By reading early sci-fi books, you gather wonderful steampunk ideas, as well as a Regency, Victorian and Edwardian perspective on their vision of the future. Last month, I blogged about Mary Griffith’s 300 Years Hence, which was written in 1835. Almost a hundred years before Charlotte Perkins Gillman wrote Moving The Mountain, Herland, and With Her in Ourland, which was from 1911 – 1916. The similarities between 300 Years Hence and the stories listed above are they’re feminist works, futuristic utopia fiction, and they are written by American women.
Published in 1911, Moving the Mountain is the author’s glimpse of thirty years into the future, so it goes from 1910 to Gillman’s utopia vision of 1940. Griffith and Gillman, though one wrote in the Regency period and the other in the Edwardian one, mention food and futuristic improvements in the type, the preparation, and the selling of it. People in the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian periods needed changes for the better regarding the food they bought and ate. This is great inspiration for creating steampunk gadgetry in your books, to improve the way food is cooked or served or the way people clean up the kitchen and the dishes after eating. You could even develop a seed with a brand new type of miracle vegetable or fruit that doesn’t even exist.
Writers love food scenes because the five senses are almost automatic. You don’t’ have to think much to add them into the scene. Smell, taste, feel – with all the different textures of food, sight – with the colors and the way it’s served, and sounds – setting things on the table, china and silverware interacting, people walking around the table, pulling chairs out, dogs barking for scraps, and all the noises of cooking food. It’s also an easy way to interest the reader and bring them further into the story. Everybody eats…in the past, in the future, and even in alternate universes. People like food. Readers like food.
“They took me between rows of glass cases, standing as books do in a library, and showed me the day’s baking: the year’s preserves: the fragrant colorful shelves of such fruits and vegetables as were not fresh picked from day to day.” This description from Moving the Mountain, of a future food department in the basement of a New York apartment building, reminds me a bit of the old-fashioned coin operated automat restaurants, without the coins. To the left is the automat opened in 1902, in Philadelphia. This waiterless restaurant looks so steampunk.
The utopia Herland is more fantasy than Sci-Fi as it’s set in the time written, 1915, rather than the future. Three young, well educated men go on a big scientific expedition. While there, their guides and the savage tribes they meet speak of a land of women only. So at the end of the expedition before they had to go home, the three friends decide to try to find this land. The rich friend has a boat and airplane and they use them to find Herland. They are comfortably held captive and the women learn from the men as much as they can, while they teach the men their history. The women in Herland have been without men for two thousand years, as the males all died due to war and violence. At some point in time, one of these women had a parthenogenesis birth, a virgin birth. This process continued through time and the women always gave birth to girls.
Several creatures in the animal kingdom do this. But there are also species who usually produce sexually but in some cases in captivity have given birth parthenogenetically: Komodo dragons, a captive bonehead shark and a blacktip shark gave birth to female offspring while in captivity and DNA testing proved the pups delivered contained no genetic material from a male. In 2010, a female boa produced several all-female litters that carried a rare genetic mutation, a DNA test confirmed the birth was through parthenogenesis. Though parthenogenesis can be seen as good in allowing female creatures to give birth without mating, it’s bad in that it reduces genetic diversity. Parthenogensis birth in humans has been used in books and TV shows and video games. I’m not sure of steampunk stories utilizing it, but you could not only go utopian you could get very mad scientist and dystopian with it. Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote of parthenogensis birth 100 years ago, so it definitely fits in with the Victorian era and Steampunk.
From Her In Ourland, we learn a lot of the issues of 1916, from the perspective of someone who lived at that time. Also Ellador, who leaves Herland with her husband, one of the three friends, studies the outside world as she travels all over and comes up with ideas of ways to improve many of its horrors. She returns to Herland with her husband and gives birth to the first boy born there in over two thousand years.
An Edwardian perspective of the future can be enlightening and inspirational for Steampunk authors. Also you can get a female perspective on that time period by reading sci-fi or utopia books written by women authors in the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian eras. Because women have been reading and writing Sci-Fi for hundreds of years. Please feel free to comment below. All comments welcomed.
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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 19 published books. Her latest Steampunk/Romance is Conquistadors In Outer Space. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus. She has a giveaway of five autographed print copies of her Steampunk/Romance, To Love A London Ghost, for Friday, December 6, 2013, enter now at Free Book Friday.