Re-imagining a Better World

Historical re-enactment is often accused of avoiding the real world, ignoring history's atrocities or hiding in the past. Sometimes all three. In my experience this is not the case. Most re-enactors (and historians) will tell you it is important to look back and analyse history so we can learn from past mistakes, to improve our future.

One of the most important reasons to look back into and analyse the past is to learn from society's mistakes. Steampunk looks into the past, but with modern eyes; it is a re-imagination of the past, not a slavish re-creation. Colonial England was all about domination and power, a way to fuel the economy of mother England. Instead, we can embrace the diversity of cultures. The 'punk philosophy' inspires us to question authority, society's ethics, politics and gender roles and encourages us to look for solutions for society's short-falls. Doing so allows us to embrace cultures and celebrate diversity.

Suna Dasi of Steampunk India is one example: "Transferring this and many other aspects of Victorian society to an alternate, Post-Mutiny India, incorporating native characters unhampered by traditional gender roles, seems an opportunity for fiction that is too good to let lie."

Through steampunk, and Steampunk Hands, I discovered Josué Ramos  award winning writer of science fiction, terror and historic tales. Josué is part of the Spanish steampunk community, organising the EuroSteamCon Madrid and posts regularly on (huzzah, for google translation) his blog Mundosteampunk. You can find my 2015 Steampunk Hands guest blog on Mundosteampunk here.

El Investigator is part of the Mexican steampunk community and has been involved in varied steampunk anthologies.

Beyond Victoriana is another blog celebrating multicultural steampunk. Its founding editor, Diana M. Pho, wrote the introduction for Steampunk World, an anthology published in 2014, and funded via Kickstarter. It contained stories from around the world, showcasing the diversity to be found. I'm eagerly awaiting the follow-up anthology, Steampunk Universe - also funded via Kickstarter. Stories highlight disabled and aneurotypical characters. Both have cover art by steampunk artist, James Ng.

The way we express steampunk is wide-ranging. Events range from family picnics, fundraising events and conventions to music events. Music style varies; rap, punk, folk, jazz, swing and rock are all represented in bands such as Professor Elemental, The Cog is Dead and The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.

At a local level, we also have participants of varied educational and vocational backgrounds. Even the degree to which individuals experience steampunk is diverse. Some dip their toe in the genre by reading books, watching movies, listening to music or wearing costumes to the local convention. Others delve deeper - creating alternate personas and joining forums. Some immerse themselves, living the steampunk lifestyle to the full or embarking on steampunk-related careers.

For me, the diversity of those who enjoy steampunk is one of its attractions. Steampunk is inclusive. I can be myself, part of a welcoming and diverse community. And it has made my life richer as a result.

Firing the Imagination: Steampunk Hands Around the World #3

Certain groups seem to have a higher percentage of creative types. And steampunk is no exception. It's a creative culture. It nurtures the imagination - through a good book, a stunning costume or breathtaking images. But this is no cookie-cutter culture. Steampunk fosters individuality. Give a group of steampunks a box of similar items, and they will create their own, unique masterpiece; no two things alike. Writers, artists, costumers. We have the lot. And you don't have to spend a fortune. I found a second hand 'Nickelodeon Slime Blaster' (water gun). It resembled the old Mortein fly spray pump-action squirter. My imagination took over and, voila! A Pump-Action Fairy Eliminator. And hence was born my Steampunk Fairy Catcher outfit. It's so much fun wearing this outfit to conventions! Just let loose your imagination; what would you have made?

  

I started doing photography in high school. (What better way to get out of PE than joining the photography club and taking photos for the school magazine? Back then we did it all in a dark room, with enlargers and smelly chemicals). Steampunk has re-kindled my passion for the art form. It's not just portraits. There are some gorgeously intricate gadgets -themselves inspiring - with intriguing shapes. Or the way the light catches on the brass...

   

Then there's my greatest passion: writing. Where would I be without steampunk?

Over the years, I've started writing. Stopped. And started again. I just couldn't find my niche. I'd been a member of the steampunk community for about six years before I tried again. But what to write? They say: write what you know. So, I started writing a fantasy novel; a story that had been mulling around in my brain for over fifteen years. I got sidetracked by Viola. She wanted to tell her story. And her story was steampunk. I've now expanded my steampunk world, with two more planned series. Each is different. The Adventures of Viola Stewart were darker, Victorian mysteries (closer to gaslamp). The Department of Curiosities is a rollicking adventure. Then there's The Wizard of St Giles, set in the shadowy world we rarely see.

I can ferret around in familiar settings (like Victorian England or Colonial Australia), meet interesting historical characters (Tesla, Queen Victoria, Jack the Ripper), throw in a few of my own and see how they interact. Like costuming, I can immerse myself in history and indulge my passion for science and fantasy. I get to play the ultimate 'what if?' I get to cross-pollinate genres, postulate on alternative theories leading, or resulting, from historical events. I get to twist history. Or, if I prefer, I can create my own world, complete with steam-powered engines and cog-driven sentient beings.

Want some first-hand inspiration? Check out these drawings of how 19th century envisioned the year 2000 (in full steam) and what they imagined future space ships would look like: Science meets art in Le Sortie de l'opéra en l'an 2000 and Maison Tournante Aérienne (both from 1800s) can be found on the Library of Congress webpage.

So how has steampunk fired my imagination? Ideas come more readily and I speculate in many directions - adventure, paranormal, fantasy and science fiction - all enhanced through steampunk goggles.

Photos ©2013-2017 Karen J Carlisle All rights reserved.

A Sense of Wonder: Steampunk Hands Around the World #2

Bear with me, Dear Reader.

I'm about to tell you a tale - one that will offer you a glimpse into the circuitous route to my present mindset and how steampunk has made my life better by restoring a sense of wonder (1) to my life.

I'm a research addict. I crave it. I accumulate it. I hoard it. You can often find me spiraling down endless rabbit holes, in search of that one elusive fact, that last piece of a puzzle I've been chasing. The one thing that makes everything fall into place. It's the curse of a writer (or scientist, or quiz night-o'holic, or... ).

But there's more to it than that.

Imagine you're an explorer of uncharted lands:

Dust whips your face, lodging in your nostrils, scratching your eyes. You dig your fingers into the rock, ignoring the stinging pain as blood beads on your palm. You drag yourself up the precipice, thrust your arm over the crest of the mountain and spy the wonders of an undiscovered landscape.

Imagine the pure delight of such endless new discoveries. Researching my books is not unlike being an explorer. It starts me on my journey, inspires the landscape (setting) and encourages me to explore for new worlds, complete with wondrous gadgets for my characters to discover.

But there's still more.

It seems Sir Francis Bacon predicted our future: Knowledge is power (Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy,1597) . Everyone wants a bit of the action. No one is willing to share.

Let's face it. Life can be a grind: Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Sleep. Repeat. (Though waking up can be optional). Endless days of monotony, in a seemingly uncaring world where we are either invisible and insignificant or vying for control.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

The Empire may have wanted to plunder the spoils of exploration but we - the explorers - can revel in the pursuit of knowledge. We can search for understanding and inspire wonder for others. We can trek into the unknown, searching for the wonder and mystery of life, of people, of experiences. And we can share them.

So how has steampunk made my life better?

It has inspired my research beyond the confines of my writer's chair, beyond the internet, beyond the library. It has encouraged me to discover the wonders of a community of supportive people. It has inspired me to explore the wonders of my world - past and present. It has given me the courage to wrench myself (sometimes literally), from the safety of my comfort zone onto that mountain side, defying my anxiety - to try new things, a new career and to experience life as I search for the hidden wonders in our broken but beautiful world.

 

Photos copyright Karen J Carlisle and MJC


(1) Definitions of Wonder (Oxford Dictionary):
  • A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.
  • A thing or a quality of something that causes wonder.
  • A surprising event or situation
  • Having remarkable properties or abilities.