Today I’m going to talk about diversity in steampunk and alternate history novels – specifically what I’m planning to do to build some more realism and diversity into my own world. Read on to find out more.
Lucia Rhodanus Fortem is a woman of Mauritanian birth, hailing from the mountains of the western most North African province. While born in Neapolis, a mercantile city, to rich parents with ample wealth and opportunity, she would rather forge her own path through the rigors of the gladiator ring. Secretly leaving home to get away from a planned marriage, she travels to Rome, where she puts her years of socialite dance training and physical training to work. She quickly hones her skills, her attitude and drive accentuated by the forces working against her – both overt and covert.
Above is the background of the main character of my next novella – The Last Gladiator. When I first started writing the Steam Empire Chronicles, I neglected to include so many of the diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds common in many parts of the empire. From our modern point of view, Rome seems very, well, white, when the opposite was most definitely true.
Rome was a cosmopolitan, multicultural, multi ethnic city, and could not have survived without those factors. Rome could not feed itself, much less govern itself or the extensive territories it conquered, without immigrants and trade. Both of which encourage and created cultural, and personal, exchanges (forced or unforced – that’s the topic for another article).
I’m making a conscious effort to improve this as I build out the world of the Steam Empire Chronicles. This isn’t a ‘let’s do a novella for each type of person who may be in the empire’ type thing. Rather this is a ‘events in the empire impact many more people than you think and these are some of them’. These characters – like those in my other novellas – are members of the greater plot and will find their way into future novels.
It is hard, but also important, for authors, especially white, male authors like myself to put time and effort into creating worlds that are more realistic in their depictions of communities and populations. This requires real effort, and it takes risk. I believe many authors would rather not bother with that deep of world building that includes more than token references to different ethnicities or races.
Beyond that, it is critically important that we read and promote fellow authors of color who create vivid and beyond-the-norm (think: traditional European Victorian steampunk) worlds with diverse arrays of characters, such as those of the sub-genre of Afropunk. I encourage my readers and fellow authors to explore these books. As a teacher, I know the power of finding ‘the book’ for a student. One of these may be that book they need.
A brief and quick google search finds several lists on goodreads and elsewhere that provide easy access to a variety of steampunk, fantasy, and sci-fi writing featuring authors and characters of diverse background.
Thanks for listening!