marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Mixed-up Tech

One possibility for the tech in steampunk is a mix-and-match of various technological levels.  Technically, most fantasies do this, having much higher medicine (and presumably, agriculture) than they do.  And if you write steampunk space opera, as I'm trying to do, you're going to have some serious mismatches.

But then, the stuff hangs together, and it can be hard to see what goes together by necessity rather than accident.  It's not just things like springs not being strong enough to hold the energy for clockpunk.  It's that you need metals strong enough to work as springs at all.  And then perhaps you work out how to make a clock that works at sea.  Which means that then and only then, you have a good way to work out your longitude, which has enormous implications for navigation.

It's not just technology, at that.  The Bronze Age Greek warrior was an aristocrat -- the tragedy of Seven Against Thebes reflected the legend that the battle actually consisted of seven bouts of single combat at the gates.  The Iron Age produced the hoplite and so the citizen -- the masses could effectively resist.  The watermill was known in ancient Rome; they considered it a curiosity, and there were less than a dozen of them in the empire.  The Dark Ages are indeed dark in one respect:  lack of records.  It means that we have a difficulty time tracing why, when we left them, there were thousands of watermills.  But given that a servus was no longer a slave but a serf, it is obvious that labor became more valuable then, and so replacements were more attractive.  (A serf gave only a proportion of his labors, not all, to his lord.  Besides, that the lord had to make such concessions to the serfs points that he had a harder time getting labor without it.)  And governing large regions could be quite interesting without modern technology.  To be sure, empires went in for road-building and fast horses, frequently exchanged, which could lead to quite astounding speeds, but not like modern times.  There was a time when nominating conventions would actually nominate the candiadate -- Lincoln was not the favorite going into the Republican convention -- because the delegates didn't have a chance to talk before then.

It gets tricky at time.
Tags: genre: steampunk, world-building: economics, world-building: social classes, world-building: technology

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