Last night I stumbled on the George C Scott version of A Christmas Carol as it started on AMC. It stands as my favorite adaptation of the story that involves an all human cast (Muppets forever), so I decided to sit down and give it a watch. Being it was modern television, there were little bugs at the corners of the screen advertising the network and other shows. Being it was AMC, the show being advertised was Hell On Wheels, their new (and fantastic) period drama about the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. I was thrown by the juxtaposition of the two works, so I decided to look them both up.
Hell on Wheels takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, 1865. The Railroad was authorized years earlier, but the eastern leg was held up due to a lack of able bodied men to work the project.
A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. The novel actually had a lot to do with the adoption of Christmas in the United States, which had previously seen the holiday as overly British in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War.
22 years difference. With A Christmas Carol as the earlier story. I’m not at this point going to pretend I’m the first person to observe the stark differences between life in the United States and Great Britain during the Victorian Era. And I’m certainly not going to be the last to make that observation. And it’s not even the difference between the US and UK, it’s the difference between rather polite city society and the frontier that the United States was pushing forward. But it wasn’t until that little bug, sitting on the corner of the screen, that I really considered what different worlds existed on either side of the Atlantic Ocean in a time when the US was the little sister to the great powers of Europe.
It’s the kind of relationship that informs a lot of Steampunk. While there are the outliers, most of the entries into the genre I’ve read (important distinction) take place either in Victorian England or the American frontier. In short: they take place either in the worlds of A Christmas Carol or Hell on Wheels. And it paints the Victorian era as a dichotomy, the civilized English (and, by extension, Europeans) and their grubby American cousins still trying to wrest a country out of their savage continent. It really is amazing that both realities were interposed, considering how quickly America caught up and how much more homogeneous the two sides of the Atlantic are. Oh, certainly there are differences, but not the differences of the Victorian.
So we stand with this oddly dualist world view of the Victorian era that disregards 99% of the world, which I will not turn into an “Occupy Steampunk” joke. But I will turn into an opportunity. I find Steampunk interesting when it gets away from Victorian England and Frontier America. Move it into the rest of Europe. Take it into Asia. Explore the coasts of North America rather than the dusty interior.
And if anyone has any recommended reading where this happens, I’d be glad to have them. Just keep in mind…I’m oddly airship adverse. Because I’m a bad Steampunk.