A few weeks back, Charlie Stross opened a can of virtual worms in this post about the weekpoints of Steampunk as a genre. I observed the hubub from a safe distance (those zeppelin jockies have explosives, man, even if they are just dynamite dressed up with gears) but since then have been thinking about something he wrote,* roling it aournd, looking at it from different angles:
Forget wealthy aristocrats sipping tea in sophisticated London parlours; forget airship smugglers in the weird wild west. A revisionist mundane SF steampunk epic — mundane SF is the socialist realist movement within our tired post-revolutionary genre — would reflect the travails of the colonial peasants forced to labour under the guns of the white Europeans’ Zeppelins, in a tropical paradise where severed human hands are currency and even suicide doesn’t bring release from bondage. (Hey, this is steampunk — it needs zombies and zeppelins, right? Might as well pick Zombies for our single one impossible ingredient.) It would share the empty-stomached anguish of a young prostitute on the streets of a northern town during a recession, unwanted children (contraception is a crime) offloaded on a baby farm with a guaranteed 90% mortality rate through neglect. The casual boiled-beef brutality of the soldiers who take the King’s shilling to break the heads of union members organizing for a 60 hour work week. The fading eyesight and mangled fingers of nine year olds forced to labour on steam-powered looms, weaving cloth for the rich. The empty-headed graces of debutantes raised from birth to be bargaining chips and breeding stock for their fathers’ fortunes. In other words, it’s the story of all the people who are having adventures — as long as you remember that an adventure is a tale of unpleasant events happening to people a long, long way from home.
This is, in a way, what I’ve been groping towards with a novel-in-progress that was stalled out on the side of the imagination highway, waiting for a kind stranger to slide out of the fast lane and offer it a ride to the nearest gas station. And along comes Mr. Stross in his zombie-built airship and gives us a fucking lift.
Of course, what wa smissing all along was the Dickens angle. The eye for social justice.
And since I live in a country that despertaely seems to want to go back to the Gilded Age (but with ray guns and atomic bombs, robot hunter-killer drones and feckless Coroprate Barons) There’s aneed and i’d wager an audience for such a piece of work.
Now all I have to do is find the time to write it.
* I’ve been thining a lot about a lot things, few of them fit for public consumption. These are stange times and relaly, what can I say about wikileaks, GOp crazies and our President’s spectacular lack of a spine that others haven’t said better? Anyway, more thoughtful posts on writing and comics and fun stuff like that will be coming soon.