A Steampunk Primer

What Is Steampunk?

When you say the phrase "steampunk" to someone, you generally get one of two reactions: either the person you're talking to has heard of it and has very specific opinions about it, or they have never heard of it and they look at you with a mixture of confusion/disbelief, like you're trying to start your own language, or you've told them a joke with no discernible punchline. Steampunk is an amazing and wildly imaginative genre, yet it remains largely undiscovered to the public as a whole. Although the intricacies of steampunk could easily be the subject of a series of articles, this article will provide an introduction to the general tropes found within the genre and help readers & writers alike to understand, enjoy & appreciate a fantastical and avant-garde category.


Combining History With The Future

Steampunk combines an understanding of real history with an awareness of the modern world; an idea of wanting to go back in time, but with the inventions of the future. It has been loosely referred to as "Victorian science fiction," creating a paradox involving the technology found in science fiction (lasers, ray guns, etc) within the sensibilities and etiquette of Victorian times, blending to create an alternate history. There is an inherently retro feel that is multiplied by the use of natural materials (wood, copper, leather) as well as the iconic clockwork elements and gears. 


Putting The Steam In Steampunk

Steampunk is an offshoot of science fiction; melding with elements of gothic horror, the writer attempts to artistically reinterpret an imaginary past. The idea of science and scientific principles play an important part, rewarding those with advanced scientific or knowledge -- inventors, scientists, engineers; those who are able to harness the power of steam to create new/more advanced machinery. 


Creating A Sense Of Accountability

In steampunk, anything can be possible, but that doesn't mean there's no consequence to violating the natural order of things (even if that order is imaginary). In much of the literature, there is a theme of recycling or repurposing existing materials; promoting a sense of self-sustainability which is a direct commentary against the disposable and plasticized present. Additionally, there is a notion of the responsibility that scientific knowledge carries with it & the often volatile outcome of those that choose to ignore it.



In summary, steampunk is a rich subset of science fiction that allows for a wide interpretation of the natural and scientific world, including the most nostalgic and popular elements of history, while playing them against an alternate background. Interested readers wishing to dip a toe into the steampunk pool have a wealth of both classic and contemporary novels to choose from, perhaps even discovering a new favorite author. 


If you enjoyed this article, check back soon for the next blog post, "The Villain As Hero".