Blog Post: August 18, 2020

      What the  &*%@  is Steampunk, anyway?

      Recently I was asked in an interview What is Steampunk? Perhaps the most reasonable question to ask a new author with a published Steampunk novel, particularly because it is a fringe genre, a genre within a genre within a genre, seemingly worshiped by a few select geeks.
      To answer the question in a simple manner, Steampunk is science fiction that takes place in the past. Typically Victorian England or the United States in the late 1800s. And because it is science fiction, it includes technologies not available in the late 1800s, often incorporating things as outlandish as time travel and submarines. Everything is driven by steam engines, hence the name Steampunk. H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are considered the grandfathers of the genre.
      True aficionados of the genre may correct me and say that anything that happens in America or incorporates electric technologies alongside steam power is an Edison Nod, but that is neither here nor there.
      Steampunk literature typically revolves around themes of independence, corruption, and rebellion. Stories often include something fantastical like zombies or werewolves; they always utilize settings draped in rich fashion, ornate architecture, and outlandish machinery made from gears and levers and clockwork pieces.
      My answer in the interview was rambling; perhaps even more rambling than my ‘simple’ explanation thus far. In the interview I employed a trick I used in college on essay questions: Just keep writing and writing until your time is up and the answer is bound to be in there somewhere. If you are really not sure of the correct answer, feel free to directly contradict yourself farther down the paper.
      I do remember that I did Steampunk justice in the interview by saying it is more than a literary sub-genre; it is an aesthetic. By that I mean that many people love Steampunk just for the cosplay. They could not care less about the books and comics, story-lines and films. For them it’s all about the costumes. Dressing up in the clothing of Victorian England and adding goggles and gears and gadgets allows for some invigorating dialog and play acting.
      Perhaps labeling Steampunk an aesthetic is an excellent ending point. Because it is all about perspective. It is a way of looking at the world: what it once was and what it might have been. If only things had been a little different two hundred years ago, the American Wild West or Queen Victoria’s London might have evolved in a way we would not recognize. It would have Looked very different with steam-powered automatons, mechanized beasts, or zeppelins waging war over urban landscapes wrapped up in train tracks like jungle vines.
      Steampunk is an active engagement of the imagination. What do we believe the world Could have looked like? If things were different and humanity had not switched from the steam engine to the combustion engine so quickly, or if the steam engine had come of age just a bit earlier in our evolution. In reality, Steampunk does not care Why the world might have looked different; it only cares that it did. But it is fun to ask the question Why; for some of us, it leads us to What the world would have looked like. And after all, it is all about the aesthetic.

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