On Friday I attended the West of England Steam Engine Society Rally at Stithians Showground, Cornwall. It was one of the few opportunities I had this summer to spend time with my two Brothers and my Dad. Being surrounded by all the old machines though, I couldn’t help but begin to feel a little steampunk.
I’ve always had the feeling that people who are enthusiastic about steampunk don’t tend to be the kind of people who will troop off to a Steam Engine Rally when there’s one in their area. Admittedly you do need to be in a location that tends to draw them in (not the middle of a big city), but I do think that people who want to write steampunk (or dieselpunk and similar sub-genres) should make an effort to “connect” with the technology that they’re depicting.
Sure, you’ll find that the more reasonable writers will probably do some research on clothing and the such like, but even they often read like they have never stood in awe and wonder at a comparable bit of tech or machinery that they happen to be writing about. You could argue that because the technology in steampunk has become everyday for the characters in the text and so there wouldn’t be any sense of wonder, but I think that the odd machine would cause characters to stop and stare, because they’ve just encountered the equivalent of a Lamborghini or something unusual like a Fiat 500.
Also, unlike a lot of SF where an equivalent piece of tech doesn’t exist for you to observe (though you should still make an effort to research something close to it), steam powered machinery and vehicles are still about for people to observe and study. I dunno, maybe I’ve just tried skimming bad steampunk in the past, because it often reads like people trying to describe a sunset when they’ve lived in a cave their entire life. The lesson here is that research is important, regardless of whether what you’re writing exists or not.
Before the day was out, I’d scribbled a steampunk concept down in my trustworthy notebook. Won’t be working on it for sometime mind, I’m busy writing about a vampire at the moment.