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Author Topic: What is Steampunk?  (Read 1288 times)
Kleven
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« on: January 10, 2017, 11:48:37 am »

Someone told me any idea I had was very steampunk (a Chicago 1900 idea) and so I've been looking into steampunk but haven't found any definitions. Some of the things make sense to me, others do not.

Thank you.

And what's up with all the goggles?
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2017, 03:10:25 pm »

I am surprised you haven't hit a definition, as you can't swing a dead cat without hitting somebody who's got one.

I will throw out mine, which I find to be close enough for newbies.

Steampunk as a design aesthetic (meaning SP can be other concepts, but I am speaking strictly of things and how they look), is about mixing old-timey design with science fiction/fantasy.

Go watch the Wild Wild West movie, or better yet the TV series.  The TV show nailed it.

SP generally covers the Victorian/Edwardian period (1800s, up to about 1910 or so).

Clothing from that period is usually used for costuming, and then added to with goggles, or other science-fiction accouterments.

actual objects tend to be of materials from that period (wood, leather, brass, copper) or fake versions of those materials.  They tend to feature gears and/or pistons and the best ones appear to be real.  Contrast that to the sleek lines o the iPhone, a steampunk iPhone case might be a bulky wooden box with brass trim and ornate scrollwork carved into it and a crank that causes the front panel to open, revealing the phone screen, with a classic hand-set for holding to your ear.

Goggles tend to be worn as shorthand on a costume for "I am steampunk"  rather than being mistaken for an actor in a Dickens play.

The Goggles usually imply a character who flies on an air ship (blimp/dirrigible, etc).

One of the first Steampunk novels is The Difference Engine though it did not coin the phrase.

You can google up Steampunk images, and start seeing a pattern (like I described).  outfits will be old-fashioned, 1800s-like.  objects will often appear to be old fashioned.  And you'll see some outliers that are either miscategorized as Steampunk, or take the concept in a different direction.



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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2017, 07:28:12 pm »

My PS3 limits word count, so may need more than one post. First the name. Steampunks was a term originally coined by author K.W Jeter back in the '80s, as a possible description for what he predicted might become a burgeoning trend in pseudo historical Sci~Fi/Sci~Fantasy literature. It was obviously a riff on the term Cyberpunk, mainly inspired by three actually quite fantasy heavy books all set in the Age Of Steam. His own book Morlock Night was partly inspired by H.G.Wells' The Time Machine, hence Victorian Sci~Fi  is considered an influence on Steampunk. A few years later Cyberpunk author William Gibson, along with fellow writer Bruce Stirling wrote The Difference Engine. This book is notably different in tone to those Jeter was describing, as it largely eschews the more magical fantasy elements in favour of a grittier, almost believable alternate history  story. Nevertheless certain reviewers described it as Steampunk, and although the authors apparently didn't appreciate it, the name still stuck.
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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2017, 08:17:53 pm »

It is where Victoriana and science fiction meet, in a nutshell.  There's a lot more to it than that, naturally!
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« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2017, 08:28:34 pm »

All well and good, but what the Hell has all that got to do with goggles & gears & dressing up for Sci~Fi conventions you may well ask? Mmm, good question. Part 2...the subculture. The name continued to be used to describe certain works of film, lit, graphic novels, computer games etc the popularity of which were all themselves rising to become a major part of popular culture. Sometime in the late '90s/early noughties, certain curious designs began to appear at festivals/conventions & of course online. Be they gadgets, gizmos, vehicles, costumes (whatever) they all seemed to share this aesthetic which was a combination of modern or futuristic ideas, coupled with a kind of antiquated C19th sense of design. I guess it seemed natural to attach the term Steampunk to it all. It didn't exactly catch fire at first, but rather rose & fell in popularity over the next few years, while still accumulating a small but solid bedrock of hardcore afficianados.along the way.  Next. up, The Maker Culture...
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« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2017, 11:24:26 pm »

I've given my definition on this forum at least once before, I think; but perhaps it bears repeating.

It is said that, when Louis Armstrong was once asked to define Swing, he simply replied, "Swing is my idea of how a tune should go."

So my own simple definition of Steampunk is; "Steampunk is my idea of how reality should be."

Hope this helps.

Athanor.
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« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2017, 11:33:58 pm »

Steampunk seems to have deprived from scifi as a writing genre. Basically it's futurism...set in the past. For steampunk that's usually the victorian or edwardian era. It revolves around steam powered technology, and esthetics suitable for said time period. What differs it from historic fiction is that it has a very distinct fantasy or scifi flavour that cannot be seen separate from steampunk.
This has spread though many popular media and made it's way into society, as do cosplay and reenacting.
Only steampunk went a little further and developed a subculture. People that enjoy steampunk and like to see, make or act steampunk as (a part of) their lifestyle.

Of course, that's just my general view, and others might tjink differently. Steampunk tends to be diverse, which keeps it interesting
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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2017, 12:36:33 am »

Traditionally, often through necessity, fandoms such as cosplay have had a heavy focus on do it yourself. Remember even a