Goggles, gears and gadgets, watch work mechanisms and pneumatics, corsets and fancy hats. All these and more make up the steampunk genre. Traditionally, steampunk is centered around the beginnings of the industrial age. Steampunk stories evoke feelings of wonder, discovery, and exploration. Often the new burgeoning technology takes center stage as a key element, if they were to be removed, the story couldn’t take place.
Common elements tend to crop up in most stories. The first and foremost trait is the use of the airship as the most civilized and refined manner of travel. In fact, airships are so ingrained in the genre that convention goers are often organized into airship crews.
Another, slightly more bizarre, trait is the use of mechanics and gizmos in medicine. Replacing organs and limbs with ornate and complicated machines is a natural part of this alternate universe and is as creepy as it is fascinating. This explains the appearance of mechanical limbs in many pieces of steampunk art.
Also, there is a very distinct manner of dress, and I’m not talking about wearing goggles, although most steampunk costuming ends up having a pair. The beginnings of the industrial era took place in the Victorian era and extended into the Edwardian. This means that gentlemen wore suits and hats, and ladies wore shape altering dresses and lots of lace. The clothing is elaborate and detailed and every piece has a function.
Did I mention that they also love leather works?
You’ll notice that there is also a grunge/goth feel to a lot of steampunk which I can’t honestly explain.
Steampunk enthusiasts are insanely creative people and are often known to create elaborate costumes and wear them to conventions. There are even conventions specifically geared toward the genre. (Want to attend one? Here’s a handy list) To many, steampunking isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It reflects the desire to return to an age of wonder and be a part of the cutting edge of discovery.
For writers, steampunk usually falls into science fiction because the stories revolve around the science itself. However, it is not unusual for a fantasy element, like magic or mythical creatures, to pop up here and there. It also can lend itself to horror and historical fiction and other speculative arenas making it truly a hybrid genre.
To read more about steampunk, check out these links:
- Wikipedia: Steampunk
- The Steampunk Workshop
- Xchyler Publishing – specializing in steampunk and fantasy works
- The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: What is Steampunk?
- Genre Talk: Space Opera
- Anatomy of an Airship
- Interview with Scott E. Tarbet
- Art of the Short Story with Paul Genesse