I get asked this question a lot when I tell people I’m working on a Young Adult steampunk novel. Steampunk fiction, along with other aspects of steampunk, is getting pretty popular these days (just look up Justin Bieber’s steampunk Christmas video, ugh). More often than not, people will at least have heard the word Steampunk, but not know exactly what it entails – or how devoted true steampunks are.
My short answer to the question, What is steampunk? is: Victorian or Wild West sci-fi, in a time when steam technology ruled. A slightly more informative answer is that it’s a sub-genre with roots in literature from writers such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, but the term steampunk didn’t start popping up until the late 80’s. Steampunks have widely varied opinions on what exactly their passion entails, from those who wear gear-encrusted goggles as an item of fashion, to those who believe every gear, light, and lens should be functional or at least hypothetically functional. (You mean to tell me your hydraulic laser gun arm extension with the time-travelling wristwatch doesn’t actually work?! You’re not a true steampunk!)
I’m kind of in the middle. A piece of jewelry with artistically placed, glued on gears will make me drool, but I don’t incorporate goggles into my outfits. (Lia has a vintage pair of WWI soldier’s goggles though, that I put on my cat for my profile picture. He is totally a steampunk kitty.)
|Even more drool-worthy|
|Lia’s steampunk-ish pendant made from watch innards;
a gift to her from my mom. Coolest grandma ever? I think so!
I’m not going to expound in detail what I think steampunk should be (articles like that already abound on the interwebs), but I’d like to tell you a little bit of what it means to me and how I discovered it, while bombarding your eyeballs with lots of cool pictures (some pictures are embedded with even more informative links).
Many of you will have seen the steampunk episode of Castle. In this picture he’s wearing a very expensive variation of the kind of gadget some steampunks add to their personas.
In the mid 90’s I started playing a PC puzzle adventure game called Myst. I was drawn into the beauty of the scenes, and the contraptions and clues you had to solve that were steam powered. The storyline of this game series is so rich that it all stuck with me, and when I discovered steampunk not too much longer after that, I was immediately reminded of Myst.
|In the game Myst, the main character Atrus sends you on a journey to solve
puzzles from steam powered contraptions and machines he’s built himself.
A really fun aspect of steampunk is the music. Since music is so important to me, it’s what formally got me into the genre. Although there are many steampunk bands that I love, I’ll just share my two favorites, Abney Park and Vernian Process, since I’m trying to encompass a wide variety of steampunk aspects in this post.
Vernian Process’ sound varies from industrial and 80’s-inspired, to theatrical cabaret-style, to orchestral – with soaring, dark instrumentals, chimes, and bells. (Click here for an amazing example.)
About the genre as a whole, Vernian Process’ Josh Pfeiffer told me: “As an artist, I couldn’t be happier that Steampunk is getting more recognition, and attention. As a fan of the aesthetic, I am mixed on this recent surge of interest. It makes me kind of miss the days when I would stumble upon some cool Steampunk piece of media, and get all excited, like I just discovered a lost treasure.”
|Click on the picture for their circusey song inspired by
Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Abney Park’s sound is inspired by widely varying ethnic music and soul-wrenching ballads. Basically, you could listen to one song that’s a simple pirate shanty, and the next is a wild gypsy tune that dares you not to dance to it.
|If you click on the picture, then on the greenish icon labeled “Coming 2012,”
it’ll play one of their new songs from their upcoming album!
And finally, the part about steampunk that most fans will agree is pretty awesome, are the inventions. Some amazingly creative and talented people have gone beyond gluing gears to pendants, to add vintage beauty and a sci-fi spin on modern day gadgets.
For some truly amazing and functional steampunk artwork, Datamancer turns PCs, laptops, keyboards, and other devices into beautiful, unique treasures. If you only check out one link in this post, make sure that’s the one. Because yes, something that looks like it could be functional is cool enough, but when it actually is functional, like Datamancer’s work, that’s the true spirit of steampunk.
In response to Josh’s comments, I think discovering steampunk really is, for the mainstream, like finding treasure in the mundane, mass-marketed, easily broken merchandise of the present. But, like a lot of treasure that’s not exactly new, but is tarnished from time, and still generally viewed as “weird” by the mainstream, interest will eventually move on to newer fads – and the true fans will still be here. And maybe we will have added to our ranks of talented, wacky, and creative steampunks. 🙂
And lastly, on a more personal level: Take a painfully introverted mother of six, who’s never quite fit in with any group all her life, can’t even do mainstream right, and is getting into middle age and not liking it one bit. She’s had post-partum depression for years and feels like she’s lost her identity, but above all, has never let go of her dream to write. She already has one novel under her belt and is well into the second one, and has always loved the weird, the magical, and the less-beaten path. She finally finds something fun to wake her up again, and for the first time in longer than she can remember, the depression lifts. Best of all, her kids think their weird mom is the coolest thing ever, not an embarrassment. And when she takes them to a few shows and is embraced by the steampunk community and makes some awesome new friends, she knows she finally belongs somewhere.
This is what steampunk really is to me.