Up in Steam

In the beginning, the setting is familiar. Gas lit streets, fog, men in top hats and coats and women in heavy gowns. You must be in Victorian England. But look up and you will see a ship float past, and that man ahead of you is not a man at all. He is a primitive robot.

This would be a typical scene in the world of steampunk, a genre of sci-fi which looks to the past for its inspiration. Instead of a world dominated by sleek machines, space-ships, teleportation and laser guns, the steampunk world is one of brass rivets, ladies and gentlemen and 19th century technology – with a twist.

“Modern steampunk authors tend to take modern concepts (an information revolution, the Internet, computers, etc) and re-imagine them in a Victorian context, but the results are very similar [to Victorian speculative fiction],” steampunk author G. D. Falksen told The Word.

G.D. Falksen courtesy of the author

Mr Falksen is widely regarded as an authority on the genre, writing fiction and non-fiction. His novel Blood in the Skies came out last year. Blood in the Skies starts in 1908. Human civilization has rebuilt itself into the Commonwealth. The only thing protecting it from the sky-pirates is the Air Force – and the best pilot is Elizabeth Steele.

Putting a woman in the lead is just one way steampunk differs from the actual sci-fi of the Victorian era. Think of HG Wells and Jules Verne. The heroes are regularly men. The old idea of the separate spheres was widely upheld in the literature of the time as were the era’s moral attitudes. How writers work with these issues varies as much as the settings.

“It is important to remember that steampunk ultimately is fiction, and so steampunk stories consist of a range of approaches to moral concerns about the 19th century,” Mr Falksen said. Though in the case of Mr Falksen’s work, the styles and values of the 19th century can creep into the early 20th century.

Word of the Day:
To creep – in this article creep means to spread or stretch into another area.

Other authors use fantasy elements. Philip Pullman in his Dark Materials series and China Miéville in the Bas-Lag novels imagine worlds of airships and steam-power but also worlds of magic and fantastic beings. The diversity of novels shows that it is hard to pin down what exactly makes something steampunk.

Nor is it only about fiction. Today it has expanded to include art, design, fashion and music. There are also many festivals for fans to gather and see what’s happening. The steampunk sound is a matter of debate and incorporates everything from folk to electronic. In the visual arts, steampunk is more consistent and looks to the design principals of the Victorian age.

Mr Falksen gave two reasons for this appeal. First, Victorian era technology was more accessible. Second, we live in an age of obsolescence – a throwaway culture in which items are outdated as soon as we buy them. Though the earlier technology seems impractical today, it is hard to deny that the technology seems more alive with its visibly moving parts and clanking noises.

Who knows? Perhaps, the future lies in the past.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by the Word’s Methodology team

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Gas lit streets, a blanket of fog, men in top hats and coats and women in heavy dresses. You think you must be in Victorian England. But look – the man ahead of you is not a man. He’s a primitive robot. Under his coat, there is a noisy mechanism and his large bulbs for eyes shine in the gaslight.

Welcome to the world of steampunk, a genre of sci-fi which is inspired by the past.

“Modern steampunk authors tend to take modern concepts (an information revolution, the Internet, computers, etc) and re-imagine them in a Victorian context, but the results are very similar [to Victorian speculative fiction],” steampunk author G. D. Falksen told The Word.

Mr Falksen is the latest generation of sci-fi authors to “go Victorian”. He is widely recognized as an authority on the genre. His novel Blood in the Skies came out last year. Blood in the Skies starts in 1908. There is only one country – the Commonwealth. Its Air Force with the best pilot, Elizabeth Steele, protects it from sky-pirates.

Making a woman the main character is just one way steampunk differs from the original sci-fi of the Victorian era. Take the books by HG Wells and Jules Verne. Their heroes were always men. “It is important to remember that steampunk ultimately is fiction, and so steampunk stories consist of a range of approaches to moral concerns about the 19th century,” Mr Falksen said.

This is evident in other novels in the genre, for example Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter and The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson.

Other authors use fantasy elements. Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials imagines worlds of airships and steam-power but also worlds of magic and fantasy beings. As you can see, it is really difficult to say exactly what makes something steampunk.

Nowadays, the genre is not only about fiction. It has expanded to art, design, fashion and music. There are also many festivals for fans.

