Introduction to Steampunk
What is Steampunk?
If you type this question into an internet search you will get the often quoted Wikipedia answer: It’s a genre which originated during the 1980s and early 1990s, incorporating elements of science fiction, fantasy and horror, involving a setting where steam power is heavily used.
If you ask a real live steampunk, you’ll get a heck of a lot more than that. For a lot of people steampunk has different, complex meanings. It is so much more than “Victorian science fiction”. It is:
A life style.
A way of thinking.
A creative outlet.
A fashion statement.
There are so many elements to steampunk, and it means something different to everyone. Some steampunks may read this article and shake their head disparagingly, but I can only do my very best to explain the bare bones of it, and what it means to me.
To my knowledge, steampunk finds its origins in literature. Although there are many early works that fit the genre (or started it, rather) the term “steampunk” wasn’t used until the 1980s, when it was coined by the science fiction author K.W Jeter in a letter to the science fiction magazine, Locus.
H.G Wells and Jules Verne:
Two of steampunks oft hailed heroes.
Wells wrote about humans and their society. He seemed to have the ability to paint a picture of technology’s effect on the world.
Best Known Works: The Time Machine, War of the Worlds
Verne is often called the father of science fiction. His works focus on adventure and scientific innovation. Many people also believe that Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is the reason steampunk has adopted the octopus as the unofficial mascot.
Best Known Works: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth
So I would conclude that it’s safe to say steampunk was born out of literature. Gail Carriger first introduced me, personally, sucking me into her world of supernatural creatures and steam driven machines. Then I saw what steampunks were wearing and it was hook, line and sinker. Speaking of which….
Now that we all know what steampunk is, I’m going to dwell on one of my favorite aspects. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Some steampunks lean towards steam:
Some prefer punk:
Then there are those who create a “steamsona” a steampunk persona. Complete with name and background. They dress up as this person. For some it’s a hobby, a way of escaping and being whoever they want to be. Then there are the “mad inventors” who are just that, inventors. The tinkerers who take scraps and create machines that run on steam. They dress the part and most of their gear is functional. For some it’s a hobby, for others it’s a way of life. There is no wrong way to do steampunk.
Elitism in Steampunk:
Speaking of which…
Though most steampunks are warm and welcoming, I’ve stumbled across a few who have their nose firmly fixed in the air. Those who sneer at others for wearing goggles because they’re “overdone” or point out haughtily that bustle skirts were never so short. If you’re new to steampunk please, I beg you to ignore the naysayers. Perhaps they didn’t get their morning tea. The beauty of steampunk is that you can go as steamy or as punky as you please. Throw historical accuracy to the wind! So your bustle is too short! So what? Do the naysayers really think they had clockwork grenades or steam powered ray guns? Tell them to push off and do a historical reenactment somewhere!
Steampunk is about turning your back on the rules. Why should anyone get to make a new set of rules and try to force them on fellow steampunks?
For some, this is about more than just fashion. It’s a rebellion against authority. Hence the “punk” part. Unlike Cyberpunk, the rebellion in steampunk needn’t be aggressive. Remember, punks or not, we still have impeccable manners! Steampunk rebellion can be as subtle as a young woman going against the stringent 19th century rules. Today, we can challenge social order. Ignore what society dictates and blaze our own trails.
One thing I keep hearing over and over is the concern that steampunk is becoming more and more popular. Mainstream even. This alarms some people, and I admit that even I was a little repulsed by a recent photo shoot with America’s Next Top Model. Though the clothes and sets were lovely, I abhor everything that show stands for. However, instead of stressing, I encourage you to ride the wave, enjoy the extra attention. It won’t last. But just think of it this way, you get new shiny movies, more options for creating and buying, more hits on your blog and more interest in your book (or whatever it is you create). Personally I can’t see a lot of people walking around wearing steampunk. It takes guts to walk around all gussied up in a corset, top hat and walking cane. People stare, and sometimes not in a good way. I can’t see your average, Jersey Shore-loving teen girl strolling about in steampunk gear. It just isn’t happening. And although the rise in popularity is just beginning, it won’t last long. The world will jump on the next band wagon, and it won’t be steam powered this time.
Stay steamy, my friends!
Erin Latimer, the Steampunkette!