What is Steampunk?

What is Steampunk? Updated 8/8/2011, 8/13/2011, 4/1/2012

That’s the idea that I’ve been wrestling with… as it seems to be different things to different people…

What is it as a genre – to publishers?

As I search the web for the way publishers define “Steampunk” I’ll post them here…

  • “Welcome to the world of clockwork pendants and steam locomotives, corsets and lace, dirigibles and difference engines. Yes, we’re talking about steampunk, where fantasy, history, technology and romance mix to create a glorious genre that looks at Victorian and Edwardian Era England and the American wild west through brass goggles. ” – Samhain Publishing
  • “While the steampunk genre has taken on all variety of different connotations we are looking for stories set in the victorian era. This means that you should think League of Extraordinary Gentleman or The Wild, Wild West and not the possible steampunk elements in the TV show Firefly. Stories can be from a global scale to a small localized event. A Vernian tale of exploration is highly welcomed. A touch of historical knowledge and technological wonderment will do you good. Gadgets and a new alternative history version will win out over an overthought victorian romance. With these examples in mind, give us your best and most unique stories within this genre.” – Library of the Living Dead Press
  • you can discover times and places only dreamt of in your wildest imagination: gadgets, gizmos and robots driven by aether and steam; angels, zombie soldiers and aliens walking through the Victorian age; and what would a steampunk anthology be without zeppelins, time machines and Sherlock Holmes? We’ve got gun-slingers, Chinese assassins and clockwork robots that can’t keep their hands off each other.  In this steam punk book there are even a few dinosaurs thrown in for good measure.” – Rune Wright
  • “Steampunk isn’t true Victoriana. It’s not five-year-olds crying as they were shoved starving up chimneys; it’s not having to have seven children so you can watch five of them die from pandemics before the age of ten. It’s not a decade of pain from a crumbling tooth because you’re living in an age where cutting-edge dentistry means a long swig of whisky and a short pair of pliers. – It’s faux Victoriana. It’s elegant smoking jackets and flounced petticoats rather than two quid jogging bottoms from Lidl. It’s manners and wit rather than trash-talking curses. It’s understanding and stripping and rebuilding your gadgets, rather than trading in yesterday’s iPhone for tomorrow’s Google Nexus One. It’s comfortable tweed and refined salons, rather than a punch-up in Cardiff City centre because you disrespected some moron by watching him vomit for two seconds too long.” Stephen Hunt in a Tor blog

What is it in regards to other genres?

  • In my opinion it is nearest to Gaslight… almost on the other side of a hairline border of that genre. The main difference, I believe, is that Steampunk has a larger focus on science. Without the science focus of the story it is Gaslight.

What part of my life does it inhabit?

  • While I have a history in costume and theater, dressing the part of steampunk is not something I am currently doing. Perhaps it is that I’ve been a re-enactor in Revolutionary War and Civil War… and even Regency for the Mission Houses Museum in Hawaii. Living history is a huge thing for me. I haven’t quite found my level of design in the realm of steampunk… yet.
  • For me, the real realm of steampunk is imagination. The concept of the world that such fantastic characters as Jekyl, Hyde, Fog, Nemo… could all exist in the same time period. To me if the author can bring you fully into the world and have it live and breathe about you… then they’ve created the right world…

What does it look/feel/sound like to me?

  • Sound: there has been some discussion in one of the forums that I belong to in regards to the ‘sound’ of Steampunk. Not music, mind you, but the way the writing of a Steampunk story should sound.  Should it sound like Dickens? Or not?  What is an acceptible ‘tone’ for it. I admit to a sort of answer that would most likely drive your average person batty. My answer is, it depends. If a writer can make the Dickensonian mode of writing work for them… then have at it! However if they find that the construct of his ‘voice’ to sound flat or stilted from their own hand then they should find their own. I, as a reader, find that if the tone feels authentic than I am satisfied with it. If I feel that the author is ‘shining me on’ then I doubt I’d read much of their work.

Those are all questions that I will be answering over time. I hope you’ll take the journey with me…

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