Friday Fight Day: Attack of the Ages

So, here’s the picture.

We’re floating in this airy, free-floating substance that is flooded with bright white light that shines with a luster that both blinds and awes anybody who happens to be watching, which is, you know, us. It’s a soundless place. So soundless that you can hear your own blood pumping, can monitor its progress through your veins. It’s a weird, vaguely creepy place. And it’s the setting for this Friday Fight Day. It’s the attack of the ages. Literally. Today, it’s Dystopian Vs. Steampunk. Both are sub-genres of speculative fiction, and both definitions rely heavily on the time period the book is set in. Dystopian taking place in the future, and Steampunk in the past, during the Victorian era. And since these time periods aren’t actually people, and can’t come to a physical ring, what better place for them then in a wormhole?

LET THE BATTLE BEGIN. 

So, what is Steampunk, exactly, and what is Dystopian? 

Steampunk: An alternate version of history set in the Victorian era (19th century) where 20th-century technology exists. 

vs. 

Dystopian: A futuristic novel, the opposite of a Utopia, where the characters live in an oppressive society that is usually controlled by some sort of all-wielding power holder, whether it be a corporation, a government, or totalitarian control.* 

It’s an interesting comparison between these two, because a big chunk of what they are is composed of the setting the author creates, with each new book creating a new take on the future or the past. In my opinion, the authors of dystopian works have more freedom in world-constructing, because we have no idea what the world could look like in ten years, much less two hundred, or ten hundred. That gives Dystopian writers the kind of creative licensing that fantasy authors also receive (and in some cases, are burdened by). Steampunk, on the other hand, already has a set period of time–the Victorian era. That means authors of this genre must do their research. If done well, they can succeed in creating a setting that is timelessly fascinating, and reel readers in with that perfect mix of reality and fiction. This gives them an outline of what their novel’s setting will look like, and allow them to add their own unique twists on the era that set their books apart from others.

And speaking of books, let’s compare a few from each genre.

Steampunk:

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare 

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Airman by Eoin Colfer 

Infernal Devices

 

Dystopian:

The Giver by Lois Lowry 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 

1984 by George Orwell

And to finish the list, another one by aforementioned Scott Westerfeld: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld 

The Hunger Games

Dystopian is very much the giant of the publishing industry right now, so many of the dystopian titles will be familiar to all. I do have to say I read Dystopian more, probably because it’s so prominent right now. It appeals to me because of the crisp world building, and the fact that, who knows, maybe one day these books could be more spot on than we know. That said, Steampunk has a lot to offer, too. I love reading them because I think the Victorian era offers a sort of romantic touch, and as an avid history aficionado, I like unfurling the hours of research put into these books. Really, both genres have the potential for greatness. To the pros and cons!

Pros of Dystopian

  • Complete freedom in world building
  • Great opportunity for social commentary
  • Countless different situations because nobody knows what the future holds
  • Yeah! Let’s fight against that oppressive government! Hooray for secret revolutionist groups!

Pros of Steampunk 

  • Historical background provides support and structure
  • The Victorian era kicks ass
  • Often holds hints of anti-authorital material that makes for an interesting read
  • Swoon for those Victorian men (Will, I’m looking at you. Just leave Jem with Tessa and come on over here.)

Cons of Dystopian 

  • So big in publishing right now, that the crash will inevitably come soon
  • Social commentary, if done wrong, can sound overly preachy
  • With so many different situations, so many books mirror another dystopian book down to the details. Hooray for the originality of some, boo for the copy cats

Cons of Steampunk 

  • If the history part has obviously not been researched at all, then the book usually sucks
  • Steampunk in itself is not a plot. That’s to say, some books focus so much on the history and the machinery that the plot is lacking
  • Manners, niceties, and uncomfortable dresses

So, with that said, who is to be crowned winner? 

Hmm, this a difficult decision to me, because although these sub-genres have a lot in common, they have a lot of differences, too, and a lot of the time it just depends on what mood I’m in that dictates which category I’d rather ead.

That said, I think I know who to crown the winner…

*Dun, dun, dun*

AND TODAY’S WINNER: DYSTOPIAN 

There’s just too many great books in this category for me to ignore. I only named a few up there, but that was forsaking classics such as the Supernaturalist and the City of Ember. Which, speaking of Supernaturalist…there’s another author (Eoin Colfer) who has written both a steampunk and a dystopian book. Coincidence…or something more?

