Good afternoon! I'm trying something new this year. At the beginning of the year, I asked my acquaintances and fellow steampunk fans if they wanted me to blog about particular topics. One of my friends wanted to know what type of steampunk was more interesting for storytelling. Victorian Imperialism or the Wild West frontier? Honestly, it depends on the storyteller. It's the author's job to make the individual story and setting interesting. But I want to give some details about Victorian and Wild West steampunk because writers might gravitate to a particular subgenre.
I have a feeling he meant Victorian Imperialism as the Victorian era in general. An alternate version of the Victorian period is probably the most common steampunk setting. The 19th century was full of turmoil and conflicts. There were a lot of problems among the socioeconomic classes, lousy working conditions, prostitution, child labor, culture clashes, and women's rights were practically nonexistent. I could name other problems too, but this list will give you a basic idea of the situation. On a surface level, Victorian England seemed like a thriving utopia, but the reality was much grittier. It's really interesting to see some of these conflicts in steampunk literature. Writers can be very creative about resolving these conflicts or escalating them to a much bigger level. The Victorian era also had many great symbols of progress. It was the height of the Industrial Revolution. That meant great advancements in trade, mass production, transportation, and the use of electricity. It was also a prosperous time for the middle classes. Many people from the middle class communities became quite successful and enjoyed some of the luxuries that were previously only available to the aristocracy. I see lot of influences from the Industrial Revolution in steampunk world building. Steampunk tends to add a lot of fantasy and sci-fi elements to industrial progress. British Imperialism affected trade and commerce overseas, especially in Africa, India, and far East Asia. Much of the British Empire's power relied on the import of foreign goods. Don't forget how much Victorians loved their tea. Most of it came from other countries. The importing of foreign goods also affected home decors, fashion, drug use, and more. Unfortunately, the Victorians were primarily the ones who benefited from the Imperial trade system. Many foreign cities were overpowered and became British colonies. Naturally, any of these elements could be fascinating in steampunk writing. If you want to learn more about Victorian Imperialism, I thought The Legend of Tarzan had an interesting take on the subject. It's a fantasy adventure film that was released in 2016.
The American Wild West and frontier also has a lengthy history that's very influential to the steampunk genre. Quite a bit of steampunk fiction includes classic Western elements like gunslingers, cowboys, steam powered railroad systems, small merchant towns, bounty hunters, saloons, etc. It's not unusual for steampunk characters to share similarities with historical figures like Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane, George Armstrong Custer, and many others. Residents of the Wild West had to be very resourceful with excellent survival skills. Many frontiersmen lived long distances away from towns or cities, therefore absolute independence was vital. It was typical for frontiersmen to hunt, forage, build their own houses, sew their own clothes, and more. Some people in the West West made a substantial amount of money through fur trades or selling various products. Others made a living by raising cattle. There was a lot of tension between the frontiersmen and the Native Americans over land among other disputes. Additionally, the Wild West struggled to have a successful law system. Bandits and outlaws menaced communities, farmers, and traders. The frontier had a pretty strong military presence, but individual towns struggled to keep criminals at bay. If the town sheriff couldn't handle the problem, bounty hunters were often commissioned to help capture outlaws. The Wild West is also infamous for their gunslinger duels and shootouts. Any of these elements could be interesting topics in steampunk literature.
So, that's your little history lesson of the day. I want to give you this information because it's an important of the steampunk genre. Those of you who write steampunk fiction know it's important to conduct a lot of research. Keep that in mind if you're thinking about writing steampunk stories. In regards to the original question, I think both Victorian and Wild West steampunk is very interesting when the story grabs my attention. A fascinating story is essential for either subgenre. What version of steampunk intrigues you the most? Let me know in the comment section. I'm going to leave a few links and references that influenced this post. Thanks for reading and I promise to write another post next week. Enjoy the Martin Luther King weekend!
Q: Thank you for visiting my blog again. This week’s post is another fun steampunk interview. Jon Hartless is an author of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. His latest title is a steampunk novel called Full Throttle. It’s a cool steampunk adventure with creative world building and plenty of rebellion. Thanks for joining me today, Jon.
A: Thank you for interviewing me, Stephanie.
Q: Why did you become an author?
A: Writing is one of the few things I was good at, from school age onward. I was terrible at mathematics, science, games, everything, but I tended to get good marks with stories, most likely because I loved reading as a child. This continued through college and University, and given that I enjoy writing, it seemed obvious to carry on.
Q: Which authors or books inspired your work the most?
