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Author Topic: The Most Common Heroic Character Types in Steampunk Fiction  (Read 526 times)
RJBowman
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« on: April 16, 2017, 05:33:12 am »

I am thinking here in terms of the sample characters that might be provided in a steampunk role playing game as archetypical examples of steampunk heroes.

I guess that the brilliant detective would be included, and the inventor.

But the seems to be two types; the professor, and the boy inventor; are these distinctive enough from each other to be considered separate character types?

The Aviatrix; is that a separate archetype from the male aviator? The skill set is the same, but the aviatrix seems tied somehow to women's liberation/the suffrage movement/changing gender roles/etc., which gives the aviatrix a thematic or symbolic element that the male aviator lacks.

John Carter, etc. An adventurer from the modern (19th century) world who has adventures in exotic worlds, possibly even assimilating into that world. This type is associated with interplanetary adventure, but could have its roots in Bulwer-Litton's "The Comic Race" with its hero visiting a subterranean civilization, or even Gulliver in his time among the lilliputians.

Tarzan. Does he belong in steampunk? He's certainly be a great addition to a team of adventurers. Is it a character type? There's Mowgli, who is really more of a children's fantasy character, but there are others. Jess Nevins found a Scandinavian variant of the theme that was raised in the arctic by polar bears.

Frankenstein? A horror character, but with a science fiction origin; one of the earliest fantastic characters with an origin in strange science. Is he categorized with horror characters like Dracula, or with robot characters like Tik-Tok of Oz?
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2017, 03:07:58 pm »

To sum up:

Detective/investigator

Pilot

Inventer

Adventurer

Primitive/savage

Automoton/freak
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Angus A Fitziron
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« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2017, 10:26:30 pm »

The inventor who researches in theoretical areas and makes fortunate discoveries is fully SP - breaking scientific boundaries without any real purpose! Not sure how being a child makes the inventor more SP.

The aviatrix for exactly the reasons suggested by the OP. They do not necessarily need to be the pilot, as long as she travels extensively by air.

Adventurer / Explorer - again has great SP credentials, but not plant collectors unless the specimens are carnivorous, psychic or highly illegal.

The human, abandoned as a child and brought up by animals, aliens or within a previously undiscovered tribe, preferably anachronistic, has a place in SP. Mowgli was the invention of HG Wells and Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, both of whom are recognised by the SP community as valid authors of the genre. So, the trope is highly appropriate. 
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« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2017, 10:44:52 pm »

Don't forget the occult practitioners like spiritualist mediums! Séances were all the rage in the Victorian era.

Also along the lines of the paranormal, SP fiction often includes the pagan rituals and magics of indigenous peoples from all around the world, wherever explorers or colonies could go. From voodoo priests to shamans, witches and monks, there are all kinds of exotic sorcerers one might include as an archetype in any SP world. Smiley
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2017, 02:45:29 am »

How about the street urchin? Left to fend for themselves on the streets of some big city, they would have grown clever, tough, and determined. They might have a strong urge to change the system that oppressed them or maybe just to build themselves a better life. This kind of character would provide plenty of opportunity for building gadgets from scraps and garbage, a splash of gray morality, and an example of that DIY spirit everyone on this forum seems to love!
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Prof Marvel
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2017, 04:08:22 am »

Mowgli was the invention of HG Wells ....

My Dear Angus -
with all respect, a minor correction: Mowgli in "The Jungle Books" was a creation of Rudyard Kipling .

yhs
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2017, 05:38:19 am »

Heroes need their antagonists.  Such as the Criminal Mastermind ala Professor Moriarty.  Or in a more morally ambiguous form, Captain Nemo.  Or the murderer Jack the Ripper.  And any large city is going to have petty criminals like pickpockets, burglars, and muggers, perhaps in the employ of a criminal mastermind.
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Xbwalker
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2017, 05:08:46 pm »

Mine is a mix between wanderer (mad max style) and captain Smiley
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NoirMagus
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« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2017, 03:46:30 am »

Quote
How about the street urchin? Left to fend for themselves on the streets of some big city, they would have grown clever, tough, and determined. They might have a strong urge to change the system that oppressed them or maybe just to build themselves a better life.

This pretty much describes the hero of my book  Grin

Although it also includes mad scientists, spies, magicians, soldiers, vagabonds and a host of scoundrels.
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Angus A Fitziron
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« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2017, 04:30:31 pm »

Mowgli was the invention of HG Wells ....

My Dear Angus -
with all respect, a minor correction: Mowgli in "The Jungle Books" was a creation of Rudyard Kipling .

yhs
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Oops! Quite right! But as you say, minor because I find Kipling quite SP too! Thank you anyway for keeping me on my toes.

