Steampunk: Where and When
So you’ve decided to write a steampunk story. Where and when do you want to set it?
Today, we're looking at where steampunk novels can be set. There are a few options:
Victorian/Edwardian Great Britain
This is the most commonly used setting and certainly the one I tend to read the most of given my love of that period in history. It’s a rich historical setting with so many real-life characters and events to weave into your story and a complex social framework already in place. More on that later.
However, given it is the most frequently written Steampunk setting, if you want to use it, you’ll have to do it well (I say with a sigh, looking at my half-done Victorian London Steampunk novel…)
Post-Civil War America
This is frequently known as ‘Weird West Steampunk’. Obviously, this is still America’s early years, so you’ll need to stick to the big cities like
Denver, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, etc. But there are some wonderful historical gems to weave into your story like the Chicago World’s Fair during which time the serial killer H.H. Holmes operated. Or the massive 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
And when you’ve got all of Native American history, culture, and myth to consider, this is a rich setting to explore.
China and Britain have some pretty complex history together. Between Hong Kong and the Opium Wars, it would be insane to talk about the Victorian period and not refer to The Orient, as it was known. It’s not an area I know much about, but with events like the Boxer Rebellion and the Taiping Rebellion, there is great mileage for adventure/action lead stories.
The developing world of the eighteen and nineteenth century is your oyster! Egypt, Canada, Australia, Japan, Europe, and Russia all had big cities and structures in place which could easily be the setting for your amazing Steampunk adventure. And don’t forget time travel. H.G Wells gave us a gift with The Time Machine, building time travel into the Steampunk genre
That’s right, Steampunk is held back by nothing! You can set your story on the Moon, on Mars or even on a Victorian Space Station.
There’s no lack of historical help here, including the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, which I've already written. This was a series of six articles published in the newspaper The Sun. Falsely attributed to the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel, these articles detail their discovery about a civilisation on the Moon.
You’ve got the where now when?
This falls into five categories:
The Early Industrial Age 1750 – 1800 The Mechanical Age 1800 – 1850 The Scientific Age 1850 – 1900 The Modern Industrial Age 1900 – 1930 The Future – Limitless!
Any setting you chose, you have to give a mind to the social issues of the time. For example, post-Civil War America is going to have a very defined view of Black Americans, the Confederate States and themselves as a whole. If you’re setting your story in Victorian England, there will not be a woman Prime Minister. But this isn’t something to be afraid of! It gives you a prebuilt history which sci-fi stories would usually have to expend a great deal of time creating.
Well, now we've covered the basics, next up we'll be looking into the fun stuff. Next up, Artifical Limbs!
Here is a list of the posts in If you're after some more Steampunk, there's a list of my ever-growing post series: this steampunk series: