Category Archives: Mash-ups

What is the difference between Steampunk Science and Steampunk Magic?

Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws :

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Witch with vacuum as broom

Steampunk Witch with a Vacuum-cleaner for a broom

Scientist

Steampunk Scientist, off to give a seminar

Steampunk is a literary genre that doesn’t mind a dash of fantasy mixed in with its Science! The best example of genre this would be the Laws of Magic series by Michael Pryor, who also wrote two Science & Magic Steampunk books around his characters, the Extraordinaires. There is no reason as to why you can’t have a mix of both scientists and magicians in a Steampunk setting.

So, how does magic work in a Steampunk setting? Well, you can work it two ways. You can either make the magic so outrageous without any rhyme or reason, for an Absurdist literary take on magic. Personally, I prefer the other extreme, where the laws of magic are just as ‘logical’ and ‘rational’ as the laws of physics. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld runs on this kind of magic; when a man is turned into a frog, conservation of mass means that there is a balloon of extra matter floating bout the ceiling. Magic takes work, effort and training, as well as a modicum of natural talent (though that never slowed down Granny Weatherwax). I’m using Discworld as an example because Raising Steam is most certainly a Steampunk narrative, and several of the other novels certainly overlap the Fantasy and Steampunk literary genres.

Rational magic works in a Steampunk setting because it still conforms to rules. And – if you reread the quote that introduced this article – you can see why magic and science are easily confused by the ignorant or mechanically naive. After all, do you really know what makes a television work? For all you know, it could be magic…

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Filed under Magic, Mash-ups, Science, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, writing

The Mistress: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Missy

Missy

Oh, how I enjoyed the resolution of the enigma of Missy – revealed to be the Mistress, the female incarnation of the Master. It was even better than I hoped. The interaction between Miss and the Doctor was charged with sexual tension. All the Doctor/Master shippers must have been screaming with delight. I know I was.

Missy wears a classic late Victorian/early Edwardian nanny’s outfit, just like Mary Poppins would wear (shades of Clara in the Christmas special?); her outfit is perfectly situated in the Steampunk Vicwardian era. Her outfit complements the Doctor’s outfit, her skirt and jacket are plum with black trim, his black jacket is lined with red, and both are wearing collared white shirts completely buttoned up. They look like a couple visually, which is a clever use of wardrobe. She has a lot of gadgets …so I’m calling her a Steampunk Icon!

doctor with missy

From a feminist viewpoint, this is a brilliant addition to the Doctor Who canon. So, can all Timelords change their gender? Or just the Master, who always marched to different drums. Who really cares with the Mistress in charge of situation. She is clever, cruel, flirtatious, fickle; everything the Master was and more – and she refers to the Doctor as her ‘boyfriend’. She certainly knows how to manipulate him. One gets the impression that she isn’t so much trying to take over the Earth as trying to gain the Doctor’s interest. Missy is certainly the Doctor’s equal.

I think this new incarnation of the Master is a genius move. Not only is the Doctor no longer the last of his kind. We now have a breeding pair…

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Filed under Characterization, Doctor Who, Mash-ups, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist

Horror and the Steampunk Genre

Pumpkin from Flickr

The Steampunk literary genre and the Horror genre are a match made in heaven. All the great monsters had their origins in the Victorian era. Frankenstein’s monster was created by Mary Shelley in 1818. In 1827, English author Jane C. Webb Loudon published The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century – a science fiction novel I would recommend for its originality of vision. I might suggest Mrs Loudon and Mary Shelly were the first Steampunk novelists, as Jules Verne wasn’t even born until the next year. Another woman writer, Clemence Houseman, wrote about a female lycanthrope in her 1896 novel, The Were-Wolf. A year later, Bram Stoker had success with Dracula, though there had been popular vampire fiction published all through the 19th century, like John Poldori’s short story in 1819, The Vampyre. There were even robots and other mad inventions. About the only classic monster not introduced into popular culture in the Victorian era is the zombie, which didn’t make its appearance in popular horror fiction until the 20th century.

The 1868  'The Steam Man of the Prairies' by Edward S. Ellis

The 1868 ‘The Steam Man of the Prairies’ by Edward S. Ellis

We all know the horror-genre influences in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. For example, there were the prehistoric monsters in the Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and the Martains from The War of the Worlds. There is a great deal of historical precedence for horror to mash-up with the Steampunk genre.

My favourite is the mad scientist, who doom himself with his own creation, which is – of course – the main plot of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. This gives equal balance between the science and the horror, to create a Steampunk genre narrative. You can either go the ‘bucket of guts’ route with the horror, or run with lots of atmosphere and psychological horror. And there is no rule that says you can’t use both.

This article was inspired by Halloween. So tap into your dark side, and write a spooky Steampunk story!

