In steampunk, like in science fiction, a certain point is met when the technics of the age don't fit in the models of modern science. There are a couple of ways to explain the hi-tech to the ignorant tosser who dares to ask "but how does that actually work then, by Jove?"|
The most simple of all is "magic", thus creating something like "steam fantasy" where magic is integrated in technology in a way no human being of today can possibly understand. It has its flair, it's own ways of giving an attitude to the setting, wizards and scientists are very close in such settings.
|Remember the word "magic" comes from the Arabic word "magi", meaning "wise men". Wise men know more than the average mortal. Magic usually works the same way: nobody understands how it works, that is left to the wise men, the mages. Where, by the way, the word witch also goes down to a word that means "to know" - witches, like mages, know more than others.|
In some cases, the word magic is not used. There is a given explanation, that, however, no-one with todays knowledge can understand. The magic has been given a more technological explanation, ranging from "red coals" that have the more magic ability to fuel spaceships, to "liftwood" that is so light you can fly with it to Mars and many other semi-scientific explanations.
Another way of telling "how things actually work" is to beat around the bush and give an answer like "it is powered by a deteronic frombotzer." The artist saying something like that with a poker-face will be believed: almost no one is willing to confess he or she doesn't know what a deteronic frombotzer actually is. And to clear things up, the deteronic frombotzer is nothing more than an imaginary hi-tech way to power an engine from the GURPS universe.
Steampunkers with a bit more technological knowledge than their readers/players/friends can also try to bluff their way into steam tech. It should be easy to deceive those who only went to high-school when you have a technical university degree yourself. Tough point is that many role players -and others interested in steampunk- are students and they will poke right through the bluff anyway.
I think the best way to bluff your way into steam tech is to create a rather solid universe, where you explain things with only one (Victorian) theory. Most nineteenth century scientific theories tried to explain all, and even if we now know it's wrong, they did make sense at the time. So be it aether theories or something more close to the atomic theories, maybe even a fully functioning prae-Darwinism theory (creationism), it can be build further upon to explain your steampunk universe. With a closed universe, it will be believable, which is the point of science fiction. Don't let any doubt crawl in by people asking for Einstein -the man wasn't even born in your universe- or putting some crazy inventions like the atom bomb on the table -atoms as such do not exist in your universe.
By having a scientific theory and referring to that, a steampunk world becomes believable. That is much better than having all kinds of magic devices turning up, where the functions go way beyond the functions of the commonly known steam engine, and the people start wondering how on earth these things might work. After all, we are talking a branch of science fiction here, and not a silly kind of fantasy were everything can happen, whether it is possible or not within the given universe.
What is your way to explain steampunk hi-tech to others? You have any glorious theories thought up? Go tell in the forum!
© Yaghish 2004