I was checking out my Amazon Author Page the other day, and happened to be reading the reviews that people have given. I was struck by the comments in several, in particular those that said my novel was a great read for someone looking for something other than the usual Victorian steampunk. I’m flattered by these comments, but it had me thinking, why don’t we see more ‘alternate’ steampunk novels? (You can see more about how to respond to reviews here)
I suppose this question is answered in the most basic form by looking at the origin of
the word steampunk. “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery,especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.” (According to Wikipedia) or if you prefer Urban Dictionary, “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.”
So that gives some insight, but not enough. You have to look at the words 19th century and western civilization. Most Steampunk happens in Victorian (or proto-victorian) England/ Western Europe or in the wild west. Even those novels that don’t explicitly take place in those locations include people from those locations. Peshawar Lancers, by S.M. Stirling, takes place in India, but a Englishized India.
So why do we not see more steampunk writing from the Far East? Or Africa? South America? People write what they know, and what they’ve learned. If you’re an American or British writer, you probably know western history with a spattering of eastern history when it coincides with western. I would LOVE to write a steampunk novel about Brazil (and I’ve actually got one way way wayyyy on the backburner in idea form) but I happen to have a great resource who grew up in Brazil as a major partner in it. If left to my own devices, could I write a novel? Sure, but I doubt it would be truly authentic. Steampunk doesn’t have to be authentic (it is, after all, science fiction), but the culture it is based on does need to feel and act authentic. If you don’t know about a different culture, how can you write about it?
There are a few authors who are trying to breach the boundaries of ‘traditional’ steampunk, but you’ll have to look good and hard for them. If you have any suggestions, leave them below and I’ll edit the post. I’d love to read some other non-standard steampunk ideas. For more information, check out this great post on Beyond Victoriana.