Mr Falksen thinks there are two reasons why steampunk has got so popular. First, Victorian era technology was more accessible. Second, we live in a throwaway culture in which things are outdated as soon as we buy them. The earlier technology may look impractical but at the same time more alive with the moving parts, clanking noises and decorations.

Who knows? Maybe the future lies in the past.

Original article by Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team

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The setting at first is oddly familiar. Gas lit streets, a blanket of fog, men in top hats and coats and women in heavy gowns. You must be in Victorian England. But look up and you will see a lighter-than-air ship bob past, and that man ahead of you is not a man at all. He is a primitive robot. Underneath his coat, gears whirr and his large bulbs for eyes glisten in the gaslight.

Such would be a typical scene in the world of steampunk, a genre of sci-fi which looks to the past for its inspiration. Instead of a world dominated by sleek machines, space-ships, teleportation and laser guns, the steampunk world is one of polished brass bulging rivets, ladies and gentlemen and 19th century technology – with a twist.

“Modern steampunk authors tend to take modern concepts (an information revolution, the Internet, computers, etc) and re-imagine them in a Victorian context, but the results are very similar [to Victorian speculative fiction],” steampunk author G. D. Falksen told The Word.

G.D. Falksen courtesy of the author

Mr Falksen is the latest generation of sci-fi writers to ‘go Victorian’. He is widely regarded as an authority on the genre, writing fiction and non-fiction. His novel Blood in the Skies came out last year. It is the first part of a projected series called the Hellfire Chronicles.

Blood in the Skies starts in 1908. Human civilization has rebuilt itself into the Commonwealth. The only thing protecting it from the sky-pirates is the Air Force – and the top flying ace is Elizabeth Steele.

Putting a woman in the lead is just one way steampunk differs from the actual sci-fi of the Victorian era. Think of HG Wells and Jules Verne. The heroes are invariably men. The old notion of the separate spheres was widely upheld in the literature of the time as were the era’s morality and colonial attitudes. How writers tackle these issues varies as much as the settings.

“It is important to remember that steampunk ultimately is fiction, and so steampunk stories consist of a range of approaches to moral concerns about the 19th century,” Mr Falksen said. Though in the case of Mr Falksen’s work, the styles and values of the 19th century can creep into the early 20th century.

Word of the Day:
To creep – in this article creep means to spread or stretch into another area.

This variety is evident in the list of novels to which Blood in the Skies joins. One of the earliest works in the genre is K.W. Jeter’s Morlock Night, which imagines the Morlocks of HG Wells’ Time Machine coming back to Victorian England. Another key text is The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. These writers are more famous for cyberpunk – a sci-fi genre about virtual reality, cyberspace and urban sprawl. In The Difference Engine Sterling and Gibson create a world in which Charles Babbage successfully built his analytic machine – essentially a mechanical computer – and the Victorian world is already digitized decades before our world.

Other authors employ fantasy elements. Philip Pullman in His Dark Materials series and China Miéville in the Bas-Lag novels imagine worlds of airships and steam-power but also worlds of magic and fantastic beings. The diversity of novels shows that it is hard to pin down what exactly makes something steampunk.

Nor is the genre only about fiction. Today it has expanded to include art, design, fashion and music. There are also many festivals for fans to gather and see what’s happening. The steampunk sound is a matter of debate and incorporates everything from folk to electronic. In the visual arts, steampunk is more coherent and knowingly draws on the design principals of the Victorian age. There are a lot of brass, wood and clockwork components.

The difference compared to the earlier era is the knowledgeable way these materials and methods are used. In the Victorian era brass and wood were simply what was available. Stainless steel or plastics were yet to be widely produced. For the steampunk generation these materials have an aesthetic dimension. They use them because of how they look and what they represent.

Mr Falksen gave two reasons for this appeal. First, Victorian era technology was more accessible. Second, we live in an age of obsolescence – a throwaway culture in which items are outdated as soon as we buy them. Though the earlier technology seems impractical by today’s standards, it is hard to deny that the technology seems more alive – more organic – with its visibly moving parts and clanking noises.

“19th century technology was made with a greater degree of embellishment, often things were personalized, even machinery sometimes had decoration or images on them. Contrast this to the “iPod culture” of today, where everything looks the same and it has an ultra-modern facade-free look that runs the risk of being boring,” Mr Falksen said.

Who knows? Perhaps, the future lies in the past.

Ryan Scott – Sydney, Australia

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