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Author Topic: why no medieval steam punk?  (Read 20882 times)
Mr. Moonchylde
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« Reply #25 on: January 31, 2010, 08:10:56 pm »

and then, of course, there's this:
Army of Darkness best scenes - Ash's car counterattackDQ


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« Reply #26 on: February 17, 2010, 07:39:15 pm »

again thank you guys for all your input. (and possible books to read).
though I would guess if Roman Empire had not fallen I wonder what it would have looked like in the medieval ages or the Renaissance. could you imagine a steam punk Roman Empire? Shocked from little I have researched of that time period I know that the Persian Empire had flush toilets (though not as fancy as today's) and the Romans had advanced structures. so it probably wouldn't to have been that difficult for the Romans to have gone all out with steampunking their society. ( though I am more of a fan with Celtic steampunk Tongue

I would imagine that advanced clock works wouldn't have come into play until the Renaissance with Leonardo da Vinci, and that the black plague would have had a different twist and possibly would have made locomotives and other contraptions to take on a morbid feel. ( death trains- trains carrying those that have been hit with the black plague *shudders*)

Choreocrat I agree with you in that the higher the class got the more Renaissance or Victorian it got, and the lower classes would probably would have looked like well a medieval slums. though I would argue that most blacksmiths would have possibly been boiler makers as well and there forge would have been running long enough to have a boiler attached to it.

Short answer: YES!
Long answer: there were three main constraints that kept something like the Industrial Revolution happening. Technology, Governing structure, and Population.

Population would be exponential, if people lived forever. But they don't, and so population growth (especially counting early deaths) is very low, glacial, before a certain subsistence level, at which point it shoots up (we have seen this in the last 200+ years). Looking at the Roman Republic of approximately 100BC-100 AD, you are looking at one of the better areas of public health (prevention, rather than treatment, as running water goes a long way). Not that Rome is a nice place. For the first third of that, you're looking at a Civil War, and people are being killed left and right. I don't mean to glorify living conditions in Rome. But just in terms of health, it's a good step up from the areas around it (and there are comparable centers). As well, you're starting to get near the point where exponential growth starts to be a good thing. At this point, a plague hits Europe, a quarter of the people in the world die (nearer to a third in populated cities, nearer to a sixth in the countryside). Then barbarians sack the city of Rome a few times, eventually the empire crumbles, and the Dark Ages begin. You get another 1100 years of glacial population growth, and start nearing that magic number again, and -BAM!- plague o'clock. The black death kills a bunch of people, and we don't get real population growth/strong governmental and tech progress until the 17th century.

Tech is also a problem, in part because people who are working farms all the time have no time for crazy experiments. Also, more people means more geniuses which means more ideas. And finally, a number of the IR technologies simply aren't feasible without lots of people. If there's one thing the Romans did exceptionally, it was build roads. If two things, build roads and wage war. If three things, build roads, wage war, and engineering. And what are the first gear-contraptions but engineering?

And also government, but in this case, you have a (sort of) republic, rather than feudalism, and a not insignificant 'middle class' of equites.

Assuming no great illness ravages Rome and drops its population significantly, and barbarians don't sack it a few times, you might just miss out on the dark ages, and the plague. You hit that sweet spot for population sooner, and you have the clean water and tech not to get another plague, and maybe you hit 17th century population levels in the 8th or 9th century AD. Now, for those of you who know Chinese history, that's the Tang Dynasty, pretty much the cultural and technological golden age of ancient China.

So you've got a Roman Empire, ripe for the discovery of steam power, a Golden Age China, and you're not far off from a strong age in the Muslim world...Who knows how the Persian Empire has continued on? Now that's a book I'd want to write.

Jerome Bigsby, unfortunately, belongs in a top hat, not a toga.

But Marcus Tullius, small time burglar and con man, and last in the disgraced line of Cicero? *shudder* That's the story I've been putting off writing because it's simply something I don't want to ruin with my clumsy ramblings.
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pakled
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« Reply #27 on: February 17, 2010, 11:01:55 pm »

Thanks for reminding me. I seem to remember a Roman Steam empire, by a Thai SF author named (pardon me if I get it wrong) Somtow Sicharutkul. It has a lot of fun things, like not impressing the Olmecs in America with turning off the sun (itself cribbed from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court) because they already knew about eclipses...Wink One of the books is called (I think) the Aquiliad.

