What is Steampunk?

Steampunk Bee

A Steampunk Bee by London Particulars

What is Steampunk?

What the deuce is Steampunk I hear you cry? Well settle down with a glass of port of absinthe or your favorite opium pipe and I’ll give you some pointers…Steampunk originated in the late 1980’s and it’s a subculture or genre of science fiction and Fantasy.  Steampunk largely focuses on the Victorian Era with an emphasis on mechanical technologies which are powered by steam, hence the name, as opposed to Cyberpunk which is a whole other kettle of fish (and wires).

There are many different strands to Neo Victorian culture, including books, graphic novels, anime, Steampunk Jewelry, Fashion and Art and even a Steampunk Faberge egg.

The Steampunk genre has its dusty beginnings with the writings from authors Jules Verne and HG Wells.  The brass time machine in the book “The Time Machine” and Captain Nemo’s Nautilus (submarine) from the book “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” are certainly inspirations for the movement.  It’s strange to think that both the Time Machine and the Nautilus are the basis of a genre which is very much based on the past, when both of these devices were considered the height of futurism when they were first created. What would those esteemed writers make of the strange and bizarre subgenre they’ve spawned? I think it’s fair to say that were we to give Verne and Wells a glance into the future, they would need a dose of smelling salts and a stiff one (I mean scotch).

The Internet has a cornucopia of pages and websites dedicated to Steampunk and you can find a wide array of different items, wares and creations ranging from Steampunk Jewelry including cufflinks, rings and necklaces to quill pens and USB drives.

There are no set requisites for an item to be Neo Victorian which means people create all sorts of weird and wonderful arts, devices, garments and the aforementioned egg; as long as a creation has one foot in the Victorian age then the sky seems to be the limit (especially if you own an air ship) for Steampunk expression.

Like a giant squid in a time machine, Steampunk’s tentacles are constantly growing and evolving in stature as it crosses over to the mainstream, breaking apart from its niche status.
You can see Neo Victorian elements in a number of films, music videos which would be considered to be of more mainstream appeal. There are a number of videogames which have Steampunk elements and the new Bioshock game (Bioshock Infinite) is a perfect example of the genre, with its skies teeming with Air ships and mechanical wonders, swapping the Dieselpunk trappings of the older games for new horizons.

Whilst there are no official Steampunk mainstream moving pictures (or movies as the youth insist on calling them) at the time of writing, there are certainly elements in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (although you really are better off procuring the graphic novel, rather than wasting your time with the film) as well as Wild Wild West, the anime of Steamboy and Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

The British television series Doctor Who also had a Steampunk influenced special with the Doctor doing battle with a giant Steampunk robot wreaking havoc across Victorian London. Exciting stuff, but make sure the children are secured in their cells before putting on this televisual treat; lest the imagery of David Tennant’s wild eyebrows drive them to their wits end and a course of electro-shock therapy in a dank corner of Bedlam.

Whilst there is no definitive description for Steampunk, look for elements of Retro-Futurism, Victorian styling’s, cogs, watch movements and things that tick and tock and your almost there.