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bdcharles

What constitutes a steampunk novel?

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I enjoy the Steampunk aesthetic - sorry, the æsthetic - but I often wonder how best to translate that into a novel? Clearly there is going to be some setting to it; a Steampunk novel set in some far future is going to have a challenge on its hands that something which draws on Victorian London may not. There's the add-ons, the brassy science - the cogs, the automatons, the fabulous flying contrivances and the curiosities that lurk just below our normal sightline, peeping up when they think we aren't watching. What else? To me, the simple style of the language is a big part of it, or at least it should be. I struggle a little to buy into it if it is not written in the style of Charles Dickens or Jane Austin or somebody like that. Eagle-eyed readers will observe that I have chosen the Georgia font today; that's because in my view typeface selection can underpin the look-and-feel. Names. Names are a big part of it. I love that tradition of mixing odd names with common ones - Inigo Jones, Heironymous P. Bosch. Those sorts of names make me want to read loads more about them.

 

Thoughts on what really "makes" a steampunk novel?

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I have clearly read way too few steampunk novels - I just feel that there are too few good ones out there!

Technology that has a fantasy feel to it is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about steampunk - steam engines, air ships, stuff like that. And even though a lot of subgenres are named -punk, that part of the name actually implies that social justice is a common theme.

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I love steampunk and steampunk-adjacent stories. Googling it, it sounds like people are really splitting hairs about what exactly constitutes 'steampunk'. My favourite new term of the day is 'aetherpunk', which is like steampunk with magic. But lots of people still call something steampunk with it still having magic.

Base elements - Neo-victorian setting, with steam driven technology... actually the wikipedia page has a lot of great information, someone passionate clearly put a lot of work into it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk

1 hour ago, Manu said:

Technology that has a fantasy feel to it is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about steampunk - steam engines, air ships, stuff like that. And even though a lot of subgenres are named -punk, that part of the name actually implies that social justice is a common theme. 

A lot of the steampunk I've been exposed to has a strange mix of my 'punk' ideals, rebellion, social change, but also a lot of optimism about technology and the future. Its usually not as gritty as other '-punk' genres.

Its on my long long list of things I'd love to write. I have some notes for a fantasy goldrush story, where the source of energy that powers their magitech is running out, but a new source is found way out in the wilderness. It would mirror stories of the California and Caribou goldrushes. They can't use their airships because they use too much energy, have to go by foot through hostile terrain, but once they are there and accessing the course (idk, probably crystals or some junk), they can rebuild they tech and start fighting over resources.

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On 1/11/2019 at 2:58 PM, bdcharles said:

To me, the simple style of the language is a big part of it, or at least it should be.

I did the complete opposite when I wrote my steampunk, because like Manu, I had a hard time finding books that I liked. I felt the writing style and some of the trappings often stood in the way of a fun driven Steampunk-adventure (which is what I wanted). Instead I focused on the other aspects, like the machines (especially the clockwork automatons) and the mad professors, the quirky details of the aesthetic and the airships. I also love the Victorian city setting, and the Dickens class aspect drew me to the genre. So I just picked what I liked, left what didn't work for me in those other books, and I had such a blast writing it.

Some go for romance (gaslight romance), some go hard with the tech, some enjoy the wonder of the genre like time-travel or airship cultures. I did a mix, with a lot of focus on the inventions for the plot. What makes it steampunk for me is that mix of steam-power, mad invention (with a dash of magic/future fantasy powered stuff like plasma-guns), and the Victorian/Edwardian setting & culture. Apart from that it seems a steampunk story could be a lot of different things. It could go very close to Dickens with the soot and the working classes, or fly high with the wealthy classes and their grand inventions. Like Penguinball said, it doesn't have to be all that gritty. Some writers put a lot of horror elements in it too, like zombies or other supernatural beings.

I think it's a fun genre for anyone who is drawn to that bustling period in history and there are plenty of opportunities to make it your own, including what kind of language you want to use. I think there are readers for a lot of different takes on this genre. Good luck!

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I love the documentary "Vintage Tomorrows". It does a great job explaining the ethos of Steampunk. It's on netflix I believe, and well worth watching. To me, the aesthetic is the easiest part to get down. But the feel of Steampunk is harder.

It mixes a lot of optimism about technology, in a time period where everything was vaguely understood enough that religion and science compete, and often overlap in explaining the world and technology. Social politics are important, too. The clash of classes, and the effect technology has on both the rich and poor. Combine with some zany inventions, and a sense of adventure, and I think you have the atmosphere for a good steampunk setting in my opinion.

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I have little experience reading steampunk literature, but to me it's the recreating of modern or futuristic technology with steam-powered 19th/early 20th century materials that sticks out to me as definitive. There's fiction set in the 19th century, or fictional worlds based on the 19th century of our own, but to me it's not quite steampunk if there don't exist gadgets, vehicles, or other fanciful inventions that didn't necessarily exist in the real 19th century.

As far as attitudes go, what I find most remarkable about the 19th to early 20th centuries is the sheer imperialist megalomania that the European powers (as well as the United States) developed in that period. Your standard fantasy warlord who desires world conquest has nothing on the drafters of ideologies like the "white man's burden" and Manifest Destiny. Victorian-era imperialists have to rank among my favorite villain archetypes to hate on, right next to Nazis and US Civil War Confederates. I think they'd make awesome villains for a steampunk setting.

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