Post-Post Apocalyptic?

G.D. Falksen has a post up on steampunk fashion about Steampunk and Post-Apocalyptic Literature… Or, more specifically, how post-apocalyptic fiction is inherently not steampunk.

“Steampunk, as you all well know, envisions a world in which the technology of the Victorian era is built up to an even higher and more elaborate level of development, while retaining its distinctive Victorian aesthetic. Naturally, this kind of technology demands an equally well-developed infrastructure to build, maintain and fuel its machinery. If a society lacks easy access to metal, water and some sort of fuel source like coal, it is in a poor position to develop even basic, historical steam technology, let alone the widespread and advanced systems commonly encountered in steampunk.”

My immediate reaction is to disagree – Technology and innovation can exist in pretty scare circumstances, and a recently-collapsed industrial society would certainly provide a wealth of scrap pieces to play with. Falksen does address the idea of a steampunk society after an apocalypse, but he calls it something different: Post-post apocalypse.

“So what if someone wants to explore what happens when a society in a post-apocalyptic world reorganizes and redevelops itself into an advanced, urban and highly industrial steampunk society? This is something that I like to refer to as post post-apocalyptic. … The early stages of post post-apocalyptic are characterized by small-scale but rapidly growing experiments in industrial technology, such as one sees in the first few decades of the 19th century. Inevitably, a post post-apocalyptic society advances further into an identifiable urban industrial society along the lines of the mid and late Victorians, although this may be accomplished at the same rate or even faster than in the historical Victorian era.”

I’m curious as to why urban is a requirement; places like mines and farms can have pretty advanced technology while still being rural. I see his point that industry does not really lend itself to an apocalyptic scenario, but I’d suggest that an industrial society need not be a requirement for a steampunk setting, either. Then again, I tend to see steampunk as more of a foggy aesthetic inspired by but not based on history, whereas Mr. Falksen keeps the historic roots of steampunk close.

Thoughts, anyone? Can steampunk be apocalyptic?

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28 Responses to “Post-Post Apocalyptic?”

  1. Look at Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind – I would quantify it as both post-post apocalyptic and maybe steampunk, but maybe retro-futurist, since so much of Miyazaki’s work has that sort of flavor to it in all the technological trappings.

  2. I think one factor we have to keep in mind is that genres such as steampunk are alternate realities based on some sort of factual foundation. It is hard to say with any certainty the environments, resources or living that would be present on an alternate path, so the in my opinion, anything is possible. Also, these genres are subjective, so in essence, there really is no right or wrong way.

    Many times I find myself formulating storylines that I realize represent post-apocalyptic world even though the technology is more steampunk. The hard thing is presenting the world in a fashion that is believable enough to consider a possibility.

  3. Steampunk can’t be post-apocalyptic? What a load of nonsense!

    What’s the old saying? “Necessity is the mother of invention”. In a setting immediately after the collapse of society, there’s going to be a strong need for invention and adaptation in order to survive and–as you say, Katie–there’s sure as hell going to be a lot of materials left lying around for people to make use of.

    The idea that technology MUST involve the consumption of resources (metal, coal, oil, whatever) is exactly why the world is in the state it is. A post-apocalyptic setting is absolutely perfect for a steampunk ‘world’ that is inspired by more sustainable ideas of use-and-reuse.

    In fact, that’s exactly what steampunk is about for me in the first place. Trying to say that you can’t have steampunk without a perpetuation of the systematic destruction that we already have is completely contrary to everything I feel as though we stand for.

  4. @Allegra
    I agree and you reminded me of another point. Consider if we had an apocalyptic event today. It is very likely that one of the primary sources of power that we would return to in the aftermath would be steam power. Water and fire are two very basic elements that will still remain after such an event.

  5. Yeah, I agree. There is a really interesting article in our Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse (I think) about external combustion (Stirling) engines and how you can drive a steam engine on solar power. I’m sad to admit that I haven’t done much more looking into it than that, but all you need to make steam is heat.

    So, for that matter, you can drive a steam engine by burning wood, or waste, or charcoal, or gods only know what else. They may not be as powerful as coal-driven engines, but when the end of the world has been and gone and you’ve got nothing at all, you’re going to take what you’ve got, right?

