Does Steampunk work?

steampunk1bSteampunk, is a genre of fiction usually set in an alternative Victorian “future.” Certain tropes: airships, mechanical gadgets and goggles tend to pepper the stories.

I confess to dabbling at writing and I’ve enjoyed a number of the stories. However, the amateur engineer in me finds many aspects too difficult to cope with.

One recent book had clockwork aircraft. Worse than this, the engines were assembled in a matter of hours from discarded metalwork by the ingenious goggle-wearing sidekick. I wish I could accept it, but it doesn’t work.

No amount of redesigning gear boxes will put a clockwork plane in the air for hours, if not days of flight.

So, when I can write about magic, happily read stories of vampires and werewolves, why does my head object to these things?

Surely, an essentially engineer-oriented genre should respect engineering fact

Rules can be bent, but not entirely broken.

Possibly the discovery of a new power source ‘unimaginum’ or some such might help an author explain what physics says is impossible and I can go along with that. I can also accept that steam power was never developed to its full potential. Maybe it was prematurely surpassed by oil and electric sources. Therefore, improvements beyond what is currently known is fine.

Fiction even allows complete bunkum. I’ll cringe slightly, but allow a pocket size bug to possess a mechanical brain capable of following verbal instructions. It’s fiction, after all.

I do find it offensive that clever devices are often assembled by near-idiots. To make the simplest gear train requires jewel-cutter accuracy. To pipe steam and efficiently power motion requires maths beyond all but 10% of the human race. The Victorian engineers were masters of mathematics and ingenuity. Give credit to these giants.

So, if I ever write a steampunk novel, I will have to abide by my own constraints. I’d also suggest that anybody writing in the genre should know what can be done, or produce an acceptable explanation when they break the rules of physics. Surely, readers deserve this?

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