//What is Steampunk ?

What is Steampunk ?

What is Steampunk ?

what is steampunk

Steampunk is a literary genre, or least a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction or rebellion against parts of it (the punk). 

The line between steampunk and period Victorian is narrow and smudged leaving much open to interpretation. In a nutshell it is the appropriation of futuristic technology, gizmos and gadgets assembled into elegant 19th century attire, but also encompasses retro-futuristic styling, technology, philosophy and scientific theory in literature, movies, lifestyle, home decor, recreation (conventions and roleplaying) and philosophical outlook. It’s all about mixing old and new: fusing the usability of modern technology with the design aesthetic and philosophy of the Victorian age. Or as US young fiction author Caitlin Kittredge put it: “It’s sort of Victorian-industrial, but with more whimsy and fewer orphans…”
For example, steampunk stories may:
  • Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);
  • Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);
  • Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);
  • Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens or
  • Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).
People from the Victorian era imagined all sorts of modern technology such as submarines, space travel and aircrafts. Yet their fantasies looked very different from how these technologies have developed in reality.
The emphasis on steam references a world that may have been completely built on steam power. It is this idea of reimagining the present or future as the Victorians would have – often with a dystopian mindset – that is at the core of steampunk.
Many subcultures such as Goth, neo-Victorian, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic and some fandoms identify with elements of steampunk. As a result it can also be thought of as a super-culture as opposed to a mere sub-culture.

History of Steampunk

history of steampunk

history of steampunk

The term “steampunk” was first coined in 1987 by author Kevin Jeter as a cheeky reference to the then prevalent term, cyberpunk. He used the term Steampunk to describe a set of stories by Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates), James Blayloc (Homunculus) and himself (Morlock Night) all which were set in the Victorian era with speculative technologies.
Historically, the 19th century saw the development of industrialization through mechanized manufacturing, extensive urbanization, telecommunications and mass-transit. Steampunk uses this existing technology and structure to imagine an even more advanced 19th century. Complete with Victorian-inspired wonders like steam-powered aircraft and mechanical computers.
The Difference Engine, a 1990 historical sci-fi novel by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, is often described as the foundation for modern steampunk. Yet, there are plenty of earlier inspirations such as the work of 19th century French illustrator Albert Robida, Victorian sci-fi films like Time After Time (1979), and various Victorian pastiche novels written in the 1970s and ’80s, such as K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices.
By the late 2000s, the genre had entered mainstream entertainment through movies like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. As steampunk literature grew in popularity among sci-fi and fantasy fans, steampunk fashion and music flourished on the goth and cabaret scene, encouraged by bands like Abney Park.

Steampunk Fashion

steampunk fashion

steampunk fashion

Being incredibly stylish is Steampunk’s biggest claim to fame, and why the subculture has become so popular.
The basic rule of thumb for steampunk is start period and then accessorize. This means dress in Victorian gowns, corsets, petticoats, suits with vests, coats, hats, and military-inspired garments. Fortunately there is lots of documentation from this era that you can emulate.
Once you’ve completed your Victorian look it’s time to add the technology! High tech goggles, a bionic limb, and a modified mobile phone all make fine editions for a steampunk outfit. Technological or period accessories such as timepieces, parasols, travel goggles, ray guns and modified technologies make great accents.
The two key items for a steampunk costume is the use of the gear and goggles. The gear represents the machinery it enables; an ode to technology and its capabilities. The goggles reference steampunk’s fascination with travel; air travels, submarines and motor vehicles all need goggles.


Popular Steampunk Social Events



A number of popular steampunk conventions have sprung up the world over. Names like Steamcon, the Steampunk World’s Fair, and Up in the Aether: The Steampunk Convention have become meeting grounds for the most dedicated in the genre. The Steampunk World’s Fair is the largest festival in America while the largest European event is called Weekend at the Asylum.

The largest followings reside in North America and Europe although there are exuberant smaller communities dotted all over the globe. An unsuspecting town in New Zealand named Oamaru is testament to that. With a population of only 13,000 they have taken full ownership of the genre and run annual steampunk festivals.

The famous San Diego Comic-Con has informally dubbed Saturday as steampunk day. It culminates with a photo shoot for the local press and in 2010 this was recorded as the world’s largest steampunk photo-shoot in The Guiness Book of World Records.

There are also a plethora of steampunk role-play games available on the Internet. One of the most popular is called Clockwork. This is set in a post-apocalyptic world atop a floating island, as earth is no longer inhabitable.


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What is Steampunk
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What is Steampunk
What is Steampunk - A brief history of Steampunk and its various branches
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Steampunk Accessories