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?

17 comments:

Jarmara Falconer said...

It happened to me today when someone asked me what I write, but after I explained they were very interested in finding out more about the genre.

Thank you for sharing what it means to you with us.

Richard said...

I've wondered what Steampunk is, now I have an idea. Maybe I'll try it.

Calista Taylor said...

It's my pleasure, Jarmara! I always find that once I explain it and give current examples of steampunk in the media or fashion, there's almost always some recognition.

Calista Taylor said...

Richard, I do hope you will! The genre has so many possibilities to play with. And if the Victorian time period isn't quite your thing, be sure to check out Dieselpunk (which tends to span the early to mid 20th century).

Matt Sinclair said...

Wow, I've not heard of Dieselpunk!

Calista Taylor said...

Matt, there's even more!! Sandpunk, which tends to take place in Africa during the expeditions and excavations that were so popular during the Victorian era. Clockpunk, which focuses on cogs and gears rather than steam. Gaslight, which tends to be less invention/science oriented, but concentrates on alternative realities. You're only limited by your imagination. : )

Jennifer Merritt said...

The hubby was so impressed when I knew what Steampunk was when it showed up on Castle. I had no idea there was Sandpunk, Gaslight and Clockpunk. I'm obviously going to have to work harder to be the cool one in the family. Great intro Calista.

Calista Taylor said...

Glad you liked it, Jennifer. And that was way too cool an episode. Talk about steampunk going mainstream!

Matt Sinclair said...

One of the few episodes of Castle I've seen. And when I saw it, I immediately thought of you!

Richard said...

Now, Dieselpunk might be of some interest to me. I'll have to check it out.

Calista Taylor said...

Matt, I love that! : )

Richard, you'll definitely have to give it a try. It could be perfect for you-- a great blend of history, fantasy, and inventive science.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great explanation Calista! I hadn't heard of Sandpunk either - kind of like Dune with a Victorian flair - Fun!!

Calista Taylor said...

Maybe that could be the setting for your next novel, Jemi!

Theresa Milstein said...

I still haven't read any steampunk. Any recommendations?

Julie Musil said...

This blog is such a great idea! As for Steampunk, I had never heard of it until about a year ago. It sounds like a fun genre to write in.

Calista Taylor said...

Sure, Theresa! For YA (though I'd call it Dieselpunk), there's Leviathan by Scott Westerfield. Then there's Soulless by Gail Carriger, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, and of course, the online comic Girl Genius, http://www.girlgeniusonline.com . There's also a new web tv series, Riese-- http://www.syfy.com/riese/index.php . Hope this helps get you started.

Calista Taylor said...

Thanks for stopping by, Julie! Steampunk is definitely a fun genre. You can really take your story in any direction.