In the age of Steampunk, New Jersey is among the world capitals. Indeed, today is the second day that the International Steampunk City will be inhabited in Speedwell, home of the telegraph. For yours truly, Steampunk is an escape. Alternate realities often look better than the pedestrian one we’ve inherited, so we like to look at the world through steamy lenses and imagine how it might have turned out differently. New Jersey, in the spring, also hosts the Steampunk World’s Fair. Perhaps we have more pressures to escape here in the Garden State. Imagination is certainly in no short supply. I attended the International Steampunk City last year and decided that I’d like to be a part of it. Knowing a thing or two about ancient technology, I thought I might share a bit with the Steampunk crowd. What is Steampunk without tech? Some ancient technology, although not very well known, is perhaps of even greater influence than we might imagine.
One of the connections that is easily misplaced in this era of purely scientific advance, is that technology was devised in the service of religion. At least in the early days. The greatest architectural achievements came under the aegis of temple building. Domes, arches, and eventually flying buttresses that could hold tons of stone high over your head—these were to please the gods. We can’t imagine Stonehenge as anything other than a capitalist venture these days, a way of drawing in the money. Of course, ancient builders knew of the financial benefits as well; temples were often the equivalent of ancient banks. Still, beneath all the pride of accomplishment there was the belief that the gods were somehow pleased with our innovation. Perhaps we’ve just done away with the convenient myth. Steampunk often has a religious underpinning. Many of the stories I’ve read touch on our ancient mythologies. Only, in fantasy, there are different possible permutations.
We sometimes think that technology is a modern phenomenon. Actually, it is quite ancient, as far as human culture goes. The first “computer” was invented around about the first century. Since it didn’t have an obvious benefit to the control of the masses, however, no technological revolution took place. The steam engine was, in nascent stages, invented also in ancient times. Until we learned, however, that it could be enslaved to make certain industrialists rich, we had no need for it beyond a diverting toy. Technology does not take hold without a deeper purpose. Every now and again I get a little paranoid knowing that I carry a telephone that knows my exact location at all times. As if I were important enough for anyone to care. Then the feeling passes and I open my iBooks app and turn to my latest Steampunk novel. I am a slave. I wonder what innovations there will be at International Steampunk City this year that might change the world. Only the imagination will limit the possibilities.