Immersing myself lately in steampunk, I started wondering where to look for its prophets. Who's going to seed the ideas of the future. The potential is there. Not just the ideas about technology, though that is what initially attracted and inspired me to stage a story in the genre. Speculative fiction, in general, is idea-centered. Each genre in spec fic focuses on a different collective of ideas. Steampunk, puts an emphasis on a particular aspect of the scientific world and makes sure we recognize how technology and politics intersect. That's one of the things we know about steampunk.
There is more.
Steampunk, more than science fiction in general, exposes the relationship between invention and economics. Given how many inventions there were in the Victorian era, economics decided which ones ruled. That is probably some law or other. However, Steampunk can, and does in some stories, investigate and propose the advancement of alternate technologies. For example, my favorite alternate-tech, the Stirling Engine, is part of the technology featured in Benedice Te by Jay Lake (in Steampunk Tales #1),
The Stirling Engine was invented as a response to the dangers of steam. It is still used in its original capacity as a track-side water pump. However, because the Stirling is a temperature differential engine powered by heat--the temperature difference between one side an another--it is now being explored by the solar industry.
Anyone who has followed the technological influences of Star Trek knows how easy it is to use a story to not only fuel imagination but to create the market for its products. Imagination has influence, is very powerful, and can make the world a better place.
The editors of Steampunk Tales, volumes 1-6, have challenged themselves to bring out the best of what steampunk can bring to the discussion of technology and makes sure that we read what potential prophets have to offer. I'm looking forward to our reading and discussion of the stories in the initial volume. Meanwhile, I'm back in the deep end of the steampunk pool.
Next week, from the deep end, I'll be treading water where steampunk notoriously exposes social elements that we are still wrestling with now: race, and the role of women. I'll also be looking inside Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded which searched out steampunk writers with views from other sides of the Empire. Steampunk samba, anyone?