westerfeld's "Leviathan" (which has a really sneaky subtext to Hobbes' Leviathan - brilliant for a YA novel). I think there's a way to have our cake and eat it too. Good sociopolitical subtext doesn't have to be boring - it can be rip roaring fun too. That's what I love about Warlord of the Air. I've got some glimpses of it in recent steampunk, but yes, we could certainly do with some more.
http://steampunkscholar.blogspot.com/
Nader Elhefnawy
8. euphrosyne
Michael_GR nailed it: writers of retro-futurism have a novel problem: their genre is irrelevant to their own time by design. Steampunk is the escapist fantasy subgenre, the sword-and-sorcery of SF.

That is, of course, the current state of things as currently practiced, but I think it's unreasonable to expect more from it as a whole. If something like vampirism, with its 100+ year long canon and social integration can be co-opted into Twilight fluff, how can you demand more from the rootless, just-add-water fadism of Steampunk?

Of course you can force politics into anything, if your desire is to ruin it for what it is and make it fit your worldview. But what was relevant for social commentary in Verne's day just isn't for ours.
Joshua Pfeiffer
9. VernianProcess
@Everyone who has responded thus far:

Thank you all for your feedback. It is very encouraging to see I am not alone in this train of thought.

I agree that the fluffier Steampunk has a place, and it can easily be informed with social commentary. I'm just not seeing it much. Of course I must admit that I haven't had the opportunity to read much of the most recent Steampunk offerings. My focus tends to fall more in the realm of music (as that is what my passion is). And yes Mike, Mr. Moorcock's work is a perfect example of what I am trying to get at here. The Warlord of the Air (and it's sequels), were very fun books, that were also very educational at the same time. That is the approach I'd love to see happen more often.

To 6 and 8, I have to disagree that what Verne and Wells were addressing in their time is irrelevant in ours. Most of the issues they addressed are still very relevant to our time. Imperialism for one still exists. It's just not called Imperialism anymore. Unethical experiments in Science still pose just as much danger as they did 100+ years ago. And we're no better off now than we were at the turn of the 20th Century concerning social issues.

I think that was one of the things Moorcock was pointing out in his Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy. He was addressing issues that were relevant to him in the 70's, that echoed the same problems faced in the late 19th Century.

And the comparison between Twilight and Steampunk makes my point exactly. Twilight represents everything that is wrong with the evolution of the "Gothic Horror" genre. Yes early Vampirism novels were chalk full of subtext, and it would be wonderful to see that still happening, but alas, no it is just fluff now. "True Blood" does a pretty decent job at saying something more than "Vampire's are sparkly and cool", but I see it as a more humorous style than serious. So just because current Steampunk isn't serious means that we should keep it that way? I must respectfully disagree with that sir.
Nader Elhefnawy
10. Ashe Armstrong
That's been one of my major complaints as I've seen the genre become more popular. Everyone seems more enamored with airship pirates than WHY the characters became pirates. Or looking sexy or hip or cool. It's gotten more focused on the visual/costume side and less on the story side where you can have the visual, the philosophical and the fantastical.
Nader Elhefnawy
11. jwd
Thomas Pynchon's novel "Against the Day" is decidedly steampunk and is centered on sociopolitical themes. Of course, he is not considered a science fiction writer, but a "serious" author.
Nader Elhefnawy
12. JB Dryden
I tend to agree with the philosophy that Steampunk still has something to say. It's origins in social commentary allow for it to return to that and make commentary on contemporary issues. As Vernian said, Imperialism still exists, classism still exists, ethnocentric politics still dominate: these are all issues that not only Victorian-era writers tackled but First Wave Steampunk tackled, too. I've been a part of a lengthy discussion with Vernian over at the Brass Goggles forum, and I'm looking to take the conversation of ideological Steampunk to a dedicated venue. Anyone with interest is welcome to contact me.
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13. heresiarch
Michael_GR @ 6: '"Here, we'd gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose"'

