I know about writing styles, and I use some of them myself. The problem, in this particular instance is that I've been trying for some time to figure out the whole Steampunk setting as every GM/storyteller that I've seen seems to create their own interpretation out of whole cloth. Several people have told me that reading The Difference Engine pretty much answers all of the questions about what, exactly, a steampunk setting is like; in fact the quenticential definition of the whole setting. But, it states two desperate facts.
1. The Difference Engine is created in 1855, essencially bringing a 1940's erra computer to the world a century early. That's not a problem. I see it and it's cool. I can see how this may effect the world both in the second half of the 19th century and well into the 20th century. I'm not sure why advancement of power sources stopped with simple steam engines, but I can deal with it as simply a part of the setting.
2. The book takes place in 1855. Not 1885, but 1855. It's mentioned several times during the story and again, it's cool. the issue is in the paradox of having machines that can do what the early computers could BEFORE it's created in the setting that the story is taking place. Steam power makes perfect sense to me. Rather than simply being a tool for transportation, it's become a power source for everything in a world craving power. No big leap in that. It's the paradox of having something before it's created.
The other part that didn't make sense, and again, it's writers priogrative to do so, but sometimes, you just need it, is why the world changed before your own plot hook takes place to alter the universe.
An info dump is to be avoided, I agree. There are at least 4 other ways to pass on information in less distracting and helpful ways though. For example, why are there apparently thousands of american refugees... what are they a refugee from? A simple line, "From the crop failures" adds in the needed detail to make it make sense. Why the civil war started at least 15 years early...not so much. I've seen writers go to some lengths to make their worlds make sense; it helps with the suspension of disbelief that all writers strive for. Others simply don't bother and that's the way some stories go. But even a character driven story has to have a backdrop, a context and of all of the settings I've come across, Steampunk is the only one that fails on nearly all fronts.
Again, I can love an alternative history, timeline or universe. I've both written in and played in both... but the "Why" question should stand out a little.You don't need every detail of the world, but you do need a setting that holds up if a reader/player ask you, "Why?"
"Why did the fledging United States lose it's fight for independence?"
"Because it's poor leadership failed to take advantage of it's few lucky breaks." (Not far from the truth, actually)
"Why didn't oil become a power source?"
"Because the production of steam power became less costly than extraction and refinement of oil." Ok, that makes sense.
"If there was never a United States of America, how can there be a Confederates States of America?"
See how that little detail pops the bubble? If, as suggested in some alternate histories, the United States never existed, how can you have a set of states declaring independence from it? True, the Confederate States could of declared independence from England, Spain and France all at the same time, but the chances of it succeeding are even smaller than it's success against the US.
Anyway,thanks for the explanation. I'm glad someone offered a suggestion. I'm just confused by one setting, and wondered how others dealt with creating settings that take advantage of altered histories, timelines and universes. I've been playing with a possible group game on E that involves an altered timeline, but I'm concerned with trying to detail too much and avoiding paradoxes while providing a story with an obtainable goal. But simply saying "This is how it is and you don't need to know." bugs me as both a player and a GM. It's too much like telling a child, "Because I said so."
If any of that made sense. lol
Thanks for the names and titles, I'll have to see if I can get access to them. :)