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.