Introduction to Steampunk

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?

Steampunk Ideology:

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.

Steampunk Today:

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!


  1. Thanks for mentioning the elitist point. I can afford some really expensive steampunk pieces, but lets be honest. I feel like shaking some of the the people who sniff at my thriftstore outift and say "I'm working off minimum wage in a coffee shop and have to pay for uni next year. I do not have enough money to pay for your completely vintage corset, madam, even if I really really want it." Some people things are good to invest in, like a sublime pair of boots, or yes, a nice corset, but for most things I'm busting open clocks and whipping out my glue gun.

  2. A well aired expose. I had worried about overexposure but you have settled my fears by reminding me that it is temporary.

  3. My dears, what a fantastic article! I would love to link this to my blog, Miss Cherries Orchard. Would that be acceptable?

    1. OH dear, I didn't see your comment until now. I feel horrible. Yes, please link away!

  4. I'd like to point out that steampunk could probably stretch a bit wider than the Victorian era, basically because the Victorian era is specifically the years in which queen Victoria ruled. Now, i of course am not sure, being relatively new to steampunk. Though maybe queen Victoria is an influence of steampunk?
    What do you think?

    1. There's been a lot of focus on Victorian style fashion and manners, but Edwardian period fashion and tech are equally applicable. But keep in mind "steam" is a tech level, not an era, nor even a location or continent. I've seen some amazing steampunk set in what would otherwise be feudal Japan.

    2. Ahh. That makes sense. thanks, and i love the blog!

  5. I am just learning about your steam punk I'm 54 year old man am I too late getting into this game I love the look of the women some of the guys are cool others well that's left to be desired so what if the others are stuck up I can do the same because I am a freemason and I can stick my nose up ato them as well I love bringing people like that down and giving them a taste of their own medicine so hopefully I can get something going on this but the problem is that I live in a very rural communitie and people here would not understand what steam punk is and it's hard to explain it to people here thanks for sharing