On my distinction between Scifi and Steampunk

Have you ever had one of those conversations on the internet that end become a thesis into themselves? Well, I had one of those in the comments section of my latest Steampunk Beginners Guide episodes on why Steampunk never became a thing. Read the Blog here.


First observation. People really like the Bat Bomb. Maybe I'll make a video on strange technology appearing too stupid to be real, let alone functional. But there it is. The Bat Bomb. And as far we can tell, It could have worked.

The other. Sometimes, scripts write themselves. Things I want to talk about just don't match the tone or flow of the script, and I discard it. In the end. The script is entirely different from what I imagined.

In this video, I could have gone deeper on what Steampunk Technology as a concept could be.


Steampunk tech is, for me, technology that could have been. In other words, It couldn't have existed by (my) definition. I mean, could have been, in the broadest sense of the word. Be it fantastical or anachronistic.

What I explore in my stories is not the details on the technology, but how characters interact with them. How these appear to them. What it means to them. For example, in Violet Skies, the public sees the Wireless Energy Towers as Progress with a capital 'P'. On the other hand, to Associate 91 these constructs are monuments to Jupiter Power Unlimited's ambitions and greed. And much of the Association regards them in a similar way, which I think is telling of how the organization sees progress helped alone by "Outside Technology". And yet, and the end of the story there is a revelation that the towers have a greater part to play than even JPU and the Association could have foreseen.


And with that, let's get to my conversation with a user named Chali. A mechanical engineering student.

Chali: Thanks for this video! I think the most valuable aspect of steampunk is in examining the relationships people could have with technology in contrast to the relationship we do have. I really liked your explanations for how technology develops with regard to the context of the society it develops in, and that technology, in turn, affects society, but also that it's also subject to seemingly random chance, just like alternate histories. Would you say then, that what we call steampunk technology could have existed today given a different path was taken? Or indeed, that if we take to heart the early 19th-century optimism and desire to genuinely improve the human condition with technology that everyone can manipulate and truly control, that we may yet create a world of steampunk technology? Make it our way?!

Bonsart: Well... Taking about the genre here. Using my definition for Steampunk, such can't have excited in our timeline by definition. Using my latest story Violet Skies as an example, I'm exploring how a person from the 1870s would react to Wireless Energy towers. That for me is Steampunk. Scifi Explores what the future could be like. Steampunk explores/speculates what the past could have been like would certain technology be introduced. See for, example The Difference Engine. Would such technology have excited, well it's just (alternate) history then? How that technology is developed is indeed important. Like, what if the DUtch created the Steamboat in the 17th century because the developer didn't die? It's insane how our history is determined by small things like that. We are ignorant of all the possibilities we don't know about. Also one of the reasons the Association of Ishtar is a multiverse. So more than one writer can introduce such worlds In the world of the Association of Ishtar itself, Code named Atlas, are using their access to such worlds to develop futuristic technology. As a result, Atlas doesn't have any real inventors. Just people who reverse engineer. Chali: So from what I understand Steampunk for you is the exploration of the effects of alternate technologies on historical/historically inspired societies, whereas Sci-fi explores these effects on a potential future society? I can see the practical utility of this distinction, but the line seems easily blurred if one considers post-apocalyptic steampunk - which includes Last Exile funnily enough. Who's to say a future society won't be historically inspired, or have a similar relationship with their technology? For me that is the question steampunk is challenging us with: Do we long for a relationship with technology that's inspired by the past? As opposed to other Sci-fi that offers a warning or hope for the future. Surely any piece of fiction whose story diverges from our timeline somewhere in the past can be described as having an alternate history, even if it's set in the future. So by that definition, both Steampunk and Sci-fi can also be alternate history stories, but they could instead have purely fictional settings.

It excites me to see other people understanding that there could have been so many other ways history could have turned out and that "progress" is not some unstoppable force that would inevitably produce a world that looks like ours. I love your "We are ignorant of all the possibilities we don't know about".Violet Skies sounds awesome! I'll have to give it a read and make my first foray into your marvelous Association of Ishtar world. Is that a good place to start?

Bonsart:

"Violet Skies sounds awesome! Is that a good place to start?" I struggle to answer that question myself. I still have to write the entry-level AoI short story. I wrote "The Wrench in the Machine" novel that way. But I got very positive feedback on the story Violet Skies from people who never read AoI The short stories are all file entries with the idea it is a scavenger hunt. So, when it comes to Last Exile, I consider that to be Sci-fi that uses a Retro futuristic aesthetic for its world-building. I love the series because of the way it uses both historical inspiration, and vehicle design, to explain the world.

Scifi has a long tradition of using historical visual themes in designs, as well as its references to old political systems. Space empires, etc. And then of course there is time travel, creating alternate timelines.

Post apocalyptical settings often use similar patterns of world-building, assuming the people of these dystopias use the lost world for inspiration. Therefore they often have retro-futuristic esthetics as well. See Fallout.

So, do the lines get blurred for me. No. I think it's important to realize, Steampunk does not have a monopoly on retrofuturism. And here is why. What sets Steampunk apart for me from Scifi and alt-history is its references to (antiquated) pop culture. An often overlooked aspect. Think of all the Steampunk Disney characters, superheroes, etc. Not to mention all the reimaginings of War of the Worlds, Lovecraft, etc. I understand the take of 'people wanting a different relationship with technology. In my conversations with Steampunk authors, creators, etc. I am not hyperbolic that this has never come up. On the esthetic side of things, I always come down for a love of the Scifi of the late 18th/early 19th century. Especially the writers I interviewed are more often fantasy or


superhero than Scifi, which just happens to have a Steampunk esthetic. I think it's important to consider that there is a difference between what Steampunk is/should be, and what Steampunks like. Especially when it comes to the community/music/costume side

of things, people care more about the social aspect of Steampunk than the creators who make steampunk art. So when "the viras" hit, I started losing views because the events ended. Even my Discord almost died. It's also why many consider being a Steampunk creator is a thankless affair. But that's a topic for another time.

Anyway, hope that clarifies some things.


And with that, we end our blog.


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