Elements of Steampunk

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This is a short article by author Coleen Kwan.
A pretty good description of Steampunk really.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Elements of Steampunk 

 I haven’t been writing steampunk for very long, and I’ll admit it’s difficult to be precise about what is and isn’t steampunk. I’ve found various definitions of the word, but in a nutshell steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction and speculative fiction set in an era of steam-powered technology.

Strictly speaking a steampunk story doesn’t have to be set in the nineteenth century but even if it isn’t it should still have that Victorian feel to it ie. an atmosphere that is gritty and industrialised. Jonathan Green’s Evolution Expects is set at the end of the 20th century but still conveys a very Victorian feel—the British Empire is still ruling the waves and Queen Victoria (fuelled by her steam-powered wheelchair) is about to celebrate her 160th birthday. Some steampunk stories are more historical fantasy, such as Agatha H and the Airship City which takes place in a European setting of no discernible era.

A steampunk story can include the supernatural or paranormal, from vampires and werewolves to monstrous golems. eg Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series, Cindy Pape Spencer’s Photographs and Phantoms.

Steampunk is closely associated with a certain ‘look’ or aesthetic. Think of everyday items made from 19th century materials like brass, copper, glass, rubber. Machines and gadgets use cogs, wheels, levers, dials. Nothing is sleek or shiny, everything is engraved or adorned in some way.

Characters put the ‘punk’ in steampunk. They can be orphaned pickpockets, mad inventors or scarred aristocrats. They can be rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, nobles or peasants, but in some way they are marginalised from the rest of society, and it’s their differences that propel the story.

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