In any case…

Who do you think deserved to win? Any suggestions for next week’s Friday Fight Day? Read any good Steampunk of Dystopian books lately? Favorite snack food? (The last one has nothing to do with this post, but ya’ know, whatever.) 

*For more information on Dystopian, a helpful site is ReadWriteThink.org.

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Friday Fight Day: Attack of the Ages

  1. It’s certainly a battle for the ages, alright! I disagree that Steampunk has to be set in Victorian England, though. I think it’s more about the technology: cogs, pistons, automata, gears, zeppelins (airships) and, you know, STEAM.

    *Shameless plug alert* I wrote a short story set in 1850s New Orleans that is very firmly Steampunk and revolves around a conflict between religion (Voudou) and fledgling artificial intelligence technology. It’s called ‘Voudou and the Machine’ and you can read a cheeky free preview on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JDL4B8Y

    That said, Dystopia and Steampunk share much in common as you say. The ‘Punk’ element in Steampunk tends to necessitate some kind of oppressed individual or group fighting against a larger power, often an empire of some sort. In my story it’s African Americans vs the White Ruling Class as well as female against male oppression.

    Dystopian is cool because it’s fun to play with futurism and, like 1984, it can be a great deal more political and provide a more relevant social commentary that readers can relate to without being distanced by a ‘historical’ element. But for me, to try and say which is better is like trying to compare pizza with ice cream. They both work their magic in equal but very distinct ways.

    Incidentally, my Amazon E-book also features a bonus short sci-fi dystopian story *cheeky wink.*

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    • Oh, hey, yeah, you’re totally right about the Victorian England thing. I meant to type the Victorian era, but slipped up. I’ll go back and correct that.

      Haha, nice. It sounds quite awesome. I’ll have to check it out. Yes, I think when done right dystopian has the chance for great social commentary. But when done wrong, it just distances you from the story.

      Yeah, the comparison was hard for me to crown one winner, because the Infernal Devices is one of my favorite books, and I do love the historical aspects of it. It came very close.

      Hmm, cool, I feel like a lot of authors who write steampunk also dabble in dystopian. Maybe it’s because of the aforementioned similarities. Is there any particular reason you feel yourself gravitating toward both?

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      • You pretty much nailed it. It’s the reason reason that Sci-Fi and Fantasy are so often interbreeded, because they offer the similar broad vistas of escapism and creative freedom, just in subtly different ways.

        Just as Sci-Fi can also be considered Fantasy at the same time, so can Steampunk also be simultaneously Dystopian. In fact it generally is.

        For me they are just two different ways to down to a blank page and just go, ‘okay, let’s make some weird shit happen.’ That’s also why my current project is called ‘Robot Wrestlers In Space.’

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        • Yes, that’s why Sci-Fi and Fantasy are two of my favorite genres, because although all writing offers escapism and creative freedom, Sci-Fi and Fantasy are so world-building intensive, and really just offer a portal into a completely different universe.

          Haha, I love your point of view about a blank page. Robot Wrestlers in Space sounds promising. What’s it about? Robot Wrestlers in Space? 🙂

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          • Surprisingly not! It’s set in the near future, and mechanical enhancements have become the latest vogue in the professional wrestling industry. Things like hydraulic legs and super mecha-muscles. It draws parallels with the systematic steroid abuse of the actual pro-wrestling world, especially in the past three decades. “Robot Wrestlers In Space” alludes to a movie in my fictional universe, it makes the point that with all these enhancements, in terms of legitimacy the sport is no more ‘real’ than ‘Robot Wrestlers In Space.’

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  2. I’d have to agree with you, right now at least dystopian is better, if only for the wider variety of the books. (Even though my favorite of those you mentioned is Infernal Devices. You can have Will, I’ll take Jem, deal? Tessa doesn’t get either.)

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  3. Great post, it really outlines the unique characteristics of each style. I also completely agree with your choice. Dystopian FTW! Haha, also, do you think it’s okay to read the Clockwork Prince without reading the Mortal Instruments first?

    Like

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