Welcome back! I'm continuing my blog series about writing steampunk fiction. People often forget that nearly every literary genre was influenced by something else. These influences are very important for writers because it puts the genre into context. Allow me to explain some important elements to you.
As an alumnus from Cal State Fullerton, I have access to the university's Titan magazine. It's a magazine that shows the accomplishments of faculty and students. One of the editions taught me something that was very interesting. Apparently, steampunk was an invention from my alma mater. More accurately, a few students from Cal State Fullerton were the founders of steampunk. K.W. Jeter, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers wrote fiction about creative steam power and science fiction elements in the 19th Century. During an interview, Jeter labeled the genre as steampunk. They were mentored by a well known cyberpunk author and professor named Philip K. Dick. All three of the students were heavily influenced by the cyberpunk genre, but they changed the setting in their works. Instead of using a futuristic setting with a blend of high tech and low culture, they preferred a pseudo-Victorian setting with some of the elements from cyberpunk. For example, steampunk retains the lavish and unrealistic technology of cyberpunk, except it uses steam power.
Let's take a more detailed look at cyberpunk. It was the original genre of punk science fiction and it was very influential on steampunk. Cyberpunk works tend to feature highly advanced technology in a futuristic or contemporary setting. Common contraptions or gizmos include super computers, artificial intelligence, body modifications, advanced weaponry, and more. Many cyberpunk stories take place in mega cities that are abysmal with high crime rates and political corruption. The wealthy one percent of civilization often lives in luxury while the majority of mankind suffers in poverty. Cyberpunk has a clear dystopian element and the characters usually have a lot of conflicts with morality. For example, grotesque human experimentation is commonplace in cyberpunk that may result in cyborgs or other monstrosities. The genre usually features dark and cynical protagonists who want to change the status quo. There's often a rebellion, but the outcome varies from one story to another. Sometimes, the government is overthrown and a more hopeful civilization rises. Other times, the rebellion is defeated and the ending is bittersweet. I have to admit, cyberpunk tends to be a very melancholy and depressing genre. Where does the punk come from? It grows out of the dark, cynical, and rebellious elements.
We should also examine 19th Century authors, such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. It's widely accepted that steampunk was also influenced by their literature. Why does steampunk have so many nautical themes? It probably comes from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. Why does steampunk use a lot of time travel? Read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and it will make sense. Likewise, we probably see a lot disasters and post-apocalyptic elements in steampunk works because H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds was very influential. Both of these authors wrote about 19th Century settings with heavy influences from science and fantasy. Hence, you can view it as science fiction. The protagonists in their works are usually cynical or Romantic believers of science who want to change something. These characters are quite passionate about their causes and push themselves to the limit. As a result, ethics are sometimes thrown out the window. For example, The Island of Doctor Moreau features a mad scientist who dissects live animals and creates hybrids from human and animal DNA. However, some of the scientific outcomes in the works of Verne and Wells can also be awe inspiring. Their books often feature advanced technology that we still haven't achieved in the modern era.
If you want to learn more about anything in this blog, I'm listing some useful links and references below. Check them out because you might feel inspired to write something that's creative. If nothing else, you'll probably learn something new. Leave a comment if you want to contribute to the discussion. Thanks for being active readers on my blog and have a great Fourth of July!
References and Links
Munoz, Sarah. The Scholarship of Science Fiction: When Worlds Collide. Titan, Winter/Spring, 2016.