Steampunk

Since Gay was asking what steampunk is, I thought I’d take a quick moment to discuss it.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction or fantasy. Usually the setting is the late 19th century, so there’s a Victorian fashion sense to everything. The basic premise is that steam power and clockwork arose as the primary form of technology. Imagine if the science imagined by Jules Verne and Mary Shelley didn’t just work, but became commonplace. Or if Nikola Tesla’s theories had panned out instead of Edison’s, and Charles Babbage had been able to build a computer in his lifetime instead of just dreaming about it. Their Industrial Revolution would look completely different from ours.

It’s completely anachronistic, but that’s part of the fun.

In the fantasy version it’s pretty much the same thing, but with some magical element allowing the technology to work. The story I have in 10Flash coming out next month is steampunk with a very subtle magic element.

A few examples if you want a crash course – check out The Prestige, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (preferrably the comic book). Kurt Busiek’s Arrowsmith is a great example of magic steampunk. There are various anime movies that are heavily influenced by the genre as well. Actually, Pixar’s Up has a few steampunk elements, but that might be better categorized as retro-futurism.

There’s a whole steampunk sub-culture that could probably explain it better than I can. A quick google image search on “steampunk” turns up a ton of stuff that enthusiasts have hand-built.

To be honest I haven’t read a whole lot of steampunk (I didn’t care for Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which is supposed to be the first big steampunk novel). But I love the aesthetic, as well as the alternate Earth/history aspects.

If anyone else has any ideas or suggestions for steampunk or recommendations, feel free to chip in.

11 thoughts on “Steampunk”

  1. Thanks for the explanation of Steam Punk. Being a lover of HGWells, especially The Time Machine, I think I get it. What if the TM had worked? Is that it? So 406 words yesterday and today I have your prompts so it’s all gogogo.

  2. Sure. The Time Machine is a good example of a story existing before its own genre was really invented.

    When I get a chance I can work on putting this up on FFC. I’d probably want to delve into a little more detail, convention and what not.

  3. Just reporting in. Didn’t use any of your prompts yet but wrote a brand spanking new 670 word piece and cut it down to 470. I like it and I’m sending it out tomorrow. Thank YOU Alex!!!!!

  4. Wells called his novels “science romances”. “Romance” meaning a big, exciting, dramatic story.

  5. The Prestige was a good example, Alex. The movie version of Wild, Wild West had a steam-punk quality to it, too.

    I’ve got a couple of ideas for stories — I’m calling them “steamed” punk, for want of a better idea — that carry the whole steam-punk concept all the way through into the mid to late twentieth century.

    BTW, SteamCon 1 is scheduled for early October here in Seattle. I’m recruiting punkers to go in costume as a themed group. So far, there are five of us. Anyone interested, send me an e-mail.

  6. One of the aspects of steampunk that is often neglected is the “punk”. I think it might have gotten the “punk” label simply because a lot of the early authors working on it (namely Gibson and KW Jeter) carried credentials from “cyberpunk”, where the themes of anarchism are much more evident. There’s not much of this in the literary scene, where steampunk is basically retro scifi, but if you dig into it, you can find weird anarchist affiliations. Steampunk magazine (http://www.steampunkmagazine.com/) has a lot of this. It’s just bizarre that it would be affiliated with the Victorian era, which was basically repressive and conformist.
    Of course, to most people, steampunk is just gadgets with lots of gears, and people wearing vests and pocket watches and monocles. And that is totally fine. In fact, that is preferable. I’d rather it be stripped of the political angle, which often comes across as asinine and half-baked.
    To split hairs, though, I wouldn’t call “The Prestige” steampunk. It’s a fantasy, or historical fantasy, if you will. It’s not really steampunk – it’s not Victorian, and there aren’t gears, and the machine is a plot device, but not the point of the show. The “scientific” aspects are minimal and might as well be magical, as their effects are impossible and not extrapolated from the technology of the time. Steampunk really revels in the technological part; it’s a combination of the setting plus the science. But, yeah, “Wild Wild West”, was definitely steampunk. Which is too bad, as its failure means steampunk probably won’t be in movies for a while.
    (You could actually put WWW in the “Weird West” subgenre, but that might be pushing it.)

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