In a new interview, Phillip Reeve (author of the Mortal Engines quartet, and the Larklight series) made this statement in relation to his waning interest in Steampunk:
"As for the current Steampunk fad for faux-Victorian Science Fiction, that's actually the opposite of Science Fiction. Its fans often try to link it to Wells and Verne, but there's no real connection; those writers understood the science of their time, and extrapolated stories from possibilities which it suggested; Steampunk is all about ignoring science and pretending the Victorians could have built robots, or whatever. Its look appeals to me as a setting for cartoons, or lightweight comedies like Larklight, but it's really just a sort of literary dressing up box, and I'm afraid it's not a very deep one and the costumes and props are starting to look rather threadbare..."
I think he has a point, personally. While I hope there will always be room for lighthearted romps within the genre, there's not enough satisfying, thought-provoking, muscular writing out there.
What are your thoughts? Do you disagree? Can you think of any recent Steampunk novels that adhere to old guard science fiction requirements for technical accuracy, believability, and depth of theme?
If Steampunk reveres the writing of Jules Verne (who kept copious notes of scientific fact and theory), then shouldn't it at least try to make its science believable? Wouldn't it be easier to believe in the story world, too?
Are you writing a novel you hope will give new life to the genre, and how are you going about it?
you could describe vacuum energy as a luminiferous aether, or quantum foam, too. The notion of an 'aether' is actually gaining ground again, interestingly.
Maybe amongst writers, but not physicists. The luminiferous aether was a hypothetical medium to explain the wavelike propagation of light (as water is the medium of water waves). Quantum mechanical phenomena like vacuum energy and quantum foam are statistical phenomena rather than the continuous medium that was postulated in the 19th century. Also, relativity essentially invalidated the whole aether theory. Mind you, there are still geometric phenomena; general relativity describes the curvature of space, for example. But there isn't a substance filling space.
That said, there's no reason steampunk can't involve aether, since it was considered hard science in the 19th c, and it is perfectly legitimate to have Victorian SF based on what Victorians thought was reality. If something like aether is used in a way that is just magic under a different name, then it's not really science fiction but more like fantasy. What can be frustrating is when it is used in a vague way that has no connection with what anyone ever thought about aether, but just as a plot device.
There are a lot of different approaches to historical & scientific accuracy, and I think you can get quite satisfying worlds either be using hindsight (where, for example, characters debunk superstitions and pseudosciences and take a step towards our more accurate view of the world) or, at the other end of the spectrum, have an historical world-view as reality and work with that. They're both good foundations for stories.
I do agree to some extent. My airships are not heavier than air.
Regarding "robots" clockworks were at a pretty high level of engineering in the Victorian era. And when you have Babbage fiddling around with 'em, well he might get lucky.
Sentient clockworks are a bit far fetched, but I dunno, I created one in my book, and it's such a fun character to play around with ...
Although I have to explain how he became sentient.
Cass Morris made an excellent point about autheticity in our discussion about this point.
But I always research the science extensively prior to injecting some new invention.
Talking of sentient clockwork automatons, I think the most plausible (though... not really THAT plausible) way to explain them is to have some sort of biological base to them. For example, the human brains in 'The Affinity Bridge'. Or Frankenstein-esque re-animated through electricity brain in a clockwork body.
Other than that, I think the data/computer element would have to be advanced enough to induce a 'ghost in the machine' syndrome.
I'm into Reeve but I disagree with him here. Steampunk is merely a setting its not the focus of a story. Done well it can be as fun as other things that aren't real or don't conform to reality...a Wizarding school for example. Good writing and story will always shine through, no matter what's going on in the background or whether the protagonist is Jim Hawkins sailing aboard the jolly roger or Hester Shaw flying the Jenny Hanniver. I don't think there should be a '"textbook" set of rules governing steampunk, I don't like the Wells/Verne comparisons personally. If I want Verne or Wells I'll read them, not some attempt to mimic them 150 years on, but by the same token if I want a book about the possibilities of science I'll re-read A Brief History of Time. In the meantime I'll look for things that arouse my imagination, steam-powered or not. I don't care if "technically" the Milennium Falcon is too heavy to lift off with such measly thrusters. Fundamentally start out by writing what you want to read, and see how fat that gets you.
Steampunk should never be "merely a setting". Verne and Wells looked forward, beyond the technology of their time. I see nothing wrong with doing that, too, but it would be science fiction.
Read "Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine" by Jonathan Sawday for the ways in which an industrialized setting has informed a central theme in creative works for hundreds of years. I don't think there should be a textbook set of rules regarding Steampunk either, as that restricts creativity, but not all creative ideas have merit.
I should, however, stress that whatever my feelings (or Reeve's feelings) might be, that the inclusion of discussions like this in the Guild's forums is only intended to spark debate, and is not intended as a mandate, or set of rules. It is for each writer to make his own creative choices!
You might also want to check out Pyr editor Lou Anders' views on this subject in a recent podcast, where he discusses what excited him about accepting The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack for publication by Pyr.
Well, this is modern, but exchange the plastic for steampunk materials and this proves that a steam-driven car is possible:
Not only possible, but already done decades ago!
Wish I could buy one now!