How I Used Steampunk to do George Orwell (But With More Sword Fights and Magic)

How I Used Steampunk to do George Orwell (But With More Sword Fights and Magic)

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“Holy ####! I’m a Steampunk author!”

“Holy ####! I’m a Steampunk author!”

I was staring at the Amazon Kindle rankings and the first volume of Swords Versus Tanks had just crept into the top 10.

Actually, I like Steampunk, but the story was supposed to be Heroic Fantasy or even Sword and Sorcery. After all, swords is what I do for fun.

Back when I was planning what I hoped would be my début novel, I wanted to put magically-enhanced medieval knights up against tanks, but I didn’t want to involve a modern military — too sophisticated with too much tech; I would end up spending most of the novel finding magical ways to break drones and cruise missiles that didn’t also break the medieval setting.

If my tanks were going to be pre-modern, then I might as well pick the era with the coolest looking tanks — that gave me WWI, which also gave me Zeppelins.

So Great War tanks and Zeppelins and semi-automatic weapons. That made at least half the story Steampunk  (Decopunk actually)… not half the novel as in the first (or second) half. Rather half the genre. The other half is Heroic Fantasy. As a reviewer kindly put it:

…it’s like every fantasy, steam punk or alternative history novel thrust screaming into a thunderdome and told to fight for our entertainment.

But Steampunk provided more than just carefully calibrated tactical situations with nice aesthetics, it also let me write about big ideologies.

hat's not to love? (Unless you have to live through it, that is...)
…surely the locals will welcome liberation from their feudal oppressors?

Yes, of course people have ideologies nowadays. However, in the Western(ized) world, most people don’t pay much attention to them unless they have professional reasons for being afraid of being… Wheedoned off Twitter.

Sure ideologies influence our culture and our politics, hence Puppygate,  and hence the relevance of the theme, but the scale is not epic enough. It’s much more fun to write about big world-bending movements rather than smaller ones of wavering significance… my kind of storytelling needs high-stakes.

Now the cool thing about the 1900s-1940s is that not only did lots of people really believe in deep ideologies, they were prepared to fight for them and had a realistic chance of governing their  states according to them. Sometimes they even did (we know how well that went).

So this let me create the Egality, basically a leftish civilisation with a lot of nice modern values most us would agree with, but values with a tendency to go feral if not nurtured correctly.

The other half is Heroic Fantasy

The Egality are quite cool — basically everything I liked about 1900s Vienna, the Weimar Republic and the 1920s with a nod at the Pre Raphaelites for good measure. Really, they’re doing their best. It’s not their fault they’ve fought two wars only to face alien invasion.

Conquering a medieval world is not only necessary, it’s moral — after all, surely the locals will welcome liberation from their feudal oppressors…

It’s also not their fault that the hacks and back-room denizens have gradually taken over, since that seems to be the fate of most ideological movements — or so it seems to me at least; George Orwell got it right in Animal Farm.

But now I’m making it sound all literary and thematic!

For me, the main point of Steampunk was to let me explore these deep, nuanced themes through the medium adrenalin-fuelled action, steamy time-travel romance and tanks… lots of tanks.

Did I mention the tanks?

M Harold Page has several franchise novels in print. You can download his Steampunk (and HEROIC FANTASY… really, there’s magic and sword fighting and gods and other stuff) Swords Versus Tanks 1: Armoured heroes clash across the centuries!Swords Versus Tanks 2: Vikings battle Zeppelins while forbidden desires spark!  and Pyramid of Blood (Swords Versus Tanks Book 3) from Amazon.


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