Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Extraordinary World of Steampunk

At the last conference I attended, I heard the buzz about Steampunk, saw attendees dressed in steampunkish wear and was totally fascinated. I don’t claim to know what this amazing world is all about but I am quite intrigued that one can combine brass googles, motorcycle boots, a tight corset, suede or lace skirt and somehow manage to look gorgeously steamfashioned.

A long time fan of alternative fiction, science fiction and fantasy, I’m so glad to see books coming out in this sub-genre, especially romance. According to author Jeff VanderMeer, Steampunk, a term first coined in 1987, is a “retro- and forward-looking sense of adventure and discovery.” Steampunk has hit pop culture, and we can see influences in movies, art, comics and fashion.
Click on the link to his article about the history of Steampunk

I’ve done some research on this topic and found that there are some die-hard Steampunk fans. Some who are purists about certain details. Similarly, there are avid fans in the vampire realms and the Regency era and I think it’s cool that these groups have such a loyal community. As with the vampire genre, I think this sub-genre will evolve as well where authors will create their own worlds and their own rules. Still, there must be a balance so verisimilitude and the flavor of Steampunk are maintained.

Ask different people what Steampunk is and you’ll get a variety of definitions. I found several different definitions on various websites and blogs. To me, Steampunk is usually (but not always) set during the 1800s where technology somehow has gone a bit skewed. Scientific advancements combine with the old, mechanical devices tend to be steam-powered, and are comprised of gears, cogs and clockwork parts. Dirigibles, time machines, mechanical spiders, automatons, amazing underwater ships and cities, underground cities and moon rockets are just some of the oddities that can be found in Steampunk. But the setting doesn’t end there. Futuristic and otherworldly Steampunk setting are showing up. Look at the movie City of Ember. And don't forget the characters. I think the characters in Steampunk story are adventure seeking, daring, and at times stubborn, rebellious and rough around the edges outlaws or distinquished gentlemen. Wonderful sources for stories and heroes.

Thanks to BrassGoggles for the following definitions. She has a fabulous site on all things Steampunk.

Victorian Science Fiction – Steampunk set in Victorian era with futuristic or science fiction elements. Think: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.
Gaslamp Fantasy – The Girl Genius Steampunk, tight bodices, slapstick comedy and non-humans. Setting is variable, doesn’t have to be Victorian.
Fireside Science Fiction – A warm and cozy type where Victorian gentlefolk may begin their adventure around a fireplace with a small brandy, but could end up on the moon or beyond!
Neo-Victoriania – A Japanese originated alternative where the aim is to recreate certain Victorian aspects of life using modern tools and ways. Elegant Gothic Lolita.
Wild/Weird West – Centered on the American West in the 19th Century. You’ll find cowboys and scientists alongside saloon girls and giant mechanical spiders. Wild, Wild, West.
Voyages Extraordinaire – As seen in the Victorian adventures of Jules Verne.
Scientific Romance – An early, mostly British, name for science fiction, that fell out of fashion, but was also used to describe Verne’s works. Now being used more for nostalgic Victorian based science fiction.

I also came across Industrial Steampunk (futuristic), Clockpunk (1500s), dieselpunk (WWII) and Cyberpunk (computer/informational). I’m sure there are others.
Here’s Wiki’s take on Steampunk

So what do you like about Steampunk? What do you know about it? Please share your views.


Maria said...

I don't know much about it and so far I have only read one book that is labled "steampunk" but I know that I loved that book and will be reading the other works by the author. I'm curious to see how it developes in the romance genre

Teri Thackston said...

So far I haven't read any of these, but they sound fascinating. I'll definitely pick up a few.

Bart said...

Kathy, our own Frank Chadwick (GLVWG member) had an early hand inventing the genre with a game called "Space 1889." the name is a take off on the late 60's tv show "Space 1999," but the resemblance ends there. "Space 1889" is a game set in a what we would now call steampunk world, with kick ass heroines, flying dirigibles, trips to Mars using an alternate technology I won't give away here, and an alternate history as well.

Good news is Frank is writing his first book in the Space 1889 universe. I've had the privilege of being his first reader for the story and it's a doozy.

Here's the wikilink:


Regina Carlysle said...

I've been paying attention to this and think it's fascinating. I also like the idea that there are other kinds of 'punk' like diesel, etc. Thanks for the overview.

Kathy Kulig said...

Thanks for the info. Bart. Didn't know that. I've read a few, including an erotic steampunk antho which I loved! Like a Wisp of Steam. I'm reading Heart's Blood by Gail Dayton now which I would call Steampunk. It's very good.
Maria, I don't know much either. Still learning and fascinated.
Teri, I'm keeping my eye out for books. :)

Kathy Kulig said...

Hi Regina,
It's seems when authors get their hands on a subgenre, anything can happen. :)

Suzanne said...

Hi Kathy, there's a whole group of us FPPers who run a steampunk blog and write steampunk. I love writing steampunk because there's so much room to "play" -- to be imaginative and blend (and bend) genres. Truly, the sky's the limit in Steampunk.

Kathy Kulig said...

Hi Suzanne, Oh please post your blog link!!

Irene said...

Jules Verne meets Wild Wild about that for a visual?
Thanks for this, Kathy.

Nina Pierce said...

The genre total fascinates me. The best example for me that was given was the "Wild Wild West" movie that was released with Will Smith(?). That explained it in a nutshell. I haven't read one yet, but I'm looking for a romance to get my hands on.

Kathy Kulig said...

That gives a great visual Irene. :)
Me too Nina. I also like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Sherlock Holmes and City of Ember. All different, but all have a Steampunk atmosphere.

Nancy Henderson said...

I don't really understand it. After reading about the movies listed above, though, I think I now have a general idea. Very hard to explain. I don't think I've ever read it, though. Thanks for the post!

Kathy Kulig said...

I think we'll be seeing more books soon Nancy.

Alison said...

Hey Kathy,
Great blog. Should note though that you link to Gail Carriger's definition of Steampunk, not Jeff Vandermeers....
So there is an FF&P steampunk blog? Where is it?

Kathy Kulig said...

Thanks Alison, I think the only way to get to Jeff's posting was through Gail's site. I couldn't link it up any other way. Might've been me. I'm not sure about the ff & p blog on Steampunk, I'm still looking, but I found this link too. This might be the one.