I discovered steampunk not by way of Great Britain, which is a more familiar flavor (and surprising because, honestly, I’m quite an anglophile at heart), but by way of the American West. This certainly is an unusual way to go about the whole steampunk angle, but it makes complete sense. Sure, the Old West seems far removed from the genteel ways of Victorian England, but I don’t think they’re necessarily exclusive. Of all the periods of US History, my favorite has always been the post Civil War era. Something magical happened in those ensuing years, and it’s particularly ripe for steampunk musings.
What’s most enticing about American steampunk is its quirkiness. It’s the ability to shove off the class distinctions that hold a lot of Victorian tales together, and embrace the working man, the tinkerer, and the home-brew blacksmith. Toss in the element of the vast spaces, and you get something that really shakes.
The American West had its own societal structures, of course. But it also gave power to those who sought it, not just those who were born into it. A particularly good example, I think, that demonstrates this best is “Deadwood” the short-lived and incredible series on HBO. Sure, there’s a lot in the way of cussing–but the entire show is about power, power in the unexpected places, power in relationships, power in actions. It’s the kind of thing that Joe R. Landsale explores, too, in many of his short stories (not for the faint of heart, these). You see glimmers of it in Stephen King’s Dark Tower books, too, certainly.
What I think American steampunk benefits from is a distance from the heart, the monarchy, the tight-lacing. I think I like it better, too, because it makes it all that more possible for a gal to take up a gun or a wrench herself. Sure, most of my own steampunk wanderings aren’t from this world that we live in, but my love of the American West informs lots of the decisions I make. There’s a bit of Doc Holliday in Sir Renmen, quite a dash of Calamity Jane in Sally Din, and admittedly some Wyatt Earp in Sir Gawen (the mustache, of course).
Sure, there’s folks who believe that steampunk can’t be steampunk without Victoria, without Great Britain, etc. I beg to differ. I think people in general ought to expand their conceptions of the genre to understand that the application of steam technology and the environs of Victoriana can be stretched to a myriad of applications. In the coming years, I think we’ll see many more windows into just how flexible and far-reaching steampunk can be. And we’ll be better for it.
Spurs as gears? That’s what I’m talking about.