Another thing was the idea of 'ideas' in the first place. Until the Renaissance, people were content to live the same way forever; generation after generation stuck behind the south end of a north-bound mule or ox. The idea that things should get better, that more knowledge is good knowledge, didn't really start until then.
I guess you could make the case that Protestantism took this idea to new lengths (religion was a lot more important back then).

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Choreocrat
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« Reply #28 on: February 18, 2010, 12:47:20 am »

Something that just occurred to me is that it's important for innovation that the possibility of non-nobles to be the origin of innovation. Although the upper classes are the primary people who were educated, many important innovations are brought about by lower-classmen (or women) who had the fortune to get some form of education. The obvious example is Leonardo, who was not from a priveleged background.

In a medieval (i.e. pre-renaissance) period, there needs to be some way for the uneducated masses to provide some innovation in order to develop some kind of industrial revolution. The education would likely result in a social revolution as well - along the lines of the later French/American/etc. revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th century. The noble classes themselves aren't really a large enough proportion of the population to provide the innovative force for a revolution.
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« Reply #29 on: February 18, 2010, 12:58:29 am »

Quote
why no middle ages steam punk? if the library of Alexandria didn't burn to the ground or at least heron's work was saved and expanded upon, I see no reason  why steam could not have caused an industrial revolution in the 14th century or earlier. It would be an interesting clash at least.

Because the age of steam was in the Victorian era. Similarly there's not prominent steampunk set in the Regency era,  or even the classical era. Not impossible, but it's one step further removed from history as we know it.

There's technically a difference between magi-tech (technology powered by magic) and technological fantasy when it comes to worldbuilding, but when you see the fiction itself, it's harder to distinguish.

Quote
Probably the biggest barrier to technological development was a combination of political instability throughout much of europe and the fact that religious institutions were very effective at discouraging innovative thinking on all levels.

I would very much question this statement. The religious institutions were at the forefront of the twelfth century renaissance, including the first "scientific" experiments. What perhaps might better said is that all this technological innovation wasn't used for industrial purposes, but instead was devoted to building tall church towers, and translations of classical texts from Arabic for greater theological understanding.

Quote
So you've got a Roman Empire, ripe for the discovery of steam power, a Golden Age China, and you're not far off from a strong age in the Muslim world...Who knows how the Persian Empire has continued on? Now that's a book I'd want to write.

Technically there's Years of Rice and Salt which covers the whole "world without Europe", colonisation and industrial revolution all over the East that takes over the world. Flawed, but fascinating.
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« Reply #30 on: February 18, 2010, 01:06:26 am »

Something that just occurred to me is that it's important for innovation that the possibility of non-nobles to be the origin of innovation. Although the upper classes are the primary people who were educated, many important innovations are brought about by lower-classmen (or women) who had the fortune to get some form of education. The obvious example is Leonardo, who was not from a priveleged background.

In a medieval (i.e. pre-renaissance) period, there needs to be some way for the uneducated masses to provide some innovation in order to develop some kind of industrial revolution. The education would likely result in a social revolution as well - along the lines of the later French/American/etc. revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th century. The noble classes themselves aren't really a large enough proportion of the population to provide the innovative force for a revolution.

I think that's probably true, although the upper classes were historically  the most educated it was rare for them to have any technical of scientific knowledge and most of the administration was done by the clergy, whose education was also mostly academic rather than technical.

The ability of societies to support craftsmen and a 'middle class' in general certainly seems to have been a significant factor in speeding up technical innovation. Full time professional craftsmen both had the time, equipment, skills and motivation to innovate and also the growth of trade bodies gave them more political clout and a network for disseminating the knowledge they gained. It's all very well having one innovator but for technology to really take off there needs to be a community of technicians communicating with each other.

The other key group were merchants, they had money to invest in new technology and just as importantly their wealth was based on cash rather than land so they were much more likely to see technology and the resulting products as a means to make money  than hereditary landowners.



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« Reply #31 on: February 18, 2010, 01:48:53 am »

Until the Renaissance, people were content to live the same way forever; generation after generation stuck behind the south end of a north-bound mule or ox. The idea that things should get better, that more knowledge is good knowledge, didn't really start until then.

This was the sort of thing being handed
down from on high when I was a pup,
but it is quite out of fashion now.

For a good overview of mediaeval
technological advances, see George
Ovitt's The Restoration of Perfection :
Labor and Technology in Medieval
Culture
.

