What is Steampunk, anyway?
Perhaps you’ve seen them at a local science fiction convention such as Comic Con: people dressed in Victorian-era garb but with strange implements of wondrous science that would have never worked in the real world. These are steampunks.
The single most common question I get asked as a steampunk author is: just what is steampunk, anyway?
Steampunk put simply is Victorian-style science fiction, fiction in the style of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. It is a Victorian world plus, one with strange mad science and wondrous steam-driven technologies from heavier-than-air flying ships to steam-driven mechanical computers to giant, track-driven land battleships to brass-covered automatons. It’s science fiction blended with alternate history — a Victorian era of “What If?”
While steampunk may have found its origins in the science fiction writings of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and others, writers such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, authors of The Difference Engine, have brought forward this style into the twenty-first century. And while much of steampunk focuses on science fiction, fantasy elements are not out of the picture either. Much of modern young adult steampunk fiction involves both vampires and magic. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, even includes zombies! It’s very much an ‘anything goes’ fictional genre.
The freedom and openness of the steampunk genre is built on the immense enthusiasm its fans have for dressing up and do-it-yourself costuming. While people can and do buy props and costume pieces off the internet, steampunk is much more about making your own gear and showing it off for friends and family. I believe the immense popularity of steampunk is one of the offshoots of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Harry Potter made it cool for people, young and old, to be readers and cool even to dress up publicly as their favorite characters. People in the steampunk community group together, often in costume, in local clubs called airships. Many airships have build nights in which the steampunks gather to work on their prop projects while socializing.
The openness of the genre is seen clearly visible in the wide variety of the ages of the participants. You are just as likely to see a retired couple costuming as steampunks at a local convention as you are to see high schoolers involved in it. And while rigorous debate often occurs between steampunks as to what is or is not steampunk, the community is unified in its desire that everyone should have a good time and that every effort at costuming and prop building be appreciated from the most expert and professional to the first effort of a newly steampunking child.
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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.