Springingtiger's Blog


Steampunk Science and the Lines of Time.

Sometimes my mind wanders…wanders through improbable universes.

Anyone who has observed the phenomenon that is Steampunk will be aware that science 20160529_121934.jpgfiction is one of its driving forces particularly when the sciences are those of physics and mechanics. However underlying the inventiveness of Steampunk are modern cosmological insights that postulate the possibility of alternative realities with different histories. The fiction of HG Wells and Jules Verne looked forward to possible futures, but there are others who postulate whole different timelines.

I am, as I don’t try to hide, a big fan of Toby Frost. His Space Captain Smith stories although set in a distant (?) future are predicated upon a history of Earth somewhat different from the one in which I was born…yours may be different. It is essentially Steampunk in its perennial Victorianism and the New British Empire that spans the galaxies and whose moral fibre is fuelled by tea. Frost’s alternative future is an intergalactic, but affectionate parody of the British Empire, even its biggest military spaceships are called ‘Dreadnoughts’.

To a great extent I think Space Captain Smith’s future has grown out of one of the many pasts through which Michael Moorcock’s Oswald Bastable adventures. Moorcock’s Universe like ‘The Marvel Universe’ interweaves alternative realities and histories into a many faceted whole. One of the delightful things about the Oswald Bastable trilogy is how different and yet how similar different time lines can be and like a recurrent nightmare new timelines provide no escape from a repeatedly relived horror

In 1952 Erwin Schrödinger (a man you don’t want to ask to look after your cat!) postulated that his work suggested several different histories not alternative, but happening simultaneously. For much of the last century eminent scientists have been arguing for and against the existence of multiple universes, the ‘Multiverse’. I don’t pretend to understand the mathematics of the multiverse, but it does seem to arise from the inconvenience of mathematics refusing to be constricted by three dimensional reality. Like many theories multiple universes cannot be proven but they are useful for modelling possibilities. I doubt whether science will ever resolve its differences over the possibility of the Multiverse. But Steampunks don’t care! The possibility of alternative universes allows us to create them in our imaginations and to experiment with political, military, religious and philosophical ideas that don’t have to conform to the reality in which we live. There is a simple philosophical model of alternative realities in my book ‘Brianna: A Life Between Lives‘ that doesn’t bother about maths at all, but does suggest some possibilities for the intersection of different realities.

I think that the great attractiveness of Steampunk lies in not being bound to any one reality. In Moorcock’s books Una Persson and Oswald Bastable repeatedly find themselves in alternative histories much like Doctor Who. Una Persson, like others who we don’t get to meet, has a degree of control over her wanderings whereas Bastable finds himself precipitated into new histories by accident and circumstance. I hope that science never proves nor disproves the Multiverse, as long as the cat is not let out of the bag it is both alive and dead and we can allow our imaginations free rein to explore every possibility of being human, however unlikely.

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