Thanks to Tom for his invitation to pen a blog here today. I should start with a quick explanation of my preferred genre, Steampunk, which is often characterised as retro-futurism, or a past that never was. In short, it imagines an alternative history in which the (usually) Victorian era develops advanced technology while retaining the aesthetic of the time.
Some of you may ask why we should spend time on “alternative history”; what is the point of dwelling on a time that never was? The answer, for me at least, is political. History is largely in the hands of the privileged few. They write it, distort it, and present it as fact. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s idiosyncratic, but widely publicised, take on the Victorians is a particularly vivid example.
This is hardly a radical new view. In 1984 Orwell wrote “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
The advantage of alternative history is that, while the way that actual history is presented is easily subverted (for example by the airbrushing from Churchill’s life accounts of his racist views), alternative history is not so easily controlled. Under the guise of Steampunk, I can present a colourful, vibrant alternative to reality which nonetheless reflects reality in many different ways. I can talk about real (historical) people and real social situations without the reflex objections of those who absorbed their history through GCSEs distracting from the issues raised.
In short, Steampunk allows me the freedom to examine the way we are now, and in a manner which may not be possible with “realistic” fiction. In this way my two latest books, Full Throttle and Rise of the Petrol Queen, came into being, inspired by the era of 1920s motor racing, in which the wealthy and titled went racing in expensive cars while the poor didn’t, because they never had the opportunity. And I can do this without complaints that I am taking a political view on the inequality in society today. Because I’m not. I’m showing inequality in my fictional Steampunk society. Which (but don’t tell anyone) is a mirror to our society.
And that is the appeal of Steampunk for me.
Jon Hartless was born in the 1970s and has spent much of his life in the Midlands and Worcestershire. His latest novels, a steampunk motor racing adventure examining the gulf between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, started with Full Throttle in August 2017 and continued with Rise of the Petrol Queen in 2019, both published by Accent Press.
John’s Amazon author page is at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jon-Hartless/e/B002DEQ8EI