One of the great things about writing Steampunk, to me, is exploring what might have been. To play around with history moving things forward and backward, pulling in different technologies, and generally exploring the “what ifs” and “never was.”
In INNOCENT DARKNESS the alternate history is there–after all, there are flying cars–but a lot of it is subtle. In the true spirit of teenagers, if it doesn’t directly affect them, it’s not explained in great detail.
In my world, the civil war ends early because of a chain of massive earthquakes. These quakes release aether, which can bring both creativity and devastation. All this aether spawns the American Renaissance, a time of great innovation and rebuilding bring forth incredible things in just a few decades.
After all, I have to explain the presence of flying cars, hoverboards, and air pirates.
I also play around with shifting things around. A great aether-induced quake destroys San Francisco, but it’s in 1895, not 1906. My main character, Noli mentions the pier in Los Angeles, but the “pleasure pier” didn’t actually appear in 1916 and the carosel not until 1922.
I do all of these for various plot points, but everything is generally explained. I also do my research, I find out what actually happened so I can change it to suit my plot. Basically, it’s like knowing what the rules are so you can break them-do your research so you can tweak things to suit your needs.
For example, in Book 2, I include a territory called Deseret. I had to do a lot of research on Desert, which was an actual proposed state that never was,. By learning about the actual history of Deseret, I could then change my Deseret to suit the story and the world I created.
Doing the research can not only be fun, but yield some great fodder for your story. So much in histyory can be integrated without actually having to change or modify things.
For example, Noli is sent to a terribly reform school. So I pulled many of the things that happen to the girls from actual things used to treat women in Victorian mental institutions. Many of these things were quite horrifying. The sensory deprivation box Noli is put in was actually used to treat different sorts of “imbalances” during that time. By researching how woman were treated in mental institutions and understanding exactly what sorts of things women were really institutionalized for, I could better create the terrifying environment of Findlay House.
These sorts of little historical explorations, of putting in the “never wases” and “could have beens”, are really fun for me, but then I’ve always loved history.
What’s your favorite part about writing Steampunk?