Posts Tagged ‘alternate history’

Today we welcome Ray Dean! A reenactor and educator, Ray Dean has delved into many eras of the past, but Steampunk speaks to her in a retroactive futurism that opens so many possibilities. Her blog, My Ethereality(http://raydean.net), explores history, culture, war and love in eras and countries that might influence a Steampunk world.
Alternative History and Inciting Incidents 
by Ray Dean
Tomorrow, December 7th, is yet another anniversary of ‘A date which will live in infamy…’

Living in Hawaii, December 7th is a date I can not escape, nor would I want to. The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Navy of Japan is an event which has shaped my life even though I was born a little over thirty years after it happened. What events in history have shaped your life? Not only the ones that have happened while you were alive, but the ones that happened to your parents… to your ancestors?

What does this have to do with Steampunk?

Some view Steampunk as an Alternative History of the Victorian era.

What is Alternative History? Althistory Wiki describes it as “the most frequently used term for the fictional genre which often presupposes a change of a minor historical event that produces an incredible series of changes in the world, diverging it from Our Timeline (OTL) and creating a new, alternate and parallel world.”

So, what is that ‘minor historical event’ or perhaps even a ‘major event’ that created a Steampunk world? What was the ‘inciting incident’ that set this brave new brassy world in motion?

What challenges did the world face? And what changes happened because of them?

Perhaps it was a war? War and strife can advance science and other technology. Every armed conflict has the potential to incubate an idea for a new, better, more deadly weapon.

Perhaps it was a natural disaster? Did disease and suffering demand the attention of scientists and inventors. What did they create to keep the flood waters at bay, protect the town from noxious fumes, or save men from dangerously rising seas?

Perhaps it was something unnatural? A rising zombie horde, an asteroid deposits a new ore, or even beings from another planet with their own agenda.

When I interviewed artist James Ng (the cover art from our Shanghai Steam anthology was his creation) for The Gilded Monocle, he explained:

I began to wonder… if China was the first to modernize during the turn of the last century, then the history and the look of the world would be drastically different. If industrialization and modernization happened with the influence of Chinese culture, instead of Western culture and if China was the standard that other countries had to work towards, what would things look like today? Perhaps China will still be in imperial rule? Maybe skyscrapers would look like Chinese temples? Cars would look like carriages? Maybe we would have fantastical machines that look both futuristic and historic. That’s the idea behind my personal project. Each image I create for the series is my attempt to reflect on the original idea of a Chinese influenced industrial world.

His artwork is built from his own imagined Alternative History of the World.

In the Movie Tai Chi Zero, the Company building the railroad throws a small mountain town into chaos when it sends a machine chugging up to the gates. This monstrous assemblage of steel, iron, and steam is not only able to lay down track and railroad ties with amazing ease, but is also a machine capable of great destruction. What were the incidents that led up to this conflict? What will happen now?

In Shanghai Steam, the British shipping companies react to a law banning vessels from entering a Chinese port carrying opium. Instead of following the spirit of the law, they react only to the letter of it. Using their airships, the British companies are still able to deliver their cargo from India and avoid reproach from the Emperor. What they didn’t anticipate was the reaction of the people living in the town.

These ideas apply for anyone interested in World Building. Be it writing, cosplay, conceptual art… any creative endeavor. Delve into history and find those moments of divergence. Turn left instead of right. Reach for a new idea or solution or take something and twist it this way and that.

Where will you take the future from each new starting point?

What new things will you discover in the past to create something new?


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Considered the starting point for the modern era of Steampunk comics, Bryan Tallbot’s 1970’s Luther Arkwright series is set in a parallel world where the English Civil War has been prolonged. Speaking of Bryan Tallbot, his Grandville series is total Steampunk. I’ll begin with it, followed by six more for Part 1. Part 2 will follow in another post later in the month with additional Steampunk Comic books.

 1. Grandville by Bryan Talbot

The author and artist, BryanTablot, was inspired by a 19th century illustrator, who drew anthropomorphized characters in costumes of the period and used the pen name J J Grandville. The story takes place in an alternate world where the British lost the Napoleonic War and a Scotland Yard Inspector, a badger, investigates the murder of a British diplomat. The events of 911 and a conspiracy theory are woven into the plot. The cast is made up of animals garbed in Victorian clothing, there are a few humans now and then, maids and bell hops, who are called doughfaces, which I find hilarious. Grandville is smart, interesting, well plotted and the art is incredible.

2. Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez

Set in 1878, in the city of Mechanika, known as the city of tomorrow. Lady Mechanika, part human, part machine, with no memories of her past, searches for her identity. Her enemy, Blackpool, a mad scientist experiments on humans, removing body parts and replacing them with machine parts. It’s pure Steampunk and has a strong female as the lead character.

3. Ruse by Mark Waid (2nd half of the series written by Scott Beatty)

This Victorian/Mystery comic series is set in the fantasy town of Partington on planet Arcadia. Simon Archard, a Sherlock-Home-type detective uses his master mind, while  his partner, Emma Bishop, a strong woman in mind and body, does everything else required to solve crimes. The one line cover tag sums it up: He’s the World’s Greatest Detective. She’s even better. The banter between Emma and Simon is witty, wry, and hilarious. I think Ruse holds a special appeal to women and I absolutely love it.

4. Scarlet Traces by Ian Edginton, Art by D’Israeli

The premise is genius. It takes place in England in the early 1900’s, just ten years after the War of the Worlds when the Martians were defeated by microscopic germs humans had been immune to for centuries.  British scientist adapt the highly advanced Martian technology to everyday life. Carriages running on robotic spider legs like the Martian vehicles replace horses and homes are heated and lighted by a version of the Martian heat ray. Two English spies take on a case of a missing girl and uncover so much more. Stempunk fans will love the Victorian/Edwardian London setting, the utilization of alien technology, and the H. G. Wells connection, as well as the dark, dystopian tone.

5. The Clockwork Girl by Sean O’Reilly and Kevin Hanna

This is a story of star crossed lovers from two different houses. Sounds familiar? One of the two fantastic castles is built by a grafter as a monument to the science of nature while the other is built by a tinker as a tribute to the science of technology and machines. The tinker creates a clockwork girl named Tesla. You will even find two quotes of Nikola Tesla within the story. Though different, several images of the little clockwork girl and the monster boy are reminiscent of scenes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As the Clockwork Girl is an obvious nod to and inspired by William Shakespeare, Nikola Tesla, and Mary Shelley it has to be good, and it is.

I fell in love with the characters, Tesla, the clockwork girl and Huxley, the monster boy. I imagine everyone who reads this will do the same. It’s a heartwarming story, brilliant in its simplicity, and it is not only suitable for adults but also children as young as grade school, say seven years old on up.

The dedication in the front of the book sums The Clockwork Girl up best, “To love and those who purse it relentlessly.” It’s a fun, fast, fulfilling read.

6. Ignition City by Warren Ellis, Art by Gianluca Pagliarani

In a dieselpunk/alternative history, washed up space heroes live in Ignition City, a rough and rowdy settlement cut off from civilization on Earth’s last spaceport. Ignition City has a strong woman for the main character, Mary Raven, a space pilot and daughter of the famous spaceman, who stopped a Martian missile plot. She heads to the spaceport to discover how her father died and who killed him. It has colorful language and a Wild West tone. There are aliens, ray guns, and the marshal flies around in a rocketeer type outfit. It’s a fun, action packed read.

7. Iron West by Doug Te Napel

A rugged, old west cowboy hero, Struck, robs banks, cheats at poker, lies to women with promises of marriage, and runs away at any hint of trouble. Yeah, this bad boy is a real charmer. Still when some old prospectors dig up robots, who in turn dig up a whole army of metal men that go on a rampage killing humans, our hero comes to the rescue of his woman and his town. Of course he has to, he’s set for a lynching and the sheriff gives him no choice but to help or to hang. Struck has some help himself from an elderly Native American gentleman and Sasquatch. Yes that’s right, Big Foot himself. This comic book is a blast, so much fun. Iron West will make your day.

You can see that though only a few comic are labeled Steampunk, several have Victorian, Dystopian, Dieselpunk, Weird West or Alternate History ascetics. We can look forward to the future of Steampunk comic books offering even more diversity and choices for readers.

With other titles to tell you about, I’ll continue the article on May 16th with more Steampunk Comics. Even with those mentioned above, there is something for everyone’s taste. Happy reading.

Maeve Alpin draws on her love of ancient times, alternative history, and happy endings to write Steampunk/Romances. Please visit her website.

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