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What is Steampunk?

I have recently come to love the Steampunk style and aethesethic. To me it conjures ideas of steam engines, fancy woodwork, complicated brass and copper machinery, gears and cogs, detailed leatherwork, and clothing from the Victorian Era and the Wild West and the intellectual mindset of the age. But most people that I talk to have never even heard of the term Steampunk before.

Wikipedia defines Steampunk as: a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins are sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Therefore, steampunk may be described as neo-Victorian.

Now that might sound more complicated than it really is, but it has the nuts and bolts of it. But here is my take on the Steampunk genre.

I was introduced the Steampunk style by many of the famous Victorian Authors we still enjoy today, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jules Verne. Wells and Verne are shining beacons of the Steampunk ideal. With novels like War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, and The Island of Doctor Moreau, H. G. Wells, tantalizes the readers with Victorian era science and rational. Jules Verne awes us with science and adventure in Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Journey to the Center of the Earth. These amoung many other wonderful books can help you to understand the meaning of What is Steampunk.

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As a teen I enjoyed playing RPG’s (Role Playing Games) like Dungeons & Dragons, James Bond, and Ghostbusters. One of the games I was fascinated with was Space 1889. Set in the Victorian Era, the game was a blend of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars with Vernes’ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The main rule book is chock full of great pictures of flying aetherships and colonial regiments fighting aboriginal martians. The book has been on my shelf for nearly 30 Years.

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A slightly more modern example is The Wild, Wild, West TV Show from the 1960’s. It is one of my favorite shows from that time, and is full of Steampunk gadgetry and adventure. It may not be to everyones taste, but does give a good example of what many call Steampunk Technology (fantastical though it was).

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I know I have just barely scratched the surface of what Steampunk means, but the answer can be more complicated than you think. And yes, these are only a few of my thoughts, and everyone has their own ideas and interpretations about the subject as well. At least I have given you something to think about.

-Michael

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