The West that Wasn’t: Steampunk Inspirations

The West that Wasn’t: Steampunk Inspirations

The concepts of wildness, independence, and freedom of the frontier West have long represented the American spirit for many writers. Frederick Turner described the frontier West as one of the defining elements in American national identity—the “dominant individualism” that Turner saw as a hallmark of American character: “The coarseness and strength, combined with acuteness and acquisitiveness; that practical and inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things.”

From This City of Nightmares . . .

From This City of Nightmares . . .

In 1987 K.W. Jeter coined the term “steampunk” in a letter to Locus magazine. Jeter used the term to qualify the neo-Victorian writings that he, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers, were producing. This term was in part a play on the term “cyberpunk,” which was a popular genre in the late 1980s. Steampunk is a genre of speculation, whether it is set in an alternative version of Victorian England, in an alternative American West, in a future where steam power rather than electrical current runs the world, or in a fantasy setting where steam power is in mainstream use. It owes a debt of gratitude for its creation to such authors as Jules Verne, Mary Shelly, and H.G. Wells: Their works are speculative and include many of the aspects that readers now associate with modern steampunk novels. In terms of world building, though, the genre owes an even larger debt to Charles Dickens and his depiction of Victorian England.

Steampunk is More Than Its History

Steampunk is More Than Its History

Is it necessary to have read H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine or Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to understand the steampunk aesthetic? Does anyone who attends an event dressed in Western steampunk attire need to view all of John Ford’s movies about the Old West and every episode of the Wild Wild West before partaking? Or is this prior knowledge only a part—a foundation—that can add to a person’s appreciation?

George Eliot’s Influence on Alternate Histories

George Eliot’s Influence on Alternate Histories

In the steampunk genre there are many Victorian Era authors who have influenced modern works. Many writers espouse names like Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells. Yet another Victorian Era writer, Mary Ann Evans, popularly known by her pen name, George Eliot, created works of fiction that explored the connection between the individual and society and explored the idea that a single decision or action could alter the course of history: This viewpoint has been explored at length by steampunk authors who create story worlds based on alternate histories.