Friday, April 17, 2015

Future Friday: All of yesterday's tomorrows...

A bit of news to kick off our Futurific Friday post: I accepted an invitation to The Brass Screw Confederacy ( in May. Brass Screw is a Steampunk event (not a convention) that takes over the idyllic seaside town of Port Townsend from time to time and has made the town a steampunk destination of sorts.

I'll be presenting a workshop on where ideas come from. The workshop, you might be amused to know, arose from a popular blogpost I wrote here called "Drinking from the font of ideas (Also Lasersharks!)" and takes participants through all the surprising ideas that can be culled from a single day's news feed and seeks to finally answer that persistent question: "Where do you get your ideas?"

Oh, I have hatched a thousand elaborate
heist scenarios dedicated to liberating
this sofa from its home at the Seattle
Museum of History & Industry...
"But wait," I hear you cry. "Howard Carter isn't really steampunk is it? Also, what does this have to do with futurism, Scott. This is Future Friday, so get cracking with the jetpacks and flying cars. I want to hear you rip on Elon Musk for nixing flying cars!"

Not a chance. Musk is basically right about the flying car thing and it depresses me to admit that, so today we're going to talk about Steampunk, and the tomorrows that we dreamt about yesterday.

Because that's what Steampunk is: futurism through different foci. We get so caught up in the trappings of the genre sometimes that I think we forget that part of things.

One important thread of Howard Carter Saves the World is the trouble wrought by a misbehaving family of time travelers whose Victorian meddling accidentally created the modern world as we know it. Their efforts to repair the timeline set up much of the plot that Howard and his friends become tangled in. The modern world as we know it is wrong, they cry. They want their tomorrow back and they're going to get it no matter how badly they mess up our present.

It's a subplot that burbles quietly in the background and will be more thoroughly examined in future stories because nothing fascinates me more than the difference between how we imagined the future and the future we ended up with.

So is it Steampunk if the setting isn't Victorian?

I'm not a big fan of genre restrictions, so for the most part I honestly don't care. However, for my money Steampunk shouldn't begin and end with the reign of Queen Victoria. The interesting bit to me isn't the airship pirates and top-hatted chrononauts. The thing that makes steampunk interesting to me is the idea of imagining a different past, a better past in which the wonders of technological advancement and inventive enthusiasm weren't saddled with the most shocking sexism, racism, and colonialism (among other appalling isms).  And then -- this is the important part for me and my story -- imagining the world of today that would have arisen from that better yesterday.

Because at some point, as storytellers, makers, and musicians, we should to move beyond the dreamy supposition of "What if the Victorians had steampowered iPhones?" and ask what a world would look like further along that timeline. So they had aetheric cell phones and flying ships and snazzy brass goggles... tell me what future that gave rise to. Because I'm not convinced that a more inclusive, more inventive version of our past would necessarily give us the dystopian worlds that most of my dieselpunk friends envision. (Dieselpunk being commonly anchored by a re-imagined World War One...)

Maybe it would. Maybe the chaos and war of the modern world was inevitable and the power of the aetheric phlogistonic manipulator arrays would inevitably give rise to a war machine that would lay waste to the world. Maybe. But one essential elements of imagining yesterday's tomorrows was the optimism that those dreams were based on. And I, for one, hold on to that. Because if you know anything about the real batsh*t crazy inventors of the actual Victorian age, you know that they were generally trying to make the world better, not tear it apart.

And I, for one, prefer that scenario.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).