    From what I’ve read, G.D. Falksen seems to be assuming that when society collapses, we’ll all be reduced to some kind of technological Stone Age (not that the Stone Age didn’t have it’s own technology, or was awful to live in) and that it’ll take some time for us to ‘get back to the degree of civilisation’ that we would need in order to be steampunks again.

    The strength of steampunk isn’t in mindlessly re-creating the Victorian technology which doubtless couldn’t have survived ‘as-is’ through a full collapse of the world that created it. The strength comes from the founding principle of steampunk: The mixture of what is and what was, with what could be. It’s not about Neo Victorianism, it’s the creation of something new. To say that something new cannot be created without relying upon the same kind of resource-hungry system that created the Victorian era is, at best, naive.

  6. Two things:

    Apocalypse means ‘the lifting of the veil’. We are post apocalypse because that could have been said to have happened after the enlightenment.

    If we are are actually talking about armageddon, then that is the end of the world and all it contains, and we won’t be able to go to parties dressed in any particular fashion.

    So can we please celebrate the beauty of this wonderful era and stop pretending everything’s broken?

  7. I think you’re missing the point, Matthew.

    I don’t think that we need to ‘pretend’ that anything is broken. There are things that are, and that have always been, broken with every era that’s ever been and gone. The beauty of it comes in dreaming how things could be different.

  8. If the ancient Greeks can have steam engines without any sort of industrial infrastructure, I don’t see why we’d need that infrastructure after society collapses.

    I agree with you, Allegra. Steampunk isn’t about a mindless recreation of the past. It’s about taking the best bits and the bits that were discarded because they didn’t make enough money, and re-inventing them for our world. We can do that without massive industrial infrastructure.

    In fact, the ‘do it yourself’ and polymath ethic of Steampunks makes us really rather well-suited to making the best of a post-apocalypse environment. If society collapses and the best people can do is rebuild the one that fell apart, I’d be very, very depressed. ‘Hey, this thing broke! Let’s build it just like it was!”

  9. Well said, Dylan.

    I agree with Allegra that it’s a mindset of use and reuse, not use and discard which is so prevalent in American society these days.

    I also agree that Steampunk does draw those of us that are polymaths – I’ve often said I was too well rounded because my interests for science, art, letters were all such a big part of me. I’ve finally found a niche where I feel at home in the trappings of Steampunk

    And I’ll agree that Matthew has taken a much more literal interpretation – as opposed to the sociological connotation of an apocalypse, meaning the end of society as we know it. I will also agree Matthew that there’s beauty in this era, however, I must state that most people in our First World Society need to stop pretending, rather, that everything works just fine as it is.

    My former father in law had developed a steam engine using cd’s as a reflective medium to focus sunlight. I think a Post-post-apocalyptic world would be interesting to explore in literature for that very reason – the Rise of the Polymaths.

  10. @Cayne

    I love the whole polymath aspect of steampunk. That’s one of the reasons I’m most interested in the steampunk of the late 1700’s, it was really the era of the last of the polymaths. Humphrey Davy wrote poetry about his experiments with nitrous oxide. How awesome is that?

    I like the idea of a post-apocalyptic polymath setting. Ideas ideas ideas…

  11. @Allegra – just did some research – Coleridge said “had [Davy] not been the first chemist, he would have been the first poet of his age,” which shows further that not just was he a writer of poetry, he was a good writer – a sign of a true polymath. I think of all the great names of the era, and there’s something to be said in the broad-based everyman being able to participate in science.

    That’s part of why I enjoy participating in Galaxy Zoo.

  12. @Cayne

    Yeah, Davy and Coleridge were pretty good friends. Coleridge went to a lot of lectures at the Royal Society and, if I remember correctly, even gave a lecture there on something that mixed ‘natural philosophy’ and poetry. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I’ll try and look it up today. Incidentally, if you get the chance, check out a book called ‘Age of Wonder’. It’s all about the sciences of the Romantic period, and it’s absolutely bloody brilliant.