See also :

Renaissance of the 12th Century
From Wikipedia
http://tinyurl.com/yjxlnod

Medieval Technology
From Wikipedia
http://tinyurl.com/yhyppez

Science and Technology in the Middle Ages :
A Preliminary Bibliography

@Online Reference Book for
Medieval Studies ( The-ORB.net )

http://tinyurl.com/ydcc8xn
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« Reply #32 on: February 18, 2010, 11:05:53 am »

Quote
And also government, but in this case, you have a (sort of) republic, rather than feudalism, and a not insignificant 'middle class' of equites.
Assuming no great illness ravages Rome and drops its population significantly, and barbarians don't sack it a few times, you might just miss out on the dark ages, and the plague.


I'm assuming, Jerome Bigsby, you're making huge generalisations at this point, since feudalism and what exactly that means is hugely, hugely debated, but for most of the middle ages, we're sitting in bastard feudalism, but technalities.

The problem, I suppose, is keeping the non-Romans from sacking them, since whilst Rome is churning away at empire and technology and all, the various barbarians (for lack of a better term) are also working on their technology to bring it all crashing down.

Quote
The ability of societies to support craftsmen and a 'middle class' in general certainly seems to have been a significant factor in speeding up technical innovation. Full time professional craftsmen both had the time, equipment, skills and motivation to innovate and also the growth of trade bodies gave them more political clout and a network for disseminating the knowledge they gained. It's all very well having one innovator but for technology to really take off there needs to be a community of technicians communicating with each other.


Hence towns and guilds. Until you get full-time craftsmen, which don't get until you have great enough population density (you need 2400 to support a full-time glove-maker, for example, see Medieval Demographics Made Easy). Part of this comes from the later middle ages.

Quote
I think that's probably true, although the upper classes were historically  the most educated it was rare for them to have any technical of scientific knowledge and most of the administration was done by the clergy, whose education was also mostly academic rather than technical.


I suspect the misconception comes from upper classes = educated comes from the Georgian/Victorian eras when scientific knowledge was very fashionable. The gentleman scientist and the experimental cabinets (ancestor to the laboratory) are very much ingrained into our imagination.

Quote
Until the Renaissance, people were content to live the same way forever; generation after generation stuck behind the south end of a north-bound mule or ox. The idea that things should get better, that more knowledge is good knowledge, didn't really start until then.


What Khem Caigan said, pretty much.


Though I did begin to wonder whether the changes that one would need to make to a historical setting to create plausibly an industrial revolution during the "middle ages" would pretty much strip the middle ages of almost everything that we consider part of (though not necessarily integral to ) the period in question.

As discussed, we'd need large populations, and things such as guilds and towns several centuries earlier. We'd probably want printing and paper a lot earlier (for the transmission of ideas, crutial for social revolution, if not technological). Better levels of sanitation is probably necessary for the growth of towns and cities, not to mention innovation on the farming front for the food to support the cities. The latter required active interest on the part of the landowners historically (whilst the French Revolution was raging about the Continent, the English nobility were reading pamphlets on crop rotation).

I suppose have all that without having gunpowder and canons, so the iconic knight-in-armour image is preserved. But once you have wealth-by-commerce instead of wealth-by-land and wealth-by-military-service, the concept of knights errant and military service, that cornerstone of medieval thinking and social organisation, seem oddly irrelevant.

Ladies spent most of their time making high-status clothes and embroidering, if workhouses and factories are doing all this better and faster and cheaper (c.f. our inability to appreciate Arwen's banner), then that whole chunk of what they do is gone too. Likewise with professional estate management.

What is iconic of the middle ages, knight and ladies, tournaments and quests, peasants and all, seems oddly irrelevant to this technological powerhouse of a setting. Needless to say, we can make relevant and we can make it compatible, but what I'm trying to say is that the logical progression isn't immediately obvious.

Quote
It's all very well having one innovator but for technology to really take off there needs to be a community of technicians communicating with each other.


I suppose, it's why so much of steampunk-y middle ages (or even Renassiance, at that) is one lone mad scientist coming up with crazy, beautiful machines that the hero of the story runs into, rather than widespread technology. If only because it's easier to write since one doesn't have to think through the implications as much.
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« Reply #33 on: February 18, 2010, 07:51:32 pm »

Ever played the game Thief?
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« Reply #34 on: February 19, 2010, 01:18:07 am »

What is iconic of the middle ages, knight and ladies, tournaments and quests, peasants and all, seems oddly irrelevant to this technological powerhouse of a setting. Needless to say, we can make relevant and we can make it compatible, but what I'm trying to say is that the logical progression isn't immediately obvious.

