by Lillian Csernica on April 5, 2018
Steampunk is a genre full of wonders. Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, our literary patron saints, created quite a legacy for those of us who want to write about airships and steam trains and submersibles and the amazing people who crew them.
Most steampunk fiction is set in Victorian England. Now and then you will find some in the United States. 1848 saw the Gold Rush bring people to California from all over the world. The Chinese laborers who built the railroads made a serious contribution to the spread of steam power. The abrupt rise in population created a demand for transportation, accommodation, and recreation.
1853 saw U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry arrive on Japan’s doorstep with four ironclad steam-powered warships. The Tokugawa Shogunate had no serious navy thanks to closing all ports to foreigners aside from the Dutch who were restricted to Dejima off the coast of Nagasaki. Perry’s “kurofune” or black ships opened the eyes of the samurai class to the wonders of the West. The Tokugawa’s isolationist foreign policy had left Japan lagging far behind.
When the Emperor Meiji resumed power and the Shogunate fell, Japan became a crossroads of competing European influences. The Emperor hired a Frenchman to design the educational system, a Prussian to help with the military, and then borrowed one million pounds sterling from Queen Victoria to bankroll the railroads.
Steam power caused a dramatic change in the life of every Japanese citizen. The samurai class in particular were hardest hit. Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, was now a quaint system of physical and mental discipline. Rifles, cannon, pistols and two centuries of military training made the samurai obsolete.
In times of drastic cultural change and political upheaval, when the Old Guard is willing to fight and die to preserve their way of life, one finds a rich source of material for stories. Japan is an exotic land full of surprises for Dr. Harrington and his family. The key to a good story is conflict. By dropping a Victorian physician into an environment where he knows nothing of the language, the etiquette, or the political and religious beliefs, I’ve created the potential for conflict at every turn.
I hope you enjoy Dr. Harrington’s adventures in Kyoto.