    I hadn’t heard of Galaxy Zoo, but I’ve just looked it up and it’s a wonderful idea! I’m getting a telescope next month because the idea of looking up there myself is more appealing than looking at it on a screen, but the thought of being the first person to look at some new, undiscovered galaxy? Wonderful. Why am I thinking that you and I should write some astronomy-inspired poetry? Next issue of SPM is just starting to come together…

    There’s a wonderful little thought that I picked up from somewhere (I can’t remember where) that completely captures my attitude (as someone who is primarily more of a creative/humanities person) towards the sciences. Someone happens upon another someone who’s doing something sciencey (stay with me!) and says “What are you doing that for? Science has already discovered everything about that. It’s been done before,” and the other person says: “Not by me.”

    I think I’ve heard it called ‘Folk Science’. To bring things back a little towards their original subject, I think that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about with regards to post-apocalyptic settings. Something that provides a broad range of skills and an insatiable curiosity.

    We need that after the collapse of society more than we need coal, don’t we?

  13. I agree with this guy totally. I am so glad some one put it down somewhere so I can just repost that link when someone tries to mix up the two. I love how I keep seeing this article he did up get posted on all the steampunk sites. It means he really is right .

  14. […] was an interesting post at Steampunk Magazine discussing the potential of a steampunk society in a post-apocalytpic world, in response to another […]

  15. I (re)read the original post at steampunk fashion and I sort of get what he is talking about with “post-post apocalyptic.” As ironic as it may sound considering we are discussing worlds we create in our imaginations, it can sometimes be difficult to think outside of the box when we get so set in a trend attributing certain characteristics to genres like steampunk. But I can see how given the need to preserve the ideal neo-Victorian traits in a steampunk world, a post-post apocalyptic setting might seem more appropriate so that the potential post-apocalyptic dystopian society has an opportunity to restore those ideal traits.

    I think the problem with his argument though, is how he seems to be basing his assumptions of a potential apocalyptic event, as well as any existing steampunk reality. What I mean here is, just by mentioning movies like Mad Max and Waterworld, he is limiting himself to assuming he knows what a post-apocalyptic world will be like. Even in the variance of just those two stories alone, it is evident that the outcome of an apocalyptic event is not certain. So how can he possibly assume that a steampunk society could not exist in a post-apocalyptic world?

    The only reason I can think of is my first point- that he wants to preserve the ideal steampunk society. But as I mentioned, just because we have characterized a steampunk as having ideal or even utopian traits, does not mean that it has to be that way. Does it really make it any less steampunk if it is not?

    I believe that steampunk is created by two major forces. One is the tangible aspects, such as the “look” typically being of the Victorian era and the addition of steam-powered and mechanical technology. The other is the intangible aspects, which create the “feel.” Personally, I think the first does much more in defining the basis of steampunk, upon which we can add our own visions and feelings about the genre. If this is true, then I do not think it is so impossible to envision a steampunk world that does not meet the ideal standards that many seem to attribute.

  16. @james

    The assumption that we all seem to be making here is that post-apocalyptic worlds are innately dystopian. Why? I mean, this coming from a woman who’s currently working on a dystopian post-apocalyptic short story collection with a bunch of other writers, but that’s mainly just because I really like dystopia.

    Since the first issue of SPM, we’ve run Magpie’s “Yena of Angeline” stories which, although far enough down the line that the blur the divide between post-apocalyptic and this so-called post-post-apocalyptic, they’re really not hugely dystopian. I mean, they present a world where there is conflict and adversity, but there are also sail barges that tear across the sandflats in high winds. There’s strange, beautiful music, glorious machines, makers and art and all kinds of good stuff.

    I mean, you could probably go even further than that and write a post-apocalyptic setting as actively utopian. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but maybe that just means that they haven’t been written yet…

  17. @Allegra – you *would* have to encourage me. I think I may just have a thing to write about, too…

  18. Actually, post-apocalyptic utopian seems like it would make sense and could be quite interesting. I might have to play with that…

  19. @Katie You go for it! Lemme see what you come up with. I’d love to play with the idea myself, but at the moment I’m right in the middle of working on this airship builders union story for the next SPM

    @Cayne Encouraging people is what I do best! Drop me a line with whatever you come up with allegra [at] steampunkmagazine [dot] com. As it happens, I have a poem idea I’ve been turning over for a little while myself…

  20. @Allegra
    That is pretty much my point, only the opposite example. People assume that post-apocalyptic is typically dystopian while thinks like Victorian steampunk is more utopian. Why? Because when we read stories or see movies, that is how they are written. I think it is important to have the ability to break from the stereotypical genre characteristics, especially when attempting to do something like post-apocalyptic steampunk.

  21. *things like Victorian steampunk are more utopian

    (Typos resulting from changing my sentence half way through)

  22. How about the world after “War of the Worlds”? See also S.M. Stirling’s “Peshawar Lancers”.

  23. Here’s food for thought: why does the apocalypse have to mean that all technology is lost; why does it mean that all government changes; why does it always mean that we have to start from scratch? I submit that instead of a total loss of technology, what if we simply lose the means to develop it efficiently? In other words, we have the ability, but (for instance) due to a total economic collapse, or government turnover (i.e. the dissolution of the United States into its component parts; a civil war in the PRC that destroys its ability to produce; the collapse of the UN; Wall Street gets a brain) that makes the production of, or transport of, this technology so inefficient and expensive it’s no longer practical, and therefore present but rare.

    We don’t need utter collapse to facilitate a Steam Punk Era (or plot line). Just a set of circumstances–however fantastic–that make that form of life the most efficient or practical. And that my friends, is where we play.

  24. You know it occurs to me how haughty that sounded. Totally not intended. Sorry everyone.

  25. It sounds like he is trying to argue whos fiction is more valid. “my pretend is more real then your pretend!”

    I’d rather explored who’s fiction kicks more ass! Let’s set up a cage match between neo-Victorians and Post Apocalypse Punks.

  26. I second the idea of a cage match between the neo-vics and the post-apoc steampunks.

    It’s funny… today I’m in Vicenza, Italy to do a talk about post-apocalyptic steampunk at an apocalypse-themed party, and I’ve spent the morning going over my presentation, to discover this discussion happening.

    So, basically, we don’t have to be part of your steampunk if you don’t want us, but we’re having plenty of fun over here without you. We’ll happily take the concepts of re-addressing our interactions with machinery and apply them to situations in which the status quo is suspended (which is, by the way, why people love post-apocalyptic fiction).

  27. Hey, I’m a little late in here but to pick up the threads, the best scenario for a post apocalypse steampunk world to thrive is for a total meltdown of authority! That means no government tax, licencing, insurance and stupid money making laws to interfere with re-engineering the world the way it is meant to be.

    Anyone who wants to rebuild the (our) world back the way it is (was, pre-apocalyse) should have their necks stepped on before they can get back up and start the destructive power-tripping profiteering ‘Global Protection Racket’ all over.

    Spreading The Gospel of Steampunk

    Rev. Moby

  28. Hi all I have to say I have enjoyed the depth of though a hypothetical topic such as this one is refreshing. Through there was a place where a world did or nearly was (I won’t argue the semantics) faced with “War of the Worlds” scenario. Though the generation had just advanced from the Victorian age, they then had to contrive a living in a post apocalypse setting.

    My Father was part of the 25th Division, assigned to clean up detail at Hiroshima Japan. He told me that as supplies such as fuel, coal, and Oil became scarce a few motivated individuals began converting there vehicles to run on steam and wood gas. These people and there trucks would then work within the local community to fetch sand, food, take people where they needed to go. Others had equipment in there homes to create weapons for the war effort, but would also use the lathes that where left to them to turn some of the scrap metal lying around for there own use and for that of the community all in a barter system from what he and I could figure. The trucks we’re as powerful as what my Father figured they were originally, and during the rebuilding he helped pull a few out of the sand down by a local river.

    But what I think is important for story, is even though the world these people knew was coming to an end and the “aliens” where closing in, wiping out cities. They continued to do what people do, invent, create, modify…live. We are Dynamic creates in a dynamic world, and we need to create and we will use whatever we have to do so.

    I Must also disagree with the honorable G.D. Falksen,
    To revisit the original question,
    “industry does not really lend itself to an apocalyptic scenario” This is true of large scale factories, however it was cottage industry that helped to created the Victorian age, And the The Victorian age was born out of the first “World war” AKA the seven years war. I would argue that it is the Post apocalypse that “burns off” the old systems and allows renaissances of the Victorian age to bloom like brush fires that clean the land for fresh blooms, even if it is another case system.

    Thank you for your kind interest.

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