Steampunk

steampunk by flyingdebris1

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. It involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually the Victorian era Britain—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.

Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace’s Analytical engine. Steampunk is sometimes compared to cyberpunk, although apart from the shared origins of the name, they have almost nothing in common. Their time period and level of technology are different and steampunk settings also tend to be less dystopian.

Although many works now considered seminal to the genre were published in the 1960s and 1970s, the term steampunk originated in the late 1980s as a tongue in cheek variant of cyberpunk. It seems to have been coined by science fiction author K. W. Jeter, who was trying to find a general term for works by Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and himself —all of whom wrote novels that took place in a 19th-century (usually Victorian) setting and imitated conventions of such actual Victorian speculative fiction as H. G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine.’

Steampunk was influenced by, and often adopts the style of, the 19th century scientific romances of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Mary Shelley. Perhaps the most well known example of steampunk is Captain Nemo’s Nautilus submarine in Walt Disney’s 1954 film version of Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

Several works of fiction significant to the development of the genre were produced before the genre had a name. ‘Titus Alone’ (1959), by Mervyn Peake, anticipated many of the tropes of steampunk. One of the earliest mainstream manifestations of the steampunk ethos was the 60’s television series ‘The Wild Wild West.’ The film Brazil (1985) was an important early cinematic influence to the genre.

In general, the category includes any recent science fiction that takes place in a recognizable historical period (sometimes an alternate history version of an actual historical period) where the Industrial Revolution has already begun but electricity is not yet widespread, with an emphasis on steam- or spring-propelled gadgets.

Various modern utilitarian objects have been modified by enthusiasts into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical ‘steampunk’ style. The goal of such redesigns is to employ appropriate materials (such as polished brass, iron, wood, and leather) with design elements and craftsmanship consistent with the Victorian era. The artist group Kinetic Steam Works brought a working steam engine to the Burning Man festival in 2006 and 2007. The group’s founding member, Sean Orlando, created a Steampunk Tree House that has been displayed at a number of festivals, and is now permanently installed at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware.

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