Dystopian Utopia

There was an interesting post at Steampunk Magazine discussing the potential of a steampunk society in a post-apocalyptic world, in response to another post at steampunk fashion regarding the same topic.  Interestingly, I think it brings up other concepts to consider about the steampunk genre, one of which I briefly addressed on the “About” page of my site.  I am referring to the idealization of an alternate reality to represent a relatively utopic environment to provide the atmosphere for much of the related art and literature.

A couple of points come to mind here.  One, as I mentioned, is the fact that though particular genres such as cyberpunk typically tend to portray a more dystopian environment due to the many factors that may have caused such a world to evolve to such a state, I believe that there must still be a sense of idealization that flows within that makes the genre so attractive to those that create or follow related works.  For instance, the cult classic Blade Runner tells a story set in an environment that if it were a reality, I am not sure how many of us would truly be very happy campers, yet when engulfed in the story and the atmosphere it is almost entrancing, making you (or at least me) wonder what it would be like.  Maybe it is like being attracted to the “bad boy”; even though you know it is not really a good thing in reality.  It is the mystery, the possibility, and in a huge part, the escape and change from the sometimes mundane reality that some of us may live.

My second point relates more specifically to the idealization of the steampunk world.  I believe that people want to keep the beautiful and classy Victorian setting on which steampunk seems to be rooted, and from that there is a natural tendency to visualize steampunk as a more utopian world.  Not considering the downsides to actually living in the 19th century, the era was prosperous and generally peaceful, so it does seem a fitting foundation to base a utopian alternate reality.  But what some people seem to forget about steampunk is that it is an alternate reality that is born and lives in our imaginations (even though we try to make it reality sometimes).  That means that there is no hard and fast rules by which steampunk or other genres must abide by.  Sure, we generally try to keep the basic elements at the risk of losing what makes them what they are, but people seem to get so locked into specifics that we lose any creativity when developing the worlds.

So after reading the posts about a post-apocalyptic steampunk world, I was suddenly reminded of the fact that steampunk does not have to be a utopian world.  Unfortunately with all of my other activities and hobbies I have not had much opportunity to read a good share of steampunk literature, so if anyone that reads this knows of any please feel free to recommend some, but steampunk in my opinion could quite easily be a dark and dystopian post-apocalyptic world.  The fact that steampunk is an alternate reality, that is an alternate time line that may have branched from a point in the Victorian era, means that there is any number of possibilities for which direction the world could have gone.

I think you have to consider the practical and the potentially impractical but possible aspects when creating things that combine reality and imagination.  Though you may want to keep true to historical traits and influences, you cannot limit yourself when being creative.

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