As requested by Paul: Paddle Steamers
One of the genre markers of the Steampunk literary genre is the use of steam to power the technology and gadgets. From a personal viewpoint, one of the most elegant vehicles using steam power are the paddleboats or paddle steamers. I blame my delight in old musicals and ‘Showboat’, and reading too much of Mark Twain’s fiction as a child.
As a tangent: Mark Twain isn’t considered a Steampunk author, but his story ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ is certainly science fiction, using 19th century technology. The time-travelling engineer, Hank Morgan, is able to build up Medieval England into a passable imitation of Victorian England, with an education system, newspapers, steam and electrical technology. Mark Twain was friends with Nikola Tesla, one of the darlings of the Steampunk Community, and was fascinated by technology and innovation. It doesn’t take a great leap to connect Mark Twain to the Steampunk Genre.
Now back to our regularly scheduled posting.
Paddle steamers always make me think of swans. They both glide gracefully through the water, but both have a lot going on underneath to power that grace. And a paddle steam is a dangerous place if the engineer doesn’t know what he or she is on about, because boilers or pipes explode if not treated with respect; and swans can break a man’s arm with a blow from their wings. In Western culture, swans symbolise fidelity because they form long-term monogamous relationships. There are too many swan legends to list here, but any of them could be adapted as an analogy to use with a paddle steamer. As an added treat, Swan Hill, Australia, was a Paddle Steamer stop in the Victorian era, and you can still take paddle cruises from there to this very day.
In a Steampunk narrative, a Paddle Steamer could symbolise freedom and adventure, or it could symbolise the need for education and discipline, depending on whether your character is a passenger on the paddle steamer, or a pilot or an engineer. The captain of a paddle steamer might seem like the captain of his own fate, but he dependant on the pilot to navigate the dangers of the river or the ocean, and the engineer to keep the paddles moving; now there is an analogy for teamwork if I ever saw one.
A Paddle Steamer would make a wonderful setting in any Steampunk narrative. I don’t know why they aren’t as popular as airships.