We also knew nothing of political disillusionment, of the failures of fascism, anarchy and communism, of surveillance societies or the ineluctable dehumanizing grind of capitalist economics. The sense of unlimited potential was just as relevant politically as it was scientifically. Just as people thought that steam power would deliver the world to their feet, they also thought that the right political theory could do the same. Yet here we are, having eliminated everything one by one, left with capitalism even as its flaws become ever more evident. I think exploring that problem space, of how societies determine their future (and fail to) is very much a part of steampunk--it's certainly there in the Swanwick/Gunn story recently featured here on tor.com, it's the driving problem in Mieville's New Crobuzon trilogy, it's there in The Difference Engine too. It's a lot closer to the heart of steampunk than, say, goggles.
Nader Elhefnawy
14. Amanda M.
My primary fiction love is dystopian fiction. These always have some fantastical elements combined with subtle (or not so subtle) social commentary.

While I enjoy the world of steampunk, I do think it would benefit by taking a hint from dystopian literature--you can create another world and subtly hint at social commentary without turning into a boring sociopolitical stance rant.

http://opinionsofawolf.wordpress.com
Nader Elhefnawy
15. Rockula Bacchus
As a recent convert to ACTIVE participation in the Steampunk (and also Weird West) areas I have noticed a tendency to view political, religious or sexual discussions as somehow 'impolite'.
I've also noticed that there are those who see Steampunk as a sly poke at the post industrialised world but there are still others who actually hanker for a return to Imperialism and Empire.
Perhaps it's because of the distinction between those two groups and the grey areas between that actual political discussion is deemed unwise.
However, as a 48 year old punk rocker (yes not 'ex' but current and fixed) I find I have many other outlets for the serious debates and can bear the restrictions.
But if SOME young people come to the Steampunk arena merely through on-line Forums without having delved into the realities of life they may become stifled and they need to understand what's going on in the real world BEFORE they become to embroiled in a fantasy lifestyle. They need to see how things stand and decide how they stand.
I have my serious side. I love my fantasy outlets.
And I hope I can continue to swim in both waters.
Or maybe sail beneath them in my Brass Submersible. Ho ho.

Ps. Vernian Process are excellent.
Joshua Pfeiffer
16. VernianProcess
@Rockula

Thanks =)

And yes I agree, your points are all reasons why I am so passionate about addressing the more serious issues openly. I think that forums are an ideal place to get some great debates and discussions going. In most communities it's a recipe for disaster, but I trust that the vast majority of Steampunk followers are mature enough to have a civil disagreement, and hopefully even learn a thing or two from each other.
Rick Rutherford
17. rutherfordr
I dunno, Medieval fantasy mostly ignores the ugly realities of Medieval life, even when it deals with serious issues; why shouldn't Victorian fantasy do the same?
Nader Elhefnawy
18. euphrosyne
@17 maybe says it more succinctly than I tried to above. Steampunk's setting is explicitly backward-looking, in its heart, even when it claims to be an alternate contemporary reality rather than mere historical (science) fiction.

Certainly it is possible for a talented writer to say something about present reality through that medium, but not pointedly, lest it be strained. But that is true of any imaginable setting.

Actively seeking to place current political commentary into what amounts to historical settings frankly chafes me as a reader. Josh's posting above conflates "serious" with "sociopolitical", and I'm not sure if that's just opaque writing or uncritical thinking. I love to see "serious" (i.e., timeless, human) issues in my genre fiction. But I hate it when politics (inherently transient, prescriptive) gets forced into an inappropriate setting.

(this is why I stopped reading Ken MacLeod)
Nader Elhefnawy
19. JeffR23
If one is not addressing politics, then where has gone the 'punk' portion of one's steampunk work, eh? This is a genre category that has expanded too far and is, I think, in dire need of a schism or two.

I seem to recall settings in which computer and cybernetic technologies were presented as not particularly dehumanizing or revolutionary as 'cyberprep'; should we relegate toothless steampunks to 'steamprep' or is there a more period-appropriate term to coin?
Jaymee Goh
20. Jha
JeffR23: Yes there is. It's "gaslamp fantasy".

euphrosyne: "Sociopolitical" isn't always serious, nor is it always prescriptive (ok, let's face it, prescriptive commentary is really boring). But I think you limit the term and what it means. Austen is pretty sociopolitical. The term "politics" generally refers to the nitty-gritty of determining the choices of an entire group. Horrible things occur between people as a result. Why not write about it?

