I know some of you are wondering, what in the heck is steampunk? Simply put, it’s Victorian-era science fiction, often inspired by the novels of Jules Verne. The graphic novel & movie, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is probably the most obvious example.
Wikipedia defines Steampunk as:
…a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely usedâ€”usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britainâ€”that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc.
Not all Steampunk technology runs on steam power, there are also ray guns, dirigibles, clockwork mechanisms and mechanical computers based on Charles Babbage’s designs.
I’ve been hearing about steampunk for a couple of years now, so I jumped at the chance to take Suzanne Lazear’s online class through the LARA Chapter and I’m learning a lot. Suzanne wrote a great steampunk post at Castles & Guns that will explain it better than I can.
Like steam itself, steampunk is impossible to contain. Authors are using their imaginations to add fantasy and paranormal elements, to re-write history, and to heat up the Victorian era with erotic tales. There is steampunk romance, steamypunk (erotica) and gaslamp romance (Victorian-era romance with steampunk or fantasy elements, but without elaborate worldbuilding). And it’s not just books and short stories, movies & videogames. There are steampunk RPG’s (role playing games), steampunk conventions, steampunk fashion, and steampunk sex toys. Some people have even steampunked their homes!
But why steampunk and why now? Some think it’s a reaction to our economic recession. In the foreword to Steampunk Tales Free, publisher John H. Sondericker III writes: “With many of us feeling the stresses and strains of a world economy in decline, the time is right for the resurgence of escapism into the magnificent and fantastic worlds of classic pulp.”
There’s a nostalgia about steampunk, a longing for an era when technology wasn’t just useful, but often elegantly designed and built to last. I grew up around antique cars since that was my dad’s hobby. Those old cars were beautiful, with tufted leather seats and brass headlamps. And who can resist the charm of a steam locomotive like the one used for the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies?
Personally, I’m looking forward to exploring this fascinating genre a little more. What about you?
Free The Princess: A practical literary guide to Steampunk and the Victorian Era
Article on Worldbuilding in Steampunk by author G. D. Falksen
Steampunk Emporium: Authentic Period Clothing for a Better Tomorrow
article in Boston Globe on Steampunk, Nov. 4, 2010
And last but not least, Lady Clankington’s Cabinet of Carnal Curiosities (This is a hoot, but may not be safe for work)