A: That’s a difficult one, as it is challenging to know what has influenced me directly. I loved the Asterix books as a kid, and the Dr Who Target novelizations – this was long before VHS – and as I got older, the Sherlock Holmes stories and other ‘whodunnits’ became favorites. Then there was Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and after that Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore… But did these influence the writing of Full Throttle? Obviously, they all helped form my interests, but finding a direct correlation is difficult. However, I did read up a lot on the Bentley Boys and motor racing of the 1920s, including The Bentley Era by Nicholas Foulkes, The Bugatti Queen by Miranda Seymour, and numerous personal reminiscences by the people involved in the sport and Bentley Cars at that time. Indeed, the title Full Throttle is taken from Tim Birkin’s autobiography of that name.
Q: Why did you become interested in the steampunk genre?
A: I found out I was writing it by accident. I had done anachronistic stories with advanced technology in a Victoriana setting, and then I somehow stumbled onto Steampunk online and realized that was the name of the genre I had been working in. I enjoy it because the genre is flexible; you can do adventure, comedy, romance, horror – sometimes all at once.
Q: Would you mind explaining the basic premise of Full Throttle?
A: It was inspired by the era of the Bentley Boys, very famous racing drivers of the 1920s. The press loved them for their wealth, charisma, and daredevil attitude. In those days, racing – and pretty much car ownership – was for the wealthy only, and it struck me that the sport was a great way of examining the gulf that exists in opportunity, education, and wealth between the rich and everyone else. Throw into that discrimination on gender, disability and class, and I realized I had the makings of an interesting story which could be hidden under Steampunk motor racing adventure.
Q: What should we know about your protagonist named Poppy?
A: She’s angry; angry at life, at her lack of opportunities because of her working class background, angry at her disabilities for which she is judged by society, and she’s angry at being isolated – no one is up to Poppy’s level of intelligence, which also marks her as an outcast. But to balance that out, in case it makes her sound rather negative, she does laugh a lot with her friends, and she’s passionate, brave and also resourceful.
Q: Is Full Throttle a commentary on issues happening in today’s world?
A: It certainly is. Britain is little more than a corrupt oligarchy, supported by the conmen of the British media who claim to be the watchdog of the people, supposedly holding governments accountable, but in reality they ensure that the status quo is never challenged and that the government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, remains forever in power. Poppy’s world reflects that.
Q: Do you have other books on the market?
A: I did, but most are no longer available. My Lady Mechatronic series is still out there under a pen name, but be warned; it is a pirate romp designed as a quick, light read, and as such, it is very different from Full Throttle.
Q: What does steampunk mean to you? There’s no right or wrong answer.
A: Imagination, creativity, good chums. And probably corsets.
Q: I know you enjoy writing about steampunk. Do you also participate in the cosplay scene?
A: No; I’m more drawn to the world-building and how I can use Steampunk to reflect certain issues – or just to have fun with it.
Q: It seems like steampunk fans are a very diverse crowd from many regions of the world. Why do you think steampunk is reaching out to such an eclectic audience?
A: Steampunk can be many things to many people – dark and gritty reflection, fun and camp escapism, anything, really. I think some people simply enjoy the dressing up, others enjoy making things such as outfits or props, (blasters, computers, time travel devices etc), while others probably enjoy the social side of it all.
Q: Here’s some interesting news for steampunk fans. The Mortal Engines is going to be a live action film in December of 2018. Do you think it will be successful at the box office?
A: I honestly have no idea; it has a big name producer in Peter Jackson, but previous attempts to do Steampunk on the big screen (Wild Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman) have not done that well. But fingers crossed for it.
Q: Are you interested with the other “punk” genres like cyberpunk, dieselpunk, rococopunk, stonepunk, etc.?
A: I messed around with cyber and diesel some years ago, trying to do something with them, but I didn’t get very far. I think that may be because most of my background reading has been on the 19th century rather than any other era, and advanced technology is something of a closed book to me.
Q: What else should we know about you?
A: Middle-aged grump probably sums me up quite well.
Q: Thank you very much for talking to me today, Jon. It’s nice to know that writers are still churning out steampunk work. Best wishes for a successful career and I think it would be cool for us to keep in touch.
A: Thank you very much!
That's the end of another steampunk interview. I hope you guys will consider reading Full Throttle. It sounds like a really interesting book with a lot of fun steampunk elements. I'm going to leave some links, so you can learn more about Jon and his work. Thanks for visiting and keep your eyes open for next week's post.
Jon Hartless on Twitter
Full Throttle on Amazon
Full Throttle on Amazon-UK Edition
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.