Today I checked my twitter timeline and discovered two amazing things. First, I have new followers (Hooray!) Second, today is apparently International Steampunk Day. Here’s the full scoop over at Steampunk.com. According to John Leavitt, the author of the relevant post, Mr. H. G. Wells birthday has been co-opted and re-packaged. Well, with the relentlessness of a flock of ravens the twitterverse soon pummeled Mr Leavitt for his factual inaccuracy. Mr Wells was actually born on Sept 21. So, now we begin a search for the “real” reason for the season. There is a Facebook page for it and an active thread over at the Steampunk Empire. It appears to me that the idea originated started with the Facebook group linked above. One would have to ask the creator of said group, Drew Mierzejewski, what his reasoning for the date is. I DM’d @steampunkcom (Mr. Leavitt) my theory and he informs me that he has contacted Mr. Mierzejewski. “The game’s afoot” as the saying goes. We shall see what comes of it.
Regardless, the idea has caught on, as many good ideas do, and spread throughout the interwebs. My twit stream was replete with suggestions and postings for celebrating the event. The Lolitas over at STEAMED! came up with a lively list of Ten Ways to Celebrate National Steampunk Day!
For my own part I have elected to commemorate the day by combining it with another fun Tuesday twitter event, Temporal Tuesday. Via the magic of twitter I have taken myself to the font of all that is steampunk, London circa 1889. The realities of late 19th Century London are not nearly as clean and delightful as we imagine. The famous London Fog is a product of the prodigious amount of coal being burnt in the city. An ever-present haze obscures the sun and a fine layer of soot covers most exposed surfaces. I hailed a hansom and betook myself to Hyde Park for more a more congenial atmosphere and a bit of a stroll.
This little bit of fiction-eering got me to thinking about what London might have actually been like on this day in 1889 and I did a quick bit of online research.
In our drive to romanticize the Victorian Era we either forget or gloss over the less savory realities of the time. For a quick look at the economic conditions in Town at the time I direct you to Charles Booth’s 1889 Descriptive Map of London Poverty. Something to consider when one chooses this era for one’s literary setting. One need not necessarily invent a dystopian realm when there is plenty of desperation, want and harsh living already available. One thing I will say about Gibson’s The Difference Engine, he certainly captures some of that unpleasantness. That’s not to say that steampunk works must be absolutely historically accurate. We are talking about an alternate history after all. However, an awareness of the soot and grime behind the neatly trimmed hedgerows and shiny copper plating might serve as a useful tool for adding richness to the setting.