Imagine a world where we never discovered gasoline is useful as a vehicle fuel, or we never discovered the transistor or the circuit. What would things be like if Jules Verne and HG Wells not only were brilliant writers, and found uses for the inventions of Nikolai Tesla in every day mechanical appliations. Coal, steam, and gross uses of power generated by massive turbines, gears, and mechanical components larger than the size of most men keep this world running. You’d live in a Steampunk world, a massively popular genre taking the fantasy and science fiction worlds by storm in modern fiction, games, and cinema. Where do these leather and copper clad players come from, and how does this entire alternate world fit into the mainstream?
Classifying Steampunk is by itself, somewhat difficult, but there are generally some commonalities. Many fiction authors consider Steampunk fits into the alternate history genre. Specifically, most of Steampunk’s inspiration comes from the before mentioned HG Wells and Jules Verne, and find their origins set in Victorian England and Europe. In this alternate history, we never progress past manufacturing and engineering roughly around the industrial revolution. Most technology then comes from fantastic arrays of gears, bronze, and mechanical construction, appropriately using steam as their main power source. When elements of electric engineering come into play in the various Steampunk technologies, most cite Nikolai Tesla’s inventions and styles in their creation. Giant vacuum tubes with massive filaments and arc-chambers are common in the artistic portrayals of steam-punk technology when playing with electricity.
Despite the explosion of Steampunk in modern fiction, art, and culture, it is not a new phenomenon at all in popular culture. A TV Show titled The Wild Wild West ran from 1965 until 1969, and featured two lawmen travelling through the western United States. One of them, Artemus Gordun, had a penchant for spy equipment and technology supposedly well ahead of his time. Given the setting, these devices often used the distinctly steampunk designs and styling we now see in the general genre. The common term “Steampunk” covers a wide variety of more specific styles as well, as many different types of fiction use the same themes in setting.
When you talk about Steampunk as a style, and you immerse yourself in the culture, you quickly find out that depending on the part of the world your ‘character’ originates, there are as many styles as there are races in your typical fantasy epic. Often considered “classic” Steampunk, Victorian Steampunk combines the elements of clothing from that Era with the mechanical and electrical components of the genre. Men and women into this style often combine layered skirts, proper genteel clothing and classic court accoutrements with copper gears, lit accents, and complicated devices for the simplest tasks. Old West Steampunk usually features complex attachments of Tesla-esque electrical attachments to weapons of various kinds, creating six-lightning shooters, rifles with scopes of unusual size, and all sorts of carriage attachments. There are even Steampunk lovers that bring out the Horror elements, with stylized flesh implants, and archaic looking steam-powered prosthetics, and torture devices reminiscent of the lab scenes from the classic Frankenstein movies. All of these styles show the distinct ‘flavors’ of Steampunk, and help explain why this style infiltrates so easily into so many other Fantasy and Science fiction settings.
Author. Beta tester. Music lover. Huge geek, love zombies, video games, doctor who, sci-fi, horror, steampunk, and fantasy. I have 3 kids (4 counting the husband) and 3 cats. Michelle is also one of the owners of this site.