Steampunk: The Where and When

This is the next in my series of  Steampunk postings. If you’d like to read the introduction to the kooky world of Steampunk first, click here. And if you’re having any trouble visualising this aesthetic, I run a Pinterest board for all things Steampunk. Check it out here!

So you’ve decided to write a steampunk story. Where and when do you want to set it?

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 you 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
    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.
  • Elsewhere Else
    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.
  • Spaaace!
    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. 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. If you don’t know anything about this, there’s an amazing podcast about it here from Stuff You Missed in History Class. 

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 while. 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, for example, Dune by Frank Herbert.

Next Steampunk posting will be all about plot.  Check back in a month for that!

If you’re a fellow Steampunk writer or what to know more about the genre, do get in touch!

5 thoughts on “Steampunk: The Where and When

      1. Start with the reading, it’ll break you into the world and its quirks. But it’s just such an amazing platform to tell real adventure stories from. And apologies for the hideous spelling mistake on the previous comment – never bash out messages on your phone while running for the Tube! XD

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