Steampunk: building a better future by imagining a better past

thumbwinI spent the morning in bed (so sue me), outlining what will become, hopefully, the first GreyWorld story, which I plan to have out in March.
The story is currently going under the working title of “Untouchable” (no, not for the reasons you think), and apart from presenting what I hope to turn into two recurring characters in my fiction and NPCs in my game, it will also help develop a chunk of setting for the GreyWorld game.

The idea is that by looking at the setting through the lens of fiction-writing, I’ll reveal (to myself!) aspects of the world I did not plan when designing the setting.

And it works!
Possibly a little too well, actually: the outlining process this morning caused my plans for the game to undergo a certain shift.
Basically, deciding the names of my characters did that.
Weird, what?

A bit of background: in the GreyWorld setting, a series of unfortunate events basically swept away what we may call “Western Civilization“.

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The survivors from the once mighty nations basically became refugees.
The setting emerges from the different ways in which these minorities – these indeed powerful minorities – dealt with their new condition.
I will not go into details here, but let’s say I’m a sucker for progress and variety and the old “Star Trek attitude”1, so the good guys in my stories and my games will be representatives and spokes-persons for those cultures that emerged from the cross-pollination of different, older cultures.
The result of the emergence of the best in our different cultures.

TheDiscoveryOfTheFuture-01This general set-up comes from my views about fiction, about science fiction, and steampunk.
While I’m not so hot about writing-as-agenda-pushing I do believe that, at the end of the day, if what we write does not leave the reader in a better condition than he was before he started reading, then why bother?
And by better I mean… well, better: smarter would be nice, but even just amused, relaxed and a little happier would be a great achievement for me as an author.
I do not believe in literature as a way to cause doubts, unless it comes with the twin push towards solving those doubts. Nobody reads a story to feel miserable.
In science fiction, I think we can use the rules of the game (the classic “what if…?”) to make experiments, show alternatives, ask questions and attempt answers about our culture, our society, and our place in the universe.
That, incidentally, is why I’m getting fed-up with distopic fiction – I’m tired of being told we suck, I’d like to get some options.
And if speculation and experiment’s the name of the game – well, steampunk works in a funny way, because it allows us to re-imagine the past in order to hope for a better future.
Now that’s cool.
Because let’s admit it – we can’t change the past, we can’t undo what we had yesterday for dinner. We can’t change our long history of violence, cruelty, slavery and cannibalism2, but we can recognize the legacy of this, and try and change our derived attitudes, and therefore our future.
And fiction – steampunk fiction, in this case – can help in that direction, like a way for saying “see? It had not to be that way! We could have taken a different road, and we’d be in a different place now! So let’s work now to change our future!”

And that’s where the world of GreyWorld, with its catastrophe and its hope for the future, comes from.
Or will come from.

tumblr_m8eppmSMmV1qce9ueo1_1280But until I considered the names of my characters, I had not appreciated the degree of the merger and cross-pollination, the scope of the changes such a thing might produce.
In dress-code, in architecture, in everyday life, indeed in individual names.

It is very simple to say (quoting from my GreyWorld notes)

“… the British Raj emerged as a result of the integration of the British refugees with the resident Indian culture.”

Yeah, right.
It seems easy.
But it goes beyond dressing my female characters in modernistic saris instead of corsets and goggles.
Because if I imagine such a mix, and then give it one hundred years to evolve, what I get at the end will be very complicated, very different.
Down to the very names of the people living in that world.
Oh, granted – it will be very exciting, and fun to write, and read, and play.
But it will be also pretty hard to pull.

So I’m outlining my story, revising my notes, and putting a lot of new things into my setting.
I’m also taking full advantage of the resources I’m discovering through the Steampunk Hands Across the World initiative – because human-curated resources beat Google searches every day of the week, and talking things out with a fellow humans way better than sitting alone in a dark room thinking things over.
And while I’m quite happy to find nobody’s doing exactly what I’m trying to do, I’m also quite happy to see there’s a lot of intercultural steampunk going on. Lots of stuff to steal… ehm, to reference.

I still have my problem with names – well, with the name of my female lead, at least.
But things are working just the way I wanted them to work – by writing fiction, I am polishing my setting, and bringing to light issues and problems that I had not fully understood when I pitched my project.

Back to the drawing board.
I’ll keep you posted.


  1. no, I’m not a trekkie (or trekker, as they prefer to be called); but I think one can appreciate a good idea without dressing up like that good idea. 
  2. and no kidding: considering the length of human history, we have been cannibals for much longer time than we’ve been wearing jacket and ties. 
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Categories: GreyWorld Design Musings | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Steampunk: building a better future by imagining a better past

  1. Pingback: Steampunk Hands 2015 – Official Link List | Airship Ambassador

  2. You know, when I get to read “boom” you get my attention. 🙂 I find that thinking about the effect on the reader of your stories (or the effects on the gamers of your games) is the core problem, the real deal of the efforts of many writers. How many of us deeply commit to the task of doing something better for the audience? And again, how many of us give some real thought about that?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s something that comes to everybody sooner or later -we can’t just go on and put words to paper without thinking about an audience, and about the effect that we’ll have on them.
      Either that, or we’re dead and do not realize it.

      Like

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