Ffitz
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annevpreussen
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« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2017, 08:58:45 pm »

Oops! Quite right! But as you say, minor because I find Kipling quite SP too! Thank you anyway for keeping me on my toes.
I know I'm going a bit off topic and bringing up a potentially touchy subject with this, but I think it should be addressed... one of the things I love most about steampunk writing/media and steampunk in general is the ability (or encouragement!) to have the adventure and discovery and whimsy of the Victorian era without all the racism, sexism, and other nasty things prevalent during that time.

Kipling was a wonderful writer, but he was a racist. I remember reading one of his story collections, Just So Stories, as a child. I can across a word I didn't know, and while I assumed it meant "man" or "person" or similar ("plain black's best for a person"), I went to ask my mom exactly what the strange word meant. And that was the day I learned about racial slurs!

I understand that these sorts of views were a product of their society and their time, and it makes me really happy that steampunk as a genre got the cool designs and spirit of exploration from the English Victorians without the "White Man's Burden" or "women are like children and they're also basically property" or "yeah, it's totally chill to attack and colonize anything we can without any regards for the native people" parts. Because I look at steampunk now and honestly? I'm blown away by how beautifully different cultures can and have been woven in. I love to see steampunk authors or other creatives draw inspiration from different parts of the world, especially since England is historically the most beloved of all steampunk settings but tbh is kind of over-done and boring (Wow, rain and more rain and overcoats. Yawn.). I'm so happy to see people researching different cultures for their projects, because it makes, in my opinion, a much better story in the end.

I'm also happy because it's a little "screw you" to all those Victorians who were like "lol racism and sexism and generally being a jerk is great!" Because guess what? Now we have common character types like this:
The Aviatrix; is that a separate archetype from the male aviator? The skill set is the same, but the aviatrix seems tied somehow to women's liberation/the suffrage movement/changing gender roles/etc., which gives the aviatrix a thematic or symbolic element that the male aviator lacks.
These types of people would likely never have been heroes in the times/places their stories were inspired by, but they are to us. I think it would make the Victorians very angry ("Scandalous! Someone who isn't pale in charge of an airship?!" "I think I may faint; it appears that woman is leading an army!!!") and that makes me very, very happy.

okay rant over
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Prof Marvel
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« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2017, 11:21:25 pm »

Oops! Quite right! But as you say, minor because I find Kipling quite SP too! Thank you anyway for keeping me on my toes.
Kipling was a wonderful writer, but he was a racist. I remember reading one of his story collections, Just So Stories, as a child. I can across a word I didn't know, and while I assumed it meant "man" or "person" or similar ("plain black's best for a person"), I went to ask my mom exactly what the strange word meant. And that was the day I learned about racial slurs!

I understand that these sorts of views were a product of their society and their time....

I think most will agree, that by today's standards Kipling would be considered racist. As you pointed out, he was a product of his times .

Too many people only know Kipling for his unfortunate poem and via the article
“Rudyard Kipling Was a Racist F*ck and The Jungle Book is Imperialist Garbage.”


Kipling was born in Bombay 1865 and died in London 1936.  He was most certainly an "imperialist" , but perhaps more of a "starry eyed idealist" believing the theory that promoting and converting everyone to  Western ( ie British) civilization & etc would benefit the world. That sad viewpoint is still shared by many, especially proselytizing missionaries.  Orwell did not care for Kipling, but even so Orwell grudgingly defended him:

"He (Kipling) was an imperialist who truly believed that English values would civilize the world. But that did not make him a fascist. It just meant that he was, if anything, a sort of deluded idealist—misguided and too often shortsighted (Orwell again: Kipling never understood the money end of colonialism, never saw that it was a system not merely of superciliously civilizing people but of ripping them off as well), but an idealist all the same."

In "Kim" Kipling writes of an Irish orphan who grew up on the streets of the cities of Colonial India , raised speaking the languages of India as well as English and comfortable in several different worlds, but belonging to none.

In the "Jungle Books" Mowgli is a child of Indian parents, raised by wolves - again a "fish out of water" .

If one actually reads the actual "Jungle Books" themselves , one will find them "like fables handed down through the generations. They never try to do too much—they certainly never strain for any high-minded moral—but they are utterly satisfying"

Malcolm Jones at  the dailybeast wrote about Kipling:
"It is worth noting here that readers in India and Pakistan share few of the reservations Westerners harbor regarding the poster boy of colonialism. He is often even taught in schools in those countries.

