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.
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.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare
The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
Airman by Eoin Colfer
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
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.