And it’s all entirely valid. Steampunk by in-large tends to be entirely secular and where entire sections of actual history are obfuscated for the benefit of others. It is, by-and-large built on the crux of “Shiny!” And that’s vile.
But are we to care? Is it not the prerogative of the writer to approach their story in whichever way they want? I’m not usually one to say a writer “should” or “should” not do something. The truth is, who’s to say with the artificial enhances based around mechanical invention that other sciences and sociopolitical pitfalls haven’t been narrowed or closed all together? Who’s to say they haven’t been replaced by others?
There are however, things that I will not do. As an oftentimes writer of steampunk and alternate history, these are concepts, morals and actual facts that I struggle with and against. I will not, in anyway, write an actual place as a genre-true “Dark Land” wherein there are beasts and crazed natives and such. Such folly, I feel is completely ignorant of history. I’m not for eradicating such explorative tales as they are cruxes of pulp SF/F, but, I think there are more tactful ways of doing it (a Land of the Lost kind of thing springs to mind, though, not sure if that’s apt). I will not gloss over the demons of society and public health just to focus on a forward shift of mechanical invention. Sure, zepplins are cool, but at the expense of these other things, not so much. If I am to explore such a reimagined Victorian society, I personally feel a duty to be cognisant of these other things to a point where it’s not a distraction to my central themes.
I think that’s why, at least for most of alternate history -punk work, I don’t make huge scientific advances in an entire society for the sake of my protagonists. I make huge scientific advances in my protagonists for the sake of an entire society. Which is to say, I am more insular in my scope. My protagonist is usually one of a very select few people in that universe that has made such large leaps. Then, if using their invention for the sake of heroing is their perrogative, then they’re free to do so; that’s their onus. Society moves on, pretty much undisturbed around them.
Not to tip my hand so much, but, since I’ve already unveiled his presence, these are concepts I will play with in Evening Tea Society, primarily through Nikola Tesla. In my 19xx, he is, without a doubt, the most brilliant mind in the world, and there will be societal leaps ahead of contemporary history, but, most of the technology that Tesla will employ in the book will be for his benefit only. In fact, I make it a point down the line for him to engage a discussion about Wardencylffe Tower (which I’ve hinted at already). His colleagues in the Tea Society will believe – like most did – that the Tower was an abysmal failure, victim to a madman’s dreams. He’ll explain that the Tower does work, but that the complications it would inflict on society at this time are far too dire.
I’m also taking the group to Alaska. While painting Alaska at this point as a beridden with snow “Dark Land” with savage natives would certainly fit a Verneian scope, I can’t in good faith do that. It’s important to me to recognise that in the first decade of the 1900s (in which 19xx is modeled) Alaska is under military-rule, is full of gold rushing white folks whitewashing that natives, and a crime spree that–while minimized–could be similar to that of the Midwest rumrunners. Moreso than ignoring that, to me its important to embrace that, and build tradition -punk concepts into that.
I’ve been rambling for far too long, and while I have my personal ideas of what -punk should encompass, I’m sure there’s a lot of varying opinion…let’s hear ‘em, shall we?