As I’ve begun to explore steampunk more, I’ve noticed a disappointing trend in the books and movies in this genre. They seem to have forgotten the heart of steampunk: the punk.
This is perhaps because steampunk is a genre with many distractions. It’s easy to get caught up in the airships, the tools, the corsets, and many creators do. Writers spend page after page lovingly describing these things(and many do it quite well); comic book artists pour hour after hour into every image.
What they forget are all the other things that make the Victorian era such a fascinating one. They skip the political intrigue and religious conflicts inherent in the time. Their characters create inventions and go on grand adventures that change their lives but rarely seem to impact the world around them. Often their stories even reinforce the highly structured class system and oppression of these worlds.
This is in some ways the opposite of a common problem found in other subgenres of science fiction and fantasy: the chosen one who goes on a grand quest to save the world. Steampunk stories are great at choosing characters who are only slightly larger than life, who are awesome because of their personalities and skills rather than because they are “chosen”, but it doesn’t give those characters the same opportunities to prove themselves.
I believe we can do better. I believe steampunk fiction is at its best when characters use their steampunk creations to subvert the Victorian-esque cultures they live in, the way punk music subverted the existing culture of music in the real world. I want to see characters who make their place in the world instead of finding it, and I want to see characters tearing apart the class systems and governments that oppress them. Most of all, I want to see steampunk worlds that grow and change.
The steampunk aesthetic is wonderful and airships are fascinating, but steampunk is about so much more than the superficial. In our own world steampunk communities are some of the friendliest out there. They are creators of all kinds, professionals and hobbyists, fat and thin, white and black. They are incredible people who are changing the real world, one tiny step at a time.
Steampunk characters should be allowed to do the same.
Know of any steampunk books like this? Got one of your own? Tell me about it in the comments section below!
Dianna Gunn is a freelance writer by day, a fantasy author by night, and a steampunk fanatic all the time. Her debut YA fantasy novella, Keeper of the Dawn, is set to release in spring 2017. She blogs about books, creativity and life at The Dabbler.