Monday, December 10, 2012

What is Steampunk?

This week we're reviewing Boneshaker, which is a steampunk novel.  Steampunk has actually had a pretty recent uprising, though it's been around, technically, since the 80s.  It is a piece of work that takes place usually in the 19th and very early 20th century and is a mixture of history and industrialized west.  It's like a genre mashup (which, if you recall from this post, is becoming ever more popular). It can be either post-apocalyptic or just an alternate form of history.

The major steampunk influences are actually a little surprising: H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Mary Shelly are the forerunners of steampunk, the first authors to mix the industrialized west into their novels.  Technically, they aren't TRUE steampunk because, well, they were writing about their own time periods, not history, so it's a little different.

Literature is a HUGE medium of steampunk now.  Some big ones are Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan or Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials.  Both of these take history and combine it with machinery.

This is Westerfeld's Novel.  See all the neat gears?
Can't you just hear the clunking and whirring from there?
Steampunk has a lot of fun, anachronistic onomatopoetic opportunities.

So where did the term steampunk come from?  It was actually in response to this unknown sub-culture rising.  Cyberpunk was huge in the 80s and here comes this movement, based very much on the Victorian age with a dash of gears and machines thrown in.  K.W. Jeter (a sci-fi author) actually coined the term, in a very tongue in cheek letter that he wrote to Locus magazine:

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I'd appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it's a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in "the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate" was writing in the "gonzo-historical manner" first. 

Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like 'steam-punks', perhaps.

—K.W. Jeter
(courtesy of Wikipedia)

Now, we see steampunk everywhere.  Will Smith did the movie Wild Wild West, SyFy's mini-series Tin Man and of course, the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

Steampunk is also a huge cosplay movement.  People dress up and get some really intricate costumes.

This is pretty typical steampunk outfits: browns and grays and gears.

Steampunk has really permeated pop culture.  It's in books, movies, even music.  People have steampunk weddings even. If you have several hours to kill and nothing better to do, you could get trapped under an avalanche of results by searching for steampunk on Etsy. It's become it's own culture and movement.  And are we surprised?  It lets us recreate history in a unique way and has a fascinating style to go along with it.

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