The Jungle Book stories were not written by 'Colonel Blimp'. They are not propaganda. They have no agenda. And they are not, in fact, even very optimistic at heart. If anything, Kipling’s tales quietly but inescapably leave their readers with a chilly view of life—nasty, poor, brutish, and short (except for elephants, who live practically forever). First and last, the Mowgli stories condemn all humans as foolish, superstitious, mean-spirited, and full of hubris, specifically for our propensity to assume superiority over the animal kingdom. Animals, excepting monkeys, elicit Kipling’s respect. Humans, certainly adult humans, rarely do. The family in “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” the only whites to appear in the stories, are helpless twits who, were it not for the eponymous mongoose, would’ve all been murdered by cobras. And yes, Mowgli has the ability to stare down almost every animal he meets, but as his teachers Baloo the bear and Bagheera the leopard constantly remind him, that is not much of a talent given that he has so much else to learn from animals and a long way to go before he’s learned it.

The saddest part of the Mowgli stories, though the author doesn’t trumpet it, is that Mowgli is a boy with no culture of his own. He knows he can’t run with the wolf pack that raised him, and his human kin expel him from their village and threaten to kill him (I’d be willing to bet that Kipling spends more time skewering human stupidity than almost any other author—he was obsessed with it.) "
 

One might note that Kipling has more respect for the animal world that humans. If one reads carefully, one often finds Kipling has more respect for the
"natives" than for the "whites" - In “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” the whites are helpless twits.  In "Kim",  whilst traveling with the Tibetan Holy Man, Kim comes across a cobra and wants to kill it, but the Holy Man stops him:

-----------
“I have no stick— I have no stick,” said Kim. “I will get me one and break his back.”

“Why? He is upon the Wheel as we are— a life ascending or descending— very far from deliverance. Great evil must the soul have done that is cast into this shape. Let him live out his life.” The coiled thing hissed and half opened its hood. “May thy release come soon, brother,” the lama continued placidly. “Hast thou knowledge, by chance, of my River?”

“Never have I seen such a man as thou art,” Kim whispered, overwhelmed. “Do the very snakes understand thy talk?”

“Who knows?” He passed within a foot of the cobra’s poised head. It flattened itself among the dusty coils.
-------------

Thus we can see even as a White British Colonialist of 1890, Kipling had knowledge of and respect for the beliefs of India, which he considered his home.

It is also important to refrain from judging others when one does not have a complete picture. I myself was assisting in doing a  Lakota Sioux "Wopila" or "Thanksgiving Meal" after a huge ceremony up on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. My wife and I provided paper cups, paper bowls and plastic spoons for over 200 meals served to anyone who could show up. Each person was sent home with a blanket or kitchen supplies as part of the giveaway, thus providing a gift and a meal.

A foreigner, a Scandinavian, declared it a terrible thing and harmful to the environment, claiming that each person should bring their own utensils and wash them, and not doing so was a disgrace.

I told her that it was the DUTY of the ones putting on the Feast to provide EVERYTHING. And that hauling and heating water on site and disposing of
waste soapy water was more harmful to this environment than burning the paper trash,  and that most of the people were carrying the used plastic bags and plastic utensils home with them to re-use!

And that many many of the people came without any plans of eating, some walking miles to get here, and for them to carry a bag full of supplies
was a BURDEN on them.

Thus it is important to see the full picture as much as possible.

yhs
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« Last Edit: April 24, 2017, 12:22:51 am by Prof Marvel » Logged
annevpreussen
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« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2017, 12:39:33 am »

I think most will agree, that by today's standards Kipling would be considered racist. As you pointed out, he was a product of his times .

Oh yeah, back in those days Kipling must have been considered a really kind, compassionate guy (compared to other common viewpoints at the time), though now some of his viewpoints are a bit... well, cringe-y to say the least, especially in that "White Man's Burden" poem (*mega cringe*) you mentioned. I guess it just goes to show how much times have changed... for the better, I think  Grin

And I think it's really sweet that you and your wife helped out! I agree with you that it would have been silly to demand people supply their own plates, cups, and utensils, especially if they're coming to the event from a ways away.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2017, 12:50:20 am by annevpreussen » Logged
Prof Marvel
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« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2017, 06:07:30 am »

Thanks Annevpreussen :-)

So, now that I scared everybody off with my wall o' text ....

the darker side of me is too fond of Capt Nemo - he is a quintessential Steamy character, but his demons run too deep and his self-righteousness is both compelling and too wrong....


How about the street urchin? Left to fend for themselves on the streets of some big city, they would have grown clever, tough, and determined. They might have a strong urge to change the system that oppressed them or maybe just to build themselves a better life. This kind of character would provide plenty of opportunity for building gadgets from scraps and garbage, a splash of gray morality, and an example of that DIY spirit everyone on this forum seems to love!

perhaps Kipling's  "Kim" type character might fit in as  the street-urchin-orphan-turned-spy ?
(if we can set aside Kiplings faults?)

yhs
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annevpreussen
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« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2017, 08:07:03 pm »

perhaps Kipling's  "Kim" type character might fit in as  the street-urchin-orphan-turned-spy ?
Oh, certainly! I'm a fan of steamy spies as well  Grin

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