Back to Which Future?

I am amazed at what sort of wheels tick in the minds of authors, and even more amazed at what catches on and spins off into the highway of popularity. Readers and fans embrace the well trodden roads, but I am the sort of reader/author who seeks out the hub. Inquiring minds want to know where exactly do these ideas come from?

For instance, where did the metal pendulum of steampunk derive? From trains and gears and goggles, I’m assuming Leonardo di Vinci’s genius was an inspiration. His remarkable talent of visualizing a future world with inventions no one thought possible was late in taking hold. But indeed were he alive today I think he’d be flattered. His imagination became the light bulb of the future.

So what sort of “punk” lies ahead for us when steampunk has fizzled from the scene? Have we explored all that technology has to offer in the world of literature? Is there a vision of the future yet to come? Or is it time to revert back to the past when man was only beginning to evolve?

In Joe Abercrombie’s The Shattered Seas series, our heroes take a spine-chilling voyage through ancient ruins, ruins that suggest the now-abandoned city they explore once harbored modern technology. A back-to-the-future sort of experience. It’s a brief scene and even briefer mention that the people of that world-gone-by destroyed themselves with the same inventions we use today.

Pause for thought.

So what original concepts are budding in the minds of authors? The old new? Here is one I came across recently. Wood punk. Of course, tools made from wood are as old as mankind, but best-selling author S.A. Gibson uses these invention in his dystopia novels as a unique and necessary option.

Drawing by David Steele for S.A. Gibson’s A Dangerous Way

“Post-apocalyptic wood punk has become the setting for all my stories. I describe wood punk as fiction set in a time that does not have technology more advanced than those techs that were developed involving the use of wooden tools, equipment and structures. I choose this time because of how we humans have existed most of our time on this planet. From the beginning of using tools, humans found use for wooden implements. Clubs, bows and arrows, staffs, wagons, wheels, and thousands of other tools made from wooden products. A wood-punk story can be set in the future or the past. All my stories, are set in an alternate future about 100 years in the future. In backstories, I explain that terrorist attacks with deadly viruses in gasoline lead to the collapse of civilization, returning us into this wood punk future.”

Whether or not wood-punk will catch on at the magnitude that steampunk did has is yet to be seen. And whether or not mankind will once again depend on the use of a more primitive means of existence is a question for science fiction writers to ponder.

S.A. Gibson says that “the wood punk world is one where old methods of production are used, animal husbandry, woodworking, forest craft, ship building, and glassblowing. Attached is a drawing of Henrietta holding her kid. Simple farming must sustain the people. This scene was drawn by David Steele, artist, for my book A Dangerous Way. I consider it (wood punk) derived from the sensibilities behind the original steampunk definitions. There is the primitive level of technology, with an advanced veneer. In my case, because it is a short time in our future, advanced knowledge is available. Science, philosophy, military science, astronomy, linguistics, sociological understanding. So, while I want to stick to realism in the technology and human behaviors, people’s knowledge and actions based on that knowledge can be advanced and sophisticated. Here is an excerpt, from Feeling a Way, the first volume in the After the Collapse series.”

Rachel spreads the paper on the table. “Well, it looks simple enough.” She picks up tongs. “I will do it now.”

“Thank you.” The fire sparks up as Rachel extends a rod of glass. Down to work without another word. Lucia watches Rachel, mesmerized at the twirling. The glassblower forms something on a long metal tube.
“I have never seen such good-looking glasses,” the slave says.

“Yes.” Her head is down, she doesn’t glance up at Lucia. “These are over a hundred years old.” Rachel quickly taps the lenses with a finger. “The frames have been remade over and over. Last time, just a few months ago by a wire worker I know.” Rachel moves the rod, ignoring most of Lucia’s babbling. Intent. Never looking up. She asks the guru’s emissary, “Are the fighters coming back to attack us again?”

Lucia can’t know the answer. “No.” Lip licking again. “The guru has an agreement with the town now. I’ve delivered that message.”

“Good.” Sparks fly. “This town has enough problems. Now warriors attacking.”

Chastened, Lucia stares as liquid takes shape at the tube’s end. To the fire it goes. Then out. Then shaping. Then back to fire. Over and over it dips.

“How did you learn this?”

Rachel taps a dimple at one end. “My mother.” She finally looks at Lucia. Just the once. “What’s this cup for?”
“The guru uses it for a religious ritual.” At that unguarded answer, Lucia fears the next question.

Rachel nods to the sheet Lucia delivered. “This sketch seems a copy.” A second look at Lucia. Then down again to the delicate work.

The glassblower has turned away. Lucia’s glad. Rachel can’t see the red embarrassment that paints her face. “He smashed the last one.” There. It’s out.


“Valmiki got angry—at someone.” A small streak of sweat runs down her spine. Lucia hadn’t asked to tell this. “He threw it across the room.”

Rachel holds the glowing vessel near for Lucia. “How’s this?”

Just like a cup! But still joined to the metal rod.

Lucia feels the heat as she steps up to view it. “Almost perfect.” She remembers the sketch, and the real one.



“A little lip. Out,” she suggests, “All the way around.”

The craftswoman dips, then runs her metal tool around the edge. “Okay?”

Lucia reaches out. Rachel hands her a thick cloth. “Yes.” The glassblower nods to a crossbeam. And Lucia moves to hold the cloth below it there. Rachel lowers her tube. Taps it once and the cup drops into the cloth.

For more discourse on punk tropes (which does not include wood punk) here is an excellent article from TV Tropes.




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