Neofeudalism
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« Reply #35 on: February 19, 2010, 06:55:35 pm »

Quote
Neofeudalism

I'm not sure why that's relevant. Neofeudalism doesn't mean a rebirth of lance-toting knights, banner-embroidering ladies and manuscript-writing monks. Could you elaborate?
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« Reply #36 on: February 19, 2010, 09:59:29 pm »

I'm not sure why that's relevant. Neofeudalism doesn't mean a rebirth of lance-toting knights, banner-embroidering ladies and manuscript-writing monks. Could you elaborate?
I'm not sure how much further we can go
here without descending to a discussion
of politics, but speaking in general :

Corporations are Feudal, in many cases
retaining their own privatized military
( mercs in fealty to the Corporation )
to protect their interests; and Corporatism
is pretty clearly the equivalent of the old
church ruling over/behind and subordinating
the state to its own supranational financial
interests.

For embroidery we could substitute high-
profile designers, and IT hypermedia
personnel for the Clerks/Monks.

We also retain many characteristically Feudal
entities, such as professional guilds/societies/
collegia, which continue to do a pretty good
job of marginalizing the private entrepreneurs,
when not completely excluding them from the
playing field ( often by recourse to laws they
have themselves lobbied for ).

I am suggesting that a rebirth is unnecessary,
since Feudalism in one form or other has never
really ended.
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« Reply #37 on: February 20, 2010, 01:21:18 am »

That is all well and good, but with corporations, high-profile designers and IT hypermedia personnel, I'm not sure this hypothetical setting sufficiently resembles the middle ages enough to be recognisable by me as "medieval steampunk".

I wasn't equating knights, ladies, guilds, monks, peasants (etc) with feudalism, more that they are evocative of the middle ages and therefore need to be present in the setting in some way. So, I dunno, knights riding clockwork horses or monks building holy machines to wake them at correct hour with the correct pages as a prayer aid.

I'm not sure the middle ages is all about feudalism. Whilst it's a part of it, I'm not sure carrying the trait of being feudal would automatically make your setting look/feel medieval. The same way one can't summarise the 20th century with "democratic" and therefore assume any setting that has democracy in it a 20th century based setting.
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« Reply #38 on: February 20, 2010, 04:18:32 am »

Rome did not need steam-Rome had slaves. Rome ruled the world not by being technologically advanced..although they certainly were, compared to most of the rest of the world..but because they were willing to be absolutely brutal, if necessary. If you "went along with the program" under Roman rule, you prospered, and were afforded the benefits of being a part of the Empire. If you caused even the slightest problem, the punishment was swift, sure, and severe. Like being executed for jaywalking, in modern parlance. It should also be remembered that Rome did not fall because they were technologically bested, but from internal strife and the decadence of the upper classes. So, Roman Steampunk is pretty much out. Without that as a springboard, later history was pretty much set on rails. One could, perhaps, make a case for an Islamic development, but a European medieval setting? Most likely not.
As literature, fiction, sure...just use time travel, and do whatever you want...but if you want to establish a viable alternate history timeline....sorry. Bringing Victorian style and value systems "forward?" Sure. Taking Victorian technology "backwards?" No. Probably not. I don't believe the Industrial Revolution could have happened any earlier than it did. Not only was the technology not ready, the social climate wasn't either.
Just an opinion...I think if you want medieval, then concentrate on the SCA, and keep your Steampunk in a different drawer. Both things are pretty neat in and of themselves, but, like oil and water, they don't mix well.

~T
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« Reply #39 on: February 20, 2010, 07:56:22 pm »

I wasn't equating knights, ladies, guilds, monks, peasants (etc) with feudalism, more that they are evocative of the middle ages and therefore need to be present in the setting in some way.
Charles Stross, Julian May, Keith Roberts
& H. Beam Piper ( among others ) have
all created works that include most of
the elements that you deem necessary
to evoke your idea of the Middle Ages
in their fiction, and they successfully
present their own high-tech versions
of a Mediaeval milieu.

