The technology of a post-steampunk world

Hi, I posted here a year ago, and RL issues came up big time. I'm not out of it yet, but I've actually been doing some reading for the story ideas I posted on, and having done that, I realize that the story: Defender of the Reich is my baby and not the story I want to take out for the first time. I have opted, as of now, to focus not on the end of World War II, but it's beginning. It's a story involving my main character Becker, but have the advantages of having a much simpler structure (ie Germany starts the war and then overruns Poland and France by December), and since eight months of 1939 are in peace, I can better create the world and flesh it out. I'm calling it 'The Corridor' after the Polish Corridor which is the reason behind the conflict.

Now, any help I can get I'd appreciate. Here I need help on the technology. It's a post-steampunk universe, but I can't make it too steampunk. The reason is simple: I want the military hardware to be plausibly 30s and 40s and more importantly, if the tech of the steampunk is too advanced (with powerful analog computers for example) the atomic bomb could be an issue BEFORE WWII, not at it's end. If the nukes come up before 1945, the story is for nothing. As a caveat I would also like an energy shield apparatus to be developed in the mid 50s, making it possible to defend cities from atomic attack, making the Cold War something that need not end civilization.

My take is to have all the available tech from the steampunk era that would not make nukes possible faster or make a WWI with massive amounts of tanks. If I could I'd like to have Red Alert techs as possible techs. I keep having visions of machines that cause the area around them to be drenched in rain, which precludes air support and gives the defenders advantage. Tesla had a theoretical anti-aircraft ray capable of frying planes at 200? km, but I don't know what it was called. I don't want anything too outlandish (no ray guns, no anti-gravity guns, and as much fun as it would be, the Portal Gun from Portal is just beyond 20th century science.)

Basically I want a World War II that has cutting edge tech in it, but still fundamentally smacks of real World War II. I say this with caution as this WWII has women in combat on all sides but the American and Japanese. Any help is appreciated, and I am serious now as I have what I feel is an attainable goal.


  • csw, I think that you could find other reasons for there not being atomic weapons (or power) rather than simply the technology not reaching that level until later. There have been numerous discussions of why technology is sometimes not developed or not until many years, decades, after it was first created, you could have had steam aeroplanes and fax machines in 1860s, fan powered boats in the 1900s and video recorders in 1930s if people had decided to put time and money into those technologies but they did not or not until much later.

    One direction for a narrative explanation for no atomic bombs I would point to Episode 4 of Season 1 of the series 'Sliders', called 'Last Days'. In the alternative world no atomic bomb had been developed as Einstein had stated that there was insufficient fissionable material on Earth to make it work. This was done on ethical grounds once he realised the damage such a bomb could do, but he made it appear a technical issue. Anyway very large rockets carrying sizeable conventional warheads were developed instead. In the episode a scientist from our world shows the people in the alternate one how to concentrate the reaction in the bomb so it can be used to destroy an asteroid heading towards Earth.

    Another reason why atomic bombs may not have developed is if in the 1920s and 1930s rather than moving away from gas and other chemical weapons or biological weapons these had taken off. Remember the concerns in 1940 the British had about Nazi Germany using gas weapons and issued everyone with gas masks which actually did not get used. I could envisage Zeppelins dropping huge incendiary bombs to create fire storms in a city. We know during the Cold War in our world the USSR had chemical weapons that were not used.

    In terms of women in combat, the Nazis with their 'three Ks' atttitude to women: Children, Church and Kitchen, did not mobilise women into factories let alone to fight. The British and Americans did have women in auxiliary military roles and in factories, it is the Soviets who most involved women. Even before the Bolsheviks came to power there had been female military units in Russia, notably defending one of the palaces from revolutionaries. I have seen interviews with a tank major who fought at the Battle of Kursk and so on. To some degree you needed a society, like the Communist one, that superficially saw everyone as equal and so saw no reason for women not to fight. From later in history, Israel, China and Vietnam are other examples. The UK and USA did not see things in this light and the Fascist states and Nazi Germany were even more stridently anti-feminist.

    I would suggest using a different name to 'Becker'. I wrote a series of crime stories set in Munich in the 1920s featuring a character called Beckmann and then found out that there had been a whole slew of British, German and Swedish crime stories with people as well as artists called Beck or Becker or Beckmann in them. See my comment appended to this entry on my blog:
  • Rooksmoor,

    Your post was very helpful in putting my mind in different areas, but practically speaking I am still curious. At the risk of being gauche, I gotta know what the potential steampunk techs are then the diesel punk techs, and then perhaps why they weren't used in the first place. Analog computers I've stayed away from because without knowing how powerful they can be realistically, makes me thing the bomb shows up early. I need the A-bomb to be deployable in 1945, because in the story itself, the Germans need a way to credibly threaten the US mainland (they have the Horton bomber, albeit no more than 20 of them). After the story, the atomic bomb has it's usual function of being the sword of Damocles.

