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What Is Steampunk To Me?

May 31, 2012

It must be the universe. I was dwelling on posting about my thoughts on Steampunk as a genre this past week. It solidified when this morning I was browsing the webcomics I typically read and came across this one

 Steampunk. When I think of Steampunk I think of Victorian period clothing, Brass fittings, valves, steam powered machines, clockwork devices, intrigue, mystery and Mad Science.

I am not going to attempt to create an “Official” definition of Steampunk. This has been done more than once by many others. Check out the Wikipedia entry for greater details.

I am going to explain what it means to me. From the moment I came across it in video games (notably Arcanum) I was smitten. Other games had similar elements, but this one really went all out. I kept hearing about it, and finding DIYers building Steampunk influenced devices. Modified computer cases, keyboards, guitars. There was fashion and music. And it was all good.

The turning point for me, the swooning, falling in love, head over heels moment was finding both Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century Series and the webcomic: Clockworks by Shawn Gaston. Both are departures from the England based Victorian period that much of the genre takes place in. Note: I am not saying ever story takes place in Victorian England. I will get to that in a moment.

The Appeal

What attracted me to the genre as a writer was the sheer flexibility of world building. I could mix science and technology in with Magic and Fantasy elements. I felt like it was a merging of Science Fiction and Fantasy in such a way that I could have the best of both genres. My series: The Chronicles of Ignatius St. Eligius is my second foray into writing Steampunk. I have 95% of a novel completed that is more Gas Lamp style and does not take place on Earth or during the Victorian era. I was swayed by the mighty machines and the unpredictable ways that the technology bent the story lines. There is a lot of examination of concepts like: hubris, ethical dilemmas, world saving, greed, saving the one vs. saving the many. When put against this backdrop of what we may have read in history books, the topics are made more approachable, more poignant.

Then there is the world building. I can tear down the walls of history, and fashion whatever I like within reason (or not.) The 1800s were a period of great change as man moved dramatically from muscle power to machine power. It is easy to see how giving a nudge in the right direction to your new creation can ripple out across the page. You allow for what was available at the time and then stretch it out a bit. The research of what was actually invented during the time period is as appealing as anything else. Rudimentry adding machines, massive steam engines, hundreds of other little notions coming to life. 

The Varieties

There are several flavors of Steampunk, just as there are flavors of Science Fiction or Fantasy. There is Victorian England, American West, Gas Lamp (A very interesting subgenre!)

Victorian England: Takes place during the Victorian era of England the 60ish years reign of Queen Victoria. Great detail is spent on Clothes, Social Manners and Inventions.

American West: Think either the T.V. show or Movie “Wild Wild West” and there is the basic idea. With the Clockwork Century series, it is an alternate history supposing that the Civil did not end in 1865, but instead continued on with escalating arms races and a horrible substance called Blight Gas. Another great example of American West steampunk is the graphic novel: Daisy Kutterby the Amazing Kazu Kibuishi. BTW, there is a Kickstarter campaign for a Daisy Kutter reprint!

Gas Lamp: This is where magic and machines come together. The most notable examples of this are the webcomics: Clockworks and Girl Genius. Fantasy creatures and mechanized mayhem typically ensue.

Other: Anything else that involves steam power. Like most other forms of fiction, Steampunk is a broad base for infinite creativity.

The Work (well my work anyway)

With Plague Light,  my Gas Lamp novel, I melded steam engines, airships and amazing technological wonders with spirit magic and Fey (Fae) races. Dwarfs, Gnomes, Orcs rub elbows with Elves and Humans in a world where the magical world is being pushed aside in favor of technology.

The Chronicles of Ignatius St. Eligius take place in central Pennsylvania, in the 1870s. There is no magic involved, no Fae races. What we have is mystery, Mad Science, revenge and romance (though so far painfully little of the last.)  You can read the first novella in the series right here!

At present, I am so enraptured by the genre I have planned out this series of short stories and novellas to be folded into one or more volumes of work. I am not giving up on other genres, there is appeal in all of it, I am however most happy working in this emerging genre. If you are happy where you work, your work will reflect that.

It is at this moment that I feel like I am hitting a good stride. So it is with eagerness that I look forward to writing more, creating and inventing more.

Thanks for reading!


From → Writing

  1. Great post, Steven! I too love the Steampunk genre, and I plan to write a lot more in it after I finish this London Darkness series. I’m glad to have another friend so adamant about it! :)

    • It hit me in a big way. I am really looking forward to your series. I am curious of its inner workings. I know we are not the first ones to the party, but it still feels new and fresh and that we are forging new ground.

  2. Fantastic! Your book sounds like a fun read with all the steam punk elements you described! I love that genre.

    Thanks for participating today!

  3. Mike Resnick has two great books out “The Buntline Special” and “The Doctor and The Kid” . They follow the exploits of Doc Holliday. Just getting into it myself, I started with a YA book, “The Steampunk Detective” by Darrel Pitt.

    • I have seen the doctor and the kid. They looked interesting, I will have to take a second look

  4. I’m so glad I popped by your blog, thanks for Susie Lindau’s intro. ;) I had no idea what steampunk entailed. I can see why you’re drawn to it!

    • I am glad that you did stop by. As a genre, Steampunk has the ability to take on many attributes from others. It is just a lot of fun.

  5. Hey there! Stopping in from Susie’s party. Steampunk huh? I can say I learn something at the party!

  6. I learn something new daily :). Never really heard or know of a steampunk. Fascinating!!!

  7. Reading your post makes writing Steampunk seem far more compelling than historical fiction (my genre)!

    • I think its the fact that we can give the story that bite of reality/truth because it is framed in familiar events. Even if we decide to go ‘off book’ and take history on a trip sideways. Another fringe benefit (or perhaps not so fringe) is that most of the world building choices are already made. We sprinkle in our variances and go. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Might give it a try–

  8. I have been hearing a lot about Steampunk and not clear on what it’s all about. I really enjoyed how you described it. Thanks for an informative post!

  9. This post explains steampunk better than anything else I’ve heard about it. You make it sound like it’s something I might be able to write. Before, it sounded way too foreign and challenging to me. I hopped over here from Susie’s blog!

    • You know, it is pretty easy to write. To me, the core of Steampunk is inventiveness. You are only hampered by your imagination. Take it out for a test drive, do a little piece of flash or maybe a short story. See how it fits. There isn’t a ‘wrong’ way to do Steampunk. Like every writer, each interpretation is slightly different, but that just adds to the richness of the genre. Thank you so much for dropping by!

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