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!
1/14/2018 03:09:03 pm
I wholeheartedly endorse both, though I lean towards Wild West in my stories. You can't do Missouri without the West! A very good article you have here, and I wish the Wild West, or Weird West as some call it, got more exposure.
1/14/2018 10:58:15 pm
I agree with you and William, I don't think one is necessarily "better" than the other. It depends on the story you want to tell. The West was a place where societal norms were being challenged because of the needs and limits of frontier living. On the other hand, stories set in imperial society can be quite fascinating and there are more resources for eye-popping steampunk gadgetry!
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