    The rain machine I may drop just because it isn't needed. The Germans having Tesla's 200 klick death ray would end the bombing campaign. But I'll figure this out as I go along. The tech is only secondary to the story. As is, I am probably over insuring the Germans because while I understand a little change at the beginning can be profound, I'm writing a story set up for a credible German second wind in 1945, a wind that can cope with the hurricane of Allied power.

    As for Becker, I'm sticking with that name. There's a reason; his family were NCOs for Prussia up till his father, who got onto the General Staff. The Becker's are caught between being proper Junkers and being fully middle class. Becker is under normal circumstances as classically liberal and bourgeois as you get, including his blindness to Hitler's evil. More than that Becker is a variant of Baker, it's a common name. You don't necessarily expect great things from a pedestrian pedigree, and in my story Becker's dangerousness is that even as he triumps hard against the Allies, the Nazis consider him Hitler's dog, as do the Allies, and for a long time, the German Resistance. And at the same time, for all that is wrong with Becker, he also shows what is right, and how Germany can emerge in the postwar with the stain of Nazism removed, without the need for defeat or occupation.

    At least that's what I'm aiming for.
  • Well for a German A-bomb by 1945 you need to follow the path of Stephen Fry's 'Making History' and have the Germans not purge Jewish scientists. Pulling off the deal they tried with the Swedes would also help, i.e. to get heavy water, plus foiling the heroes of Telemark would also be necessary.

    I studied in Germany and actually lived with a Beckmann family and funnily enough the father was really a baker but had had to retire early due to breathing difficulties from all the flour. You can call the man Becker, though you may find it really difficult if you want anyone to search for your story online. I would suggest 'Bauer' to get the same kind of feel, but I fear it has been exhausted by 24. How about Brauer or Biermann (from brewer) or Burger (which can simply mean 'citizen') but would probably seem comical to US readers. If you were willing to move from 'B', I would suggest Decker or the variant Daecher meaning roofer or Dreher for wood turner, all artisanal names.

    The thing is there is not necessarily a clear evolution from steampunk to dieselpunk. The nature of the technology and basis on which it was founded would mean no need to move to the other. If you look at railway transport in the 1960s Britain had steam trains, most of Europe had diesel trains and Germany had some electric trains since the early 20th century, even a monorail system in Wuppertal. Sometimes these things are parallel and in competition rather than evolutionary.

    Everyone has their own version of steampunk technology. If you look at 'Steamboy' you have intense steam which is something that never existed and a lot of steampunk fashion has systems that could not have existed especially in terms of ray weaponry. In my steampunk I always use things that were invented but never caught on or I introduce them 20-50 years earlier than in reality. I never have rays or elements which do not exist. So the extent of what steampunk technology in my stories can do differs greatly from that in other people's stories. There is no agreed history of steampunk technology. 'Queen Victoria's Bomb' by Ronald W. Clark has an atomic bomb being used in the Crimean War. It is detonated by two unmanned steamtrains heading towards each other. This can be seen as steampunk, but for many of us an atomic bomb seems to jar with that genre.

    I think that however Germany was defeated there would have been occupation. Even when they surrendered in 1918 without any foreign troops on their soil and in control of the Baltic States, Belarus, Poland, the Ukraine, etc., they still had to have occupation by French, Belgian, British and in theory American forces. This was meant to go up to the 1930s. For various reasons it ended sooner. In addition, the Soviets wanted to rip all they could out of Germany. The French had felt this in 1918 but had learned their lesson. However, even the Americans flirted with the Morgenthau Plan. It was only really the Cold War which led to the chains being taken off Germany much sooner, without that fact it would have been kept under tight control even longer.

    Becker sounds a bit like Adenauer who was seen as a little too friendly to the Nazis, but still was able to be a successful/popular West German Chancellor. His family would have to be higher than NCOs if he was ever going to get on the General Staff. However, there was still a long way between an Oberleutnant and an Oberst, but maybe some act of heroism in the First World War attracted attention.

    I think your scenario would need a coup against Hitler before 1943 and his replacement by a military leadership who would have a negotiated peace. The generals were ready to overthrow Hitler in 1938 if things had gone badly over Czechoslovakia. I imagine a poor record in Poland or France or getting bogged down fighting some credible British expeditionary force in Norway might have given them the excuse to bring him down.
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