Steampunk

By Maeve Maddox

My introduction to the term steampunk came when I read what I thought was a mystery with a historical setting and came to the part where Queen Victoria was hooked up to a steam-powered life-support machine. You’d better believe that I flipped frantically to the back cover to find a clue to what I was actually reading. There I discovered the word steampunk.

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction. The setting is often 19th century England or the American Wild West; there the characters encounter amazing steam-powered machinery.

According to Wikipedia, the word steampunk originated in the late 1980s “as a tongue-in- cheek variant of cyberpunk.”

Yes, I had to look up the meaning of cyberpunk:

a subgenre of science fiction typified by a bleak, high-tech setting in which a lawless subculture exists within an oppressive society dominated by computer technology.

Sci-fi author K.W. Jeter coined the term “steam-punk” for sci-fi that resembled the speculative fiction written in the 19th century by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The genre now includes settings beyond recognizable historical periods, but in dialogue and costuming, the feel is still “Victorian.” On the screen, Wild Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the two Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies are typical of the steampunk genre.

The literary genre has spawned a subculture called “the steampunk lifestyle” which blends Victorian design and clothing with modern technology. Practitioners shop at second-hand stores, wear suspenders, vests, and corsets (outside their clothing). They carry pocket watches and disguise their cell phones and laptops as Victorian artifacts. The steampunk lifestyle seems to be a kind of genteel back-to-basics hybrid that embraces technology while rejecting consumerism.

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11 Responses to “Steampunk”

  • Fiona Ingram

    I really enjoy your tips and ask that you add more Share options so readers can tweet and add to Pinterest and other social sites.

  • Daquan Wright

    I am a big fan of anime/manga/gaming.

    My first encounter with steampunk….would be the movie called Steamboy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steamboy), which was directed by Otomo (who had previously directed the Akira movie (which focused more on a grim atmosphere and dark military secrets, which were buried even further by politiical agendas).

    I’m a super fan of Akira and Steamboy, and also Ghost in the Shell (the movie/series which holds the crown of “cyberpunk,” essentially a line blurring between man and machine).

  • Kelly

    Some of Hayao Miyazaki’s films are steampunk — Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind are the ones I’ve seen in this genre and they’re all very well done. I love everything I’ve seen by him (except perhaps Lupin III).

  • venqax

    I particularly admire the principled anti-consumerism. The Victorians made their own cell phones and laptops.

  • John

    “Wild Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the two Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies are typical of the steampunk genre.”
    Steampunk. Ok, I didn’t know this word and what it meant. So, I have now a new cool word by which I can label all that rubbish 🙂

  • dragonwielder

    One way I’ve heard steampunk described is as a “retro future” movement – sort of a reinterpretation of Victorian times & themes (including industry, traveling by airship or dirigible, etc.).
    A few “steampunkers” I’ve met go so far as to try talking like they’re from the late 1800s/early 1900s, or use steampunk-ish names and titles when “in gear” (in costume). I also have a friend who rides around on a penny-farthing when the weather is nice. It’s quite the subculture!

  • Dale A. Wood

    Oh, Dragonwielder: Maybe some of your friends can talk about “going to spend a penny”, if you know what that means.

  • dragonwielder

    DAW – It’s possible they can talk about it, although Google tells me that “spend a penny” is primarily a British phrase, and as most of my steampunk friends and acquaintances aren’t British they might not have heard of it. I’ll have to bring it up next time I see them. 🙂

  • venqax

    They would probably have to be British and into a different era unrelated to Victorians. The phrase originated around WW2.

  • Rich Wheeler

    So, how did punk get into cyberpunk?

  • AnWulf

    @Rich … the same way it got into steampunk.

    Cyberpunk: A subgenre of science fiction which focuses on computer or information technology and virtual reality.

    Likely rooted on a loose take of punk to mean “a movement rooted in rebelling against the established order”.

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