An Observation regarding Steampunk Literature

For some time now I have wondered why Lavie Tidhar’s works are my favourite among all of Steampunk literature. I think it is the world his novels are set in. His version of earth has the most well thought-out history, backstory and internal consistency and continuity.
It is Steampunk through and through. The world and history have changed. There are some parallel developments (like the revolution in France) but it all still fits the picture. The world is different in a very clever and internally consistent way.

Most other novels I have read so far, this internal consitency is missing, mostly because there are only certain elements of Steampunk in the novel and they only reach so far. Take for example Phoenix Rising, a novel I also greatly enjoyed. The background is radically different from Lavie’s setting and basically a slightly alternative version of the 1880’s or 1890’s.  There are several Steampunk elements in the novel (the difference engine, the prosthetic legs of the servant girl etc.) but they all stand alone. The technology that comes with it has very little further effect.

If prosthetic legs are available, what effect does that have on warfare? What other technologies influence daily life and especially the working classes?

In the margins it is mentioned that the Kaiser is some sort of antagonist but in the light of this technology that does not make sense. Neither Wilhelm I nor Friedrich III were antagonistic towards Britain, in fact, both were allies. With this sort of technology around, Friedrich III would not have died of throat cancer in 1888… I cannot see how Queen Victoria would have watched her son-in-law die, the husband of her eldest child, and that is only if you presume only Britain has Steampunk technology, which would be unreasonable to presume.

It seems the typical Steampunk tropes serve no purpose other than making it possible for the novel to be labled Steampunk, which is sad.

But coming back to Lavie’s work: Lavie has thus far avoided having Steampunk elements for their own sake. Instead, his world has a weird explanation, which in itself consistent. He also makes it clear that the technology and more has spread all over the world. There are now powers with and some without it. Some came into possesion of lizard technology by other means, but the tech has spread. By inventing a completely new alternate history, he effectively avoids all the pitfalls that come with working in an alternate Fin de Ciecle setting and letting your stereotypes getting the better of you.

I have just been informed there will be another series of Steampunk novels out by Spring 2012. This one will have feudal Japan as its background. I am rather knowledgable when it comes to Japan (family connections, you could say) and I am really looking forward to reading those novels. I hope it will be free of stereotypical images ingrained in the west and enforced by anime and manga. But then again, it is rather easy to regard everything as historical fact, as it is depicted in the media.

This reminds me of something else… But enough for today, one rant is enough.