I can't think of any setting in a fictional
Middle Ages that isn't Feudal - are there
any examples that anyone can provide?
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« Reply #40 on: February 21, 2010, 03:35:34 pm »

Quote
I can't think of any setting in a fictional Middle Ages that isn't Feudal - are there any examples that anyone can provide?

I suppose it would be cheating to provide examples from the actual middle ages that weren't feudal. Medieval Iceland comes almost immediately to mind, but as said, feels like cheating.

I hope I didn't come across as saying that "medieval steampunk" was impossible or undesirable, merely that it would be difficult as there isn't any immediately obvious point of divergence (like the Babbage Engine) and that a lot of the trappings don't translate easily. Or perhaps I'm merely citing the limitations of my own imagination here.

Quote
Rome did not need steam-Rome had slaves. Rome ruled the world not by being technologically advanced..although they certainly were, compared to most of the rest of the world..but because they were willing to be absolutely brutal, if necessary. If you "went along with the program" under Roman rule, you prospered, and were afforded the benefits of being a part of the Empire.

But "classically" themed steampunk is easy. There is an obvious point of divergence: Archimedes of Syracuse. I think extrapolating from his work (if he didn't die at the hands of that Roman soldier) is no more implausible or ridiculous than extrapolating from Babbage's engines.
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« Reply #41 on: February 21, 2010, 08:28:57 pm »

Ever played the game Thief?

An interesting point that had not occurred to me... that's a great mine for inspiration!
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« Reply #42 on: February 22, 2010, 08:53:05 am »

There was another series of books that were alternate history Roman Empire never collapsed that had steam powered tanks and the like in it, too...can't remember the name, though... I'll see if I can find it..

Somtow Sakuritkal (sp?) I haven't heard that name in years, but I remember reading the Aquila story through Asimov's Science Fiction mag... loved his writing.

There are quite a few multi-culturalists on here, as has already been commented on by a few... those of us who play in the middle ages reenactment and the like... so, your thoughtlines are not totally remiss.

Another couple of books you may wish to consider are 1421 and 1434.  These are actually fact based books on Chinese voyages of discovery... and quite intriguing of how if the Chinese had decided to stay on the world stage, how different our world might be today.
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« Reply #43 on: February 22, 2010, 09:30:10 am »

Thanks for reminding me. I seem to remember a Roman Steam empire, by a Thai SF author named (pardon me if I get it wrong) Somtow Sicharutkul.

That would be Somtow Papinian
Sucharitkul
, and his Aquiliad.

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« Reply #44 on: February 24, 2010, 02:02:08 am »



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« Reply #45 on: February 24, 2010, 07:21:46 am »

well, I did ask for forgiveness in advance...Wink And it's been 20-odd (very odd..Wink years since I read them..Wink
but back to the thread...Wink
..
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« Reply #46 on: February 24, 2010, 10:46:21 am »

Why No Medieval Steampunk?

I think that we have established that there are plenty of examples of Medieval "advanced Technology", but is it Steampunk?

One of the defining factors of Steampunk is its loosely Victorian timeframe. The semi official name for pre-victorian Steampunk is Clockpunk. I have seen the term Candlepunk used to refer to pre-renaissance technological fiction. But one is straying into the trap of slapping any suitable prefix in front of "punk" in the quest for a name.

After all, Steampunk is in itself a play on the term Cyberpunk.

It is a basic human impulse to classify things. do we really need to put a name on Medieval era speculative fiction?

Is Pre-Victorian set Science fiction Steampunk? In my opinion it is at best a sub genre of the same. But the, that is just my opinion. 
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« Reply #47 on: February 24, 2010, 11:22:38 pm »

I'm part of those who run a very loose definition of what's what, so it doesn't make much difference for me. Just about any sort of historical spec-fic that has interestingly anachronistic technology counts, IMO.
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« Reply #48 on: February 25, 2010, 12:12:40 am »

I'm part of those who run a very loose definition of what's what, so it doesn't make much difference for me. Just about any sort of historical spec-fic that has interestingly anachronistic technology counts, IMO.

"Historical Speculative Fiction" A useful phrase that covers the whole genre of pre modern day anachronistic technology, including steampunk.
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« Reply #49 on: February 25, 2010, 02:22:38 am »

Yes, "Steampunk" is "Historical Speculative Fiction," but "Historical Speculative Fiction" is not necessarily Steampunk. Without a Victorian component, then it's not "Steampunk." IMHO.

~T
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