What Exactly is Steampunk?

Someone asked me to explain What, exactly, is Steampunk? And I thought, “Now *here’s* a can of worms.”

So I wrote this incredibly convoluted and parenthesis-filled explanation back. And I am including it here for you in case you wanted to know. Because I can totally dispense definitions of things in which I am not an expert! ..No I can’t. But I can sure as heck write a bunch of words with parentheses scattered amidst them!

Steampunk is a genre that has evolved over time to mean a lot of different things. In the past, I believe it was most strongly represented in literature, such as the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells: science fiction as envisioned by people of the Victorian and Edwardian era, populated by characters who spoke like people from the authors’ time period, but who had more impressive technology. Technology which often would have been impractical or infeasible as examined in the hindsight we can enjoy in the 21st century.

Modern steampunk has diversified quite a bit, particularly by making strong appearances in fashion (or subculture fashion), anime (Read Or Die, Black Butler..), and movies (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Wild Wild West..). Generally, it’s in the form of clothing/architecture/styling/piece of tech with features/amenities (such as laptop computers or unusual synthetic fabric blends) far too advanced to have belonged to the Victorian era, yet decked out in a style conducive to Victorian sensibilities (brass tones, mahogany, steel-boning, none of this comparatively cheap/flimsy-looking white plastic Apple-stamped or clunky matte black IBM computers with garish Windows logo stickers business. I say this not because I actually think these computers are cheap, but they definitely have a mass-produced look that was unheard of in the Victorian era.)

Some in the steampunk community have seized particularly upon the steampunk style as a rebellion again the Mass-Production era of today, and as a mode through which to embrace the DIY movement.

So no, let’s try to be careful about What Exactly is Steampunk because the moment you try to give an exact definition beyond Scifi with NeoVictorian sensibilities, or just Geekery with NeoVictorian sensibilities, you’re liable to have a ridiculous number of people jumping down your throat because you excluded them from the community with your overly narrow-minded definition.

That said, there are other people who say steampunk is like finding a super advanced ray gun, only it’s like 50 years old and dusty. It’s not just super-advanced technology, it’s super-advanced technology you find in an antique shop, or at Grandma’s garage sale. Futuristic history.


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