Naked Steampunk? No Sweat!

Fellow naturist fiction writer and site-contributor P. Z. Walker modestly speculates that his recent novel, SkyGhost, “might be the first naturist steampunk novel ever.” I’m more than willing to assume that Paul (P. Z.) is correct, and it’s a wonderful read.

What is steampunk? The Wikipedia definition states that “Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that incorporates retrofuturistic technology and aesthetics inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the Victorian era or the American ‘Wild West’, where steam power remains in mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.”

“Steampunk-style composite apparatus.” Source.

It turns out that one of the very talented writers who helped define the steampunk genre is Tim Powers, an author who writes all kinds of works. Powers’ On Stranger Tides gave not only the title and a lot of the plot to the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, but also the overall “feel” to the worldbuilding of the entire franchise. Powers’ work was very influential to me in writing Skinners, so it was fun to find the connection to steampunk.

Also, it makes great sense when applied to Paul’s novel. Hillary Jones is captain of the steamship SkyGhost, with a crew who know the ropes, just like you would need on the open sea. A pirate character is mentioned (sequel?), but Hillary’s nemesis is the Lord Marshal, aka the Lord Bastard, who rules Hillary’s home city. This tyrant has taken hostages from the families of Hillary and his crew so that they are forced to do his bidding. Fortunately, on their time off-duty, Hillary, with his wife Annie, his co-captain Jezebel, and all the rest of the crew, can return to their home island to plot the rescue of their families. On their tropical island, no one wears clothes.

In fact, much to the vexation of the Lord Bastard, no one wears clothes aboard the SkyGhost, either. Captain Jones – nothing if not calm, cool and collected – explains that nudity is best for proper operation of the ship and for the comfort of all the crew. This is especially the case for Roberta and Aaron, stationed down in the ship’s steam room. They wear only goggles, and aprons when needed to protect themselves from the boilers, and even so they sweat like no one’s business. After all, it wouldn’t be steampunk without all that steam! But they bathe regularly and keep themselves clean, unlike some of the SkyGhost guests who grow progressively stinkier in their refusal to doff their duds.

At one point, the SkyGhost is indeed forced to take on some reluctant passengers, not all of whom adapt to the “barbaric” and “savage” nudity. By the end of the book, our heroes have made some new allies who, likewise, are only able to adjust to nudity with varying degrees of success. In the final showdown with the Lord Bastard, amid ray guns and a ray cannon and ball-shaped tanks of doom, the attentive reader will observe many ways in which nudity is indeed beneficial to Captain Jones and his team (no spoilers!).

Ultimately, Paul’s steampunk novel achieves what naturist fiction does at its finest. It illuminates for the reader not only the very evident, everyday benefits of naturism, but also the sometimes surprising ways in which naked living can improve or enhance the unexpected. In SkyGhost, the unexpected is anything from Roberta’s operating efficiency down in the steam room, for example, to the self-confidence of a woman named Albertina who, finding the courage to leave her clothes behind, becomes able to break through her trauma, reinvent herself with the new name Alba, and set out with a vengeance to overthrow the tyrant.

Something makes me think it’s not the last we’ll see of Alba, Hillary, Jezebel, Roberta and the rest of the crew. All aboard for the next voyage of the SkyGhost!

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