Can’t Stop The Signal

With the launch of Encante, our first Steampunk novella, imminent, it seemed prudent to spend a little time looking at just what exactly Steampunk is, and why we love it so much. As a literary phenomena, Steampunk as we know it today began in the 1980s and 1990s, however its roots go much deeper, and include the literary works of giants such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Encante is inspired in large part by Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. The predominant feature of this genre is the preeminence of steam power and a pseudo-historical setting, most often in the Victorian, Georgian or Edwardian era (or at least style, if it is set in another world), as well as the trappings of top hats and tails, cogs and clocks, goggles and grime, and an unrelenting obsession with airships of every conceivable variety. There is, however, a great deal more to Steampunk than a lot of people initially believe, and certainly when it comes to a really good Steampunk story, we are looking for far more than the bog standard science-fiction or fantasy yarn, told with a few added fashion accessories.

There are certain themes that run through this genre which are as ingrained as the grime on the engineers and as compulsory as the corsets. For many people, it is these themes which make Steampunk so fascinating, and make them love the genre so much. First and foremost is the notion that the genre encapsulates a certain ethos, as well as a certain sense of style.

Unlike a lot of fantasy and science fiction, good Steampunk also tends to have real meaning, real depth, and not just because of the obsession with sea-dwelling beasties. There is a certain standard of morals, behaviour and etiquette which simply must be met. This goes beyond the hero/villain dynamic often found in fantasy and sci-fi narratives, for it not only demands valiance, but the deeper need to ensure that the world remains in balance, wrongs are righted, and catastrophes are averted, often at great personal cost. And yet, this does not always lead to squeaky clean characters. In fact the best in Steampunk are often the thieves, and the crooks, who despite their occupations and natural desire for self preservation, are driven to act through the simple knowledge that it is the right thing to do.

It’s Malcom Reynolds launching his barely-functional ship, and hodgepodge crew of misfits, up against an Alliance barricade, for no other reason than the belief humanity should know the truth. They have virtually no chance of success. Even if they succeed, they’ll likely die in the process. Even if they get the signal out, it doesn’t change what happened, yet none of that matters however; the only thing that matters is that it’s the right thing to do.

There are, of course, a multitude of other themes in Steampunk, the most common being corruption – particularly in government – rebellion and alchemy. Alternate universes, dystopias, scientific enquiry, social divides and social mores (another theme in Encante), mad scientists, time and temporal mechanics and, of course, pirates, also play prominent roles in the genre. This is perhaps why it is so fun and dynamic, there is simply so much scope for adventure and excitement. We’ll be taking a more detailed look at these themes over the weeks, but for now I leave you with a parting thought:

You can’t stop the signal.


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