Monday, April 4, 2011
An Introduction to Steampunk
by Calista Taylor
When I say I write steampunk, the usual reaction I get is "Steam... what?" I can't help but laugh since it's always the same response, but I'm always happy to explain with the hopes of drawing one more over to the dark side.
Steampunk has experienced a recent explosion in popularity, with steampunk elements popping up in movies, fashion, and everything in between. However as popular as steampunk is, there are still many who are not familiar with what it actually is, though they've likely been looking at steampunk without even knowing it.
There is a bit of difficulty in explaining steampunk as a genre, since it really is quite adaptable and flexible, and extends well beyond a genre of fiction to an aesthetic in clothing, art, and everyday items. The simplest way to describe steampunk is to envision the industrial revolution, where steam-powered machinery ruled, occurring at the same time as the technological revolution. But really, because of its flexibility, it can be so much more than that.
Here's a brief overview of steampunk as I see it.
Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative science fiction that usually takes place during the Victorian time period or in a world where Victorian aesthetics and ideologies are dominant. However there is the very important addition of technological advances — often steam driven — that did not necessarily exist during the Victorian time period and may be far more advanced than even our current technologies, but are always in keeping with the aesthetics of the time period. The technology is often used to try and better the lives of the people and erase the inequalities of society that were so dominant during that time period.
Steampunk, at its earliest, was influenced by writers like H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Mary Shelley, since their works included many fictional technological inventions and prominent elements of science fiction. Though steampunk is often set in Victorian England, you can easily find many stories set in other countries and areas, some settings altogether fictional.
Because there is so much more to steampunk than what I've covered, I encourage you to check out Wikipedia and Tor for more information. Also check out the great postings Tor put up for steampunk month, and if you're looking for some great steampunk reads, here's a list.
I do hope you'll pick up a steampunk book and give it a try, or even better, try writing a bit of steampunk. After all, what other genre allows you to combine head-strong corseted women, airships, and a multitude of steam-powered inventions?