Welcome to the land that never was in an era that had never been looking forward to the future that never came.
Welcome, to steampunk.
1. What is steampunk?Steampunk is a retro-active subgenre of science fiction that incorporates elements of historical fiction, adventure, horror, speculative fiction, fantasy and alternative history. It exists as a hybrid genre that focuses on a re-imagining of the Industrial revolution when men and women create analog machines to achieve the fullest of human potential. Usually set in Victorian England during the mid- to late-1800’s or the American “Wild West” era, this genre incorporate the spirit of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in their setting and general mood as well as the new-found relationship between man and his machine.
Steampunk has since become an aesthetic movement, sparking off subcultures that focus on visual art, comics, music, clothing, accessories and “custom mods” where modern-day machinery and equipment are modified to appear gear-run and steam-powered. Numerous conventions and live-action role-playing groups have since sprung up all over the world to embrace this new old-world aesthetic.
Let’s face it, Steampunk is one of the newest… and oldest darling in town.
2. History of steampunk.The word “steampunk” was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Cyberpunk to reflect the technology of the Victorian fantasy era.
The word was coined by the author K.W. Jeter in 1987 as a way to describe the fictional works of Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, 1983); James Blaylock (Homunculus, 1986); and himself (Morlock Night, 1979, and Infernal Devices, 1987.) All of these authors based their work in the Victorian era and imitated the style and tone of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”. These authors are now known as the pioneers of modern steampunk. Jeter thought it would be the next big thing. He wasn’t mistaken.
However, they weren’t the first to experiment with the idea of alternative histories dealing with fantastical machines. Before the genre matured and had a name, several artists have experimented with the idea, creating landmark masterpieces such as Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and Mervyn Peake’s “Titus alone” (1959). On the small screen, TV shows such as “Wild Wild West” (1965-1969) anticipated many tropes that eventually became known as Steampunk. In fiction, the "A Nomad of the Time Streams" trilogy by Michael Moorcock, which began in 1971 with The Warlord of the Air, was also an influential precursor.
3. Associates of steampunk.As with many genres, sometimes they interact with each other with significant overlap. It’s easy enough to have some die-hard fans cry “That’s not steampunk!” So what are some of the associates of Steampunk that usually have people up in arms?
A. Clockpunk: The term was coined by the GURPS role-playing system and is similar to steampunk in that it portrays Renaissance-era science and technology based on pre-modern designs. The main difference is the heavier focus on clockwork and gears as the main mode of power generation instead of steam. Some would also state that Clockpunk focuses more on the Baroque and Renaissance aesthetic and lacks the sci-fi atmosphere of steampunk.
B. Dieselpunk: First coined in 2001, dieselpunk is an art style based on the aesthetics popular between World War I and the end of World War II. The style combines the artistic and genre influences of the period (including pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pin-ups.) Often seen as being more bleak and austere as compared to Steampunk.
C. Decopunk: A more recent subgenre that started around 2008, Decopunk is centered on the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styles, and based around the period between the 1920s and 1950s. In an interview, Steampunk author Sara M. Harvey commented: "Dieselpunk is a gritty version of Steampunk set in the 1920s-1950s. The big war eras, specifically. Decopunk is the sleek, shiny very Art Deco version; same time period, but everything is chrome!"
4. Landmarks and Signposts.What does one need to do to catch up to the Steampunk genre? Here are some good places to start:
A. In print: “The Difference Engine” , William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, 1990; “Infernal Devices”, K.W. Jeter, 1987; “Mortal Engines”, Philip Reeve, 2001; “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, 1999; “Steampunk” anthology, Ann and Jeff Van der Meer, 2008; “Extraordinary Engines” anthology, Nick Gevers, 2008.
B. Big Screen: “Wild Wild West” (1999), League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Sherlock Holmes (2009, 2011), Hellboy (2004, 2008), Steamboy (2004)
C. Small Screen: Dr. Who (1963- ), Murdoch Mysteries (2008- ), Tinman (2007- )
D. Music: Abney Park, Vernian Process, Steam powered Giraffe, Frenchy and the Punk, Voltaire
This is by far not the most comprehensive list. If you know of more, comment below!
5. Steampunk on dA.Art:
7. How do I get involved?Communities on dA:
Events and gatherings: the Steampunk World's Fair (Piscataway, NJ) , Up in the Aether: The Steampunk Convention (Dearborn, MI), San Diego Comic-Con International’s “Steampunk day”, Weekend at the Asylum(Lawn, Lincoln, UK), EuroSteamCon. Many renaissance fairs and anime/comic conventions also have time and space set out just for Steampunk and related topics.
1. Dieselpunk Encylopedia: dieselpunksencyclopedia.wordpr…
2. The Gate House (on-line steampunk and dieselpunk magazine): gatehouse.ottens.co.uk/
3. The Gate House Gazette: www.ottens.co.uk/gatehouse/gaz…
8: Readers' Suggestions!Thank you so very much for all of them! Keep them coming!
Fiction: "Clockwork Century" (series) by Cherie Priest, "Leviathan" series by Scott Westerfeld, "The Clocksmith" by Cody Brown (support a fellow deviant; first chapter here! fav.me/d41h1vm ), "Parasol Protectorate" (series) and "Finishing School" (series) by Gail Carringer, "Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences" series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Graphic Novels: "Gotham by Gaslight" by Mike Mignola, "Girl Genius" by Phil and Kaja Foglio, "Doctor Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory" by Greg Broadmore, "Tea Girls" and "Otto and Victoria" (series) by Brian Kesinger
Games: Dishonoured (2012), Bioshock (series), Machinarium (2009)
Music: The Cog is Dead, Soundtrack to Machinarium (2009) by Tomáš Dvořák
Events and Gatherings: Brass Confederacy in Port Townsend, WA; Rise of Aester (LARP group), Seattle www.riseofaester.com/ Steam Rats (LARP group), Seattle www.seattlesteamrats.com/
Here on dA: (also found here: www.steampunkitalia.com/ )
What does steampunk mean to you?
What’s your favourite part of steampunk?
Who are some must-see authors/artists/etc. that you recommend?
What are your local steampunk gatherings?
Did we miss anything? Comment below!