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Steampunk is...

Art by James Ng
Steampunk is many things to many people. It is a literary style. A aesthetic movement. A way of life to some. It was with all this in mind I decided to ask more than a dozen people what they thought Steampunk is. I told them all a sentence would suffice as I wanted an off-the-cuff reaction, but many went much longer. The answers run the gamut from textbook to a bit silly, which seems about right.

*************** subgenre of science fiction whose definition is not generally agreed upon, but which usually involves some combination of steam-powered technology and elements of fashion, history, society, and culture from varying parts of Victorian England.

Jess Nevins author of Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana


Steampunk is ... fun with hats.

Or here's the longer official one: Steampunk is a style (of books, clothes, video games, movies, etc.) that draws its inspiration from the science fiction stories of the 19th century. Steampunk is often (but not strictly always) indicative of a place and/or time wherein steam is the dominant form of high technology. Or at least it usually looks like it is.

Cherie Priest author of Boneshaker and Dreadnought


Steampunk is...a mood (fog-laden streets lined with cobblestones); a theme (a world standing on the edge between one age and the next), a tech level (horses and automobiles, clockwork creations, goggles and steam engines, and air craft rising toward the stars), and more than a bit of madness.

Beth Bernobich author of Passion Play and Ars Memoriae


Streampunk is....what happens when a post-colonial, high-technology generation appropriates classic colonialist, low-tech adventures, and I sez God bless 'em.

Daniel Abraham author of The Long Price Quartet


Steampunk is...the love child of Hot Topic and a BBC costume drama

Gail Carriger, author of Soulless and Blameless


Steampunk is...a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!

George Mann, author of The Affinity Bridge


Steampunk is...a label for an aesthetic inspired by a certain historical time period (we all know which one), the artistic results of which is anything your heart desires along that theme."

Karin Lowachee, author of The Gaslight Dogs


Steampunk is...that poor bastard shoveling coal in the belly of the gleaming leviathan

Vincent Pendergast author of “Otto’s Elephant” as seen in The Clockwork Jungle Book


Steampunk is...a fantasy of painless progress.

Ekaterina Sedia, author of The Alchemy of Stone and The House of Discarded Dreams


Steampunk is...not exactly a new phenomenon.

Elizabeth Bear, author of Blood and Iron


Steampunk is...a Victorian-influenced speculative fiction subgenre set in a world where steam power is still in common use; and the aesthetic derived thereof.

Liz Gorinsky, Editor, Tor Books


Steampunk is....fiction set predominantly in the 19th century or in a Victorian or quasi-Victorian seeming setting in which anachronistic technologies occur ahead of their real world invention. Although many people regard only Victorian era works as true steampunk, I would argue that in addition to a subgenre, steampunk is becoming a spice that can be blended with other subgenres as well. We are starting to see steampunk elements in fantasy, in works as diverse as China Mieville's Bas Lag novels, Philip Reeve's Larklight, and Adrian Tchaikovsky Shadows of the Apt series, as well as works that blend steampunk and urban fantasy, as Tim Akers does in Heart of Veridon and the forthcoming The Horns of Ruin. Jess Nevins definition, often miscredited to Cherie Priest, may say it best: "Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown."

Lou Anders, Editorial Director, Pyr


Steampunk is:

a. a genre of science fiction using the aesthetic trappings of the Victorian period.

b. a style/craft/fashion movement based on bringing form to the merely functional, with hints of a "do it yourself" manifesto.

c. a buzz word applied to anything anachronistic in design. "That brass lamp is so steampunk."

Jeremiah Tolbert, creator of Dr. Julius T. Roundbottom

You Might Also Like:
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The Old West Brings the Steam by Felix Gilman
VIDEO | Steampunk Duel: A Short Film
REVIEW | Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter
REVIEW | The Clockwork Jungle Book
The Future of Steampunk by Paul Jessup
REVIEW | The Affinity Bridge by George Mann


C Scott Morris said...

A 'meme-du-jour'? Really? Have you read H. G. Wells or Jules Vern?
Steampunk has been around a lot longer than other genres my friend, and unlike it's sibling cyberpunk, shows no signs of dying.
These are some excellent quotes, by a lot of interesting people.
Thank you.

Sheryl Nantus said...

Steampunk to me is a party where H.G. Wells chats with Jules Verne who’s flirting with Queen Victoria who is ignoring him and talking to Benjamin Franklin who’s looking at Ida Lovelace’s new machine and wondering if he can get it to the US without anyone looking. Meanwhile Buffalo Bill Cody is checking out Robert Fulton’s new ride and thinking about incorporating it into the show along with an aerial chase scene using DaVinci’s new glider.


Author of "Wild Cards and Iron Horses", Samhain Publishing

karen wester newton said...

>Jess Nevins definition, often miscredited to Cherie Priest, may say it best: "Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown."

That's a fantastic quote!

Unknown said...

I'm a little bemused why people call Wells or Verne (not "Vern") steampunk.

What, exactly, differentiates Wells and Verne from ordinary 19th century science fiction? Why are they steampunk and not sf?

Ydnic said...

"A ascetic movement"...I do hope you correct this to "aesthetic." I can't think of many steamy folks who are eschewing the pleasures of life--in fact, quite the opposite.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the article. :)

Eric M. Edwards said...

'I'm well behind the times - but then that should be fine considering your subject - so I've missed the whole "steampunk" development.

That said, I'm not certain it means all that much. Everything which it encompasses has already existed in sf well before the coining of the term. From Verne to the present, the blending of science fiction with the late gothic romance, has drawn generations of admirers and writers to its gaslight flame.

Hardly surprising that both the brass-piped wonders of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the moulding, aristocratic grave robber of Bram Stoker, could continue to coexist comfortably. Dug up by various authors and thrown together in divers incarnations.

The steam I understand, but I remain unconvinced of the punk outside of helping to form a snappy marketing title; it doesn't seem to feature in a central way as it does in many cyberpunk novels. Dystopian visions and low-life characters aren't absent, but they don't form enough of a cognizant whole in the genre to warrant the punk being mixed with the steam beyond, in my opinion, simple word association.

But then a rose is a rose is a rose, and what's in a name after all; this must hold true even if it's a dead one, whose petals are individually affixed by means of brass rivets to a stem wrought from hammered bronze.'


*this comment originally appeared here

Unknown said...

To quote myself:

"Steampunk is Science Fiction re-imagined from a Victorian perspective."


Elf said...

Interesting that the comic strip Luann offered a definition last week, and I think it's as good as any:

James Patterson Book List said...

Had no idea what it is and I'm still little confused.