Anyway, I think the Victorian era is the perfect setting to set current politics in, seeing as a lot of our current politics stemmed as a result of that era anyway!
Joshua Pfeiffer
21. VernianProcess
Right, I didn't mean to say we should have political ideologies forced down the readers throat. I'm referring more towards 3rd party commentary about all politics, and all forms of government.
Nader Elhefnawy
22. Janus_Zarate
"Rose-tinted goggles." Clever.

I generally side with Josh on this matter (and no, my ties to the band have nothing to do with it).

One of the elements of good science fiction which has always fascinated me is its ability to make the reader (or viewer) think beyond the gizmos, gadgets, vehicles, aliens, and whatever else happens to make its way in from time to time. The greatest literature of all time has, above all else, one key defining feature: relevance to the reader on a genuine and personal level.

I'm not talking about the person who reads a book about dragons because there are spaceships in it, only because they think spaceships are cool. I'm talking about the person who reads a book, regardless of their motive, and walks away with food for thought, a personal connection, or a newfound perspective on something they took for granted or never really considered before.

Some of my favorite books carry strong sociopolitical messages (i.e., 1984, Fahrenheit 451, An Invisible Man), and I do agree to an extent that an overt political message may make a novel unappealing to the average reader. But that in no way supports the severing of sociopolitical commentary from science fiction. It has been my experience (and opinion, of course) that science fiction is a genre which is incredibly well-suited to be a vehicle of thought-provoking relevant messages which our current society seems increasingly unwilling to digest in their pure forms. Now, this is not to be confused with propaganda - rather, what these great works have done is make their readers think outside the box, and outside their own lives, yet at the same time find the connection which makes good fiction worth reading to begin with.

One of my favorite examples of this is Frankenstein, a true literary marvel with a wealth of sociopolitical topics, from the effects of loneliness on the human pysche to vivisection. But its real beauty is in how its written; no reader walks away with the same impressions. It is not overtly sociopolitical on its face. Some people will be touched by the inherently human facets of the novel, and others will find themselves wondering about the ethics of "playing God." Some will view it as a horror classic, and others will see it as a timeless tragedy.

There is always more room for this in steampunk. Given its origins, it would be a shame to see this side of the genre fade away, much as it has with the vampire mythos. I'm not suggesting that we rid ourselves of the gaslamp fantasies - I am merely suggesting that we keep steampunk open as a venue for the sociopolitical, lest we forget its origins.
Nader Elhefnawy
23. JeffR23
Jha: "Gaslamp Fantasy" describes a different demarcation that's more-or-less orthagonal to the punk/not punk distinction. (It's primarily about the absence of hard-sf-type constraints on the speculative elements of the story, allowing mad science utterly unrestrained by physical laws as we know it, and probably even going well beyond that to include tales of Merlin teaching Sherlock Holmes enough magic to beat the Vampire Jack the Ripper.) You could have punk stories under that umbrella, and one can also see utterly punk-free stories that use nothing but actual historical tech or entirely possible extrapolations...
Joshua Pfeiffer
24. VernianProcess
Hahaha... Now I would read that book. I love that Merlin just gets tossed in there, and of course Jack the Ripper was a Vampire. That's why he never got caught right? ;)
Ay-leen the Peacemaker
25. Ay-leen_the_Peacemaker
I'd also like to throw in my two cents about the need for "serious" steampunk literature. When your inspiration stems from the Victorian era, which had rampant issues with class, race, and gender (and issues that still occur today), how can you *avoid* addressing these issues? To do so is actually a discredit to truly appreciating the Victorian era, which all of its flaws and accomplishments--it reduces the genre to mere visual objectification and stereotyping. And it plays into the mainstream perception that SF/F in general is a "childish" form of escapism.

I've found a couple of recent books I've enjoyed that address the sociopolitical gritty side of steampunk:

The Alchemy of Stone: The book itself reads as a parable about the darker consequences of technology and an observation of what it means to be human, told from the point of view of a sentient automaton. What pleased me so much about this book, though, is that it openly talks about issues such as racism (PoC characters in my steampunk? ~gasp~), environmentalism, and classism. And I love its lyrical style too.