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Filed under Genre, Genre Markers, Horror, Mash-ups, Pop Culture, Steampunk

Humour and the Steampunk Genre

Grim men with rocking horse.

Horsing Around

For some unknown reason, we tend to look back at the Victorians and consider them rather grim. I put this attitude down to the black & white photographs from the era. Even the brightest colours are reduced to dreary shades of dust and charcoal in B&W photography, and the unsmiling expressions were an artefact of the length of exposure time to obtain a clear photo. As an example, study the image above. The uniforms of the men could be scarlet for all we know, and the presence of the ‘smoking’ hobbyhorse, balancing baby doll, and toy cannon suggests this image was taken in jest. I would love to know the full story behind this image; I suspect this might be a bachelor party.

Logical progression from 'headless' photographsPhotoshop in the Victorian era

Most humour is ephemeral. But there are several strong suggestions that the Victorians enjoyed a good laugh: the success of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Gilbert & Sullivan; the enormous number of humorous photos and postcards; the popularity of Punch magazine; the lyrics of music hall songs; and the fact that even the most serious novels usually had some humorous scenes. So much for the stiff upper lip …

Girls dressed as gnomes 1902

So, what does this mean for your Steampunk narrative? Some authors add humour to their work as a matter of course, like Michael Pryor, while Ged Maybury writes with the intent of creating a humorous novel. The definition of what is humour changes from person to person. If you want to throw a tragedy into sharp focus, you contrast it to humour – the premise of nearly every modern horror movie.

The best humour isn’t forced. When in doubt, take it out. There is no such thing as half funny.

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Filed under Genre Markers, History, Humour, Mash-ups, Steampunk

Mash-ups and the Steampunk Philosophy

Steampunk might seem to be the last genre to ever be eco-friendly, but it only seems that way if you confuse the Postmodern genre of Steampunk with the historical reality of the Industrial Revolution. They are not the same, particularly in their underlying philosophies. The Industrial Revolution was powered by Capitalism; Steampunk is all about recycling, upcycling, repurposing, sharing, reusing, valourizing Science for its achievements and not for what it can do for the profit margins. This holds true for the Aesthetic, the alternative lifestyle, and for the literary genre.

With the Steampunk Aesthetic, cosplayers take pride in making a lot of their own kit. I know that, even as the world’s slowest sewer, I have made my own items of my Steampunk wardrobe. My friends and I raid op shops looking for suitable items to be made over into Steampunk fashions. We almost make a competition of who can find the best second-hand items, and who can make the best outfit. It just isn’t environmentally friendly, or pennywise, it is also a lot of fun. In fact, we make our costumes because of any idealistic values, but because we achieve an unique style by making our own costumes.

My hand-decorated hat and recycled vest.

My hand-decorated hat and recycled vest.

This is the case for my community. We have swap meets, workshops, ops shop adventure days and other events. We make quite a few of our own gadgets, including my lovely backpack that Matt the Tinkerer built (with some help from me).

Backpack designed and made by Matt the Tinkerer.

Backpack designed and made by Matt the Tinkerer.

This has all been a longwinded introduction to the concept of Steampunk Mash-ups. I love a good mash-up, I really do, be it a cosplayer dressed as Steampunk Batman, a group of Steampunk Ghostbusters (I am a member of such a group), or a story that borrows settings, characters, and situations from other literary sources.  The most famous example would be The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which borrows something from just about every well-known Victorian novel.

One of the literary markers of the Steampunk genre is this use of well known individuals, both real life people and literary characters. This is a very Postmodern strategy, incorporating the old and traditional into the new, to create something that exceeds the impact of both as single entities. A mash-up can add a depth to the story that wouldn’t be achieved otherwise.

The series by Michael Pryor, The Extraordinaires, has Rudyard Kipling as a character. Kipling’s Junglebook is the jumping off point for the series, as this series also explores what defines civilisation and what defines the ‘Other’. So Kipling isn’t just a character, his work supplied the inspiration for the other characters and the plots, and so he acts as an analogy and as an allegory within the story. Masterful stuff!

 One of the books in The Extraordinaires  series by Michael Pryor.

One of the books in The Extraordinaires series by Michael Pryor.

It is fitting that the Steampunk literary genre ‘recycles’ other literary works in this manner. Most of the literature from the Victorian era is no longer in copyright, and can be used safely without stepping on anyone’s toes. You can use quite famous characters and real historical people, like Dracula or Brunel, and really go to town with them. Or you could research obscure Victorian characters to use in your stories. I like to research scientists, myself.

So don’t be frightened to try a mash-up. Not only is it fun, but it is in the finest tradition of the Steampunk literary genre.

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Filed under Mash-ups, Steampunk, Steampunk Themes, writing