The Kingdom of Ohio: I'm in the middle of reading the ARC and am loving every moment. Set in 1901 New York, the Kingdom of Ohio is about a young man hired to dig the tunnels for the planned subways system. The author doesn't shy away about the blood, sweat and unfair labor conditions involved with technological advancement at the turn of the century. Not only that, but the book features Edison, Tesla, and J.P. Morgan, and gives interesting insights on on the intersection of power, capitalism, and science. Plus, there's time travel and a fascinating alternative history angle worked in too.
- -
26. heresiarch
rutherfordr @ 17: "I dunno, Medieval fantasy mostly ignores the ugly realities of Medieval life, even when it deals with serious issues; why shouldn't Victorian fantasy do the same?"

Because fantasy that ignores the crappiness of medieval life is (IMH) bad fantasy. See Jo Walton re: extruded fantasy product. Sturgeon's law isn't an argument against trying for something better.

Euphrosyne @ 18: "But I hate it when politics (inherently transient, prescriptive) gets forced into an inappropriate setting. "

I really don't see this clean line between "transient" politics and "timeless" human values that you're drawing. The struggle to control your own destiny is a pretty universal human experience, and also rather inescapably political in its implications. I agree it's irritating when authors shoehorn political manifestos into their stories, but that's because it's poor craftsmanship, not because they're violating some fundamental law of nature.

Writing a story in the Victorian Era with a female character and NOT showing the problems with sexist attitudes people hold is far more political* than showing things as they actually were, and also less honest. Any political sentiments evoked by that portrayal are perfectly organic to the story. Ditto slavery, imperialism, racism, or any other Victorian "political" issue.

* It projects our own attitudes backwards, as though they were comfortably universal and therefore makes an implicit claim that they are more "true."
Andrew Mason
27. AnotherAndrew
Heresiarch@26: I'm not sure. 'Mediaeval' fantasy isn't, normally, actually set in the middle ages; it's set in a fantasy world which, to some extent, resembles the middle ages, or popular ideas of the middle ages, in its technological level, and perhaps its political systems. So I don't see why it should resemble the middle ages in all respects - and indeed, one can argue that it's more realistic if it doesn't, since it includes magic, and that would be likely to make a difference to things.

How this carries over to steampunk is hard to say, as 'steampunk' covers such a wide range of things. Some is very clearly set in the actual Victorian era or alternate history versions of it, and that should certainly take account of what the actual Victorian era was like. But other things are set in a fantasy world which just reminds the reader of the Victorian era, and I don't see any obligation to take into account all aspects of that era in that case.
Nader Elhefnawy
28. NexPhilanthropistAssassin
The BrassGoggles forum was my first main step into the modern active steampunk community, while I've always liked things which would now be considered steampunk. I do love the forums and they are a great friendly place to ramble and look for new inspiration.

I am a very political and historically minded person though so that is often at the back of my mind even when I am being a fantasist.

I have to slightly disagree with rutherfordr in reply 17. I am a huge fan of older (or less techy if you will) fantasy settings, and yes while High Fantasy tends to be more focused on heroes defeating evil and such Low Fantasy is the other end of the spectrum. With it invariably focusing on the "common people" and the struggle in harsh often wartorn enviroments.

Now I don't claim know what's going on in the minds of all Low Fantasy authors and if they have a poltical slant or are just creating worlds, but I often make my own links with their works to modern problems via my own views.

I think this is why I love the section of steampunk work that mixes technology with this sort of low fantasy setting, Alan Campbell and Adrian Tchaikovsky being 2 of my favourite current authors of that sort.

It's great that if I want to I can turn off my political brain and just enjoy the escapism, but if I feel like it I can really sink my teeth into the struggles and challenges going on and use them to better look at the problems in the real world.
- -
29. heresiarch
AnotherAndrew @ 27: "So I don't see why it should resemble the middle ages in all respects - and indeed, one can argue that it's more realistic if it doesn't, since it includes magic, and that would be likely to make a difference to things."

I'm not arguing that everyone needs to write things as close to the historical fact as possible. Not at all! That would be boring. But there are reasons why things were the way they were, and reaching in and tweaking X without taking into account its relationship with Y and Z is deeply problematic. Everything in interdependent, and you can't change one thing without affecting a lot of other things too.* When your setting is borrowed heavily from feudal Europe, you can't just declare "There shall be female warriors!" and assume that nothing else changes--you need to think through the consequences and necessary preconditions of that alteration. By the same token, it's the attempt to extract the political concerns from pseudo-Victorian settings that wants explanation, not their inclusion.

I'm not, by the way, ragging on Gaslamp Fantasy. It's not as if every aspect of steampunk must be centered on political considerations OR THE WORLD WILL END IN ANARCHY. I enjoy gratuitous goggles and airships as much as the next steampunk, and stories focusing on air pirate battles can be perfectly wonderful. But neither are political concerns in any way a foreign intrusion onto the genre--they're inherent to the subject matter, and have been there from the start.

*Indeed, the failure of many fantasy authors to really integrate magic into their settings is a source of chronic irritation for me.
Nader Elhefnawy
30. Christina (Tina)
As a person who has lived her whole life in “interesting times”, as a historian, and a fan of Steampunk I would like to share a few insights. It is always good for people to share views on social/economic/political problems no matter what the forum for that sharing is. It is true that “the Era that never was” of Steampunk is based on Victorian England and that the social/economical/ political problems of that era still haunt us. In truth those problems have come down to us in their modern incarnations from before the invention of writing. They are embedded in our oldest myths & stories. Any historian,worthy of the name, knows that every period of history is riddled with social/economical/ political problems and that,in truth, no sane person would like to take a time machine and go back to visit or live in the real past. (Remember the episode of the Twilight Zone in which a couple who wanted to live in a solid and sure society and were sent back to Salem at the time of the witch trials and were hunted for saving a child by giving him an aspirin?) The joy of Steampunk is not the reality but the fantasy.
This does not mean that Steampunk can not make social/economical/political comment. You can make the fantasy speak to the reality. Just keep in mind that discussion/debate is fun only for those involved in it and that it rarely intrudes on the reality of most people. There is a secret in history. If you really want to take on social/economical/political problems reduce them to the personal. Show how they hurt one person’s life. Do it through the arts. Write it. Sing about it. Draw and paint it. Film the story. Touch people’s hearts. Make them cry. Scare the shit out of them. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and “Amazing Grace” did more to end slavery than all the debates and pamphlets. Charles Dickens convinced a whole nation and the Anglican Church to celebrate Christmas again because of the impact of “A Christmas Carol”. The pen in many ways is not mightier than the sword but it’s got all the good stories and songs! ( re. Tom Lehrer “They May Have Won All The Battles, But We Had All The Good Songs”.) If you want it don’t spend all your time and effort in talk, don’t bother to ask people if they want it or not - just do it. If it touches people it will fly.
nuit babylon dementia
31. babylon
one of the things never talked about is the soco-economical status of who a pirate is, a person who had their back to the wall, a person who had so few choices, crime was the better of all options. its happening in the real world, and if we agree on the truth of the mulitverse, then i guess our gangs and Somali pirates are just the manifestation here today.
wonder whats coming
Nader Elhefnawy
32. Shalako
VernianProcess
Quote: " Friday October 16, 2009 10:41pm EDT
Hahaha... Now I would read that book. I love that Merlin just gets tossed in there, and of course Jack the Ripper was a Vampire. That's why he never got caught right? ;)" Unquote

No. He never got caught because Jack the Ripper was a Baylok. And Bayloks are terribly difficult to get rid of.
You can read Jaqhama's most excellent gaslight thriller at Brass Goggles.
http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,9781.0.html
Nader Elhefnawy
33. Piechur
EVERY steampunk story is set in an ALTERNATE version of the Victorian Era. That's the concept. Six years ago Mr. Don Muchow, the former editor of Would That It Were magazine wrote: "It's not as important to know what the time period was exactly like as it is to know what it WASN'T like." Please read his entire post at Voyages Extraordinaires newsgroup - it's still one of the best texts about steampunk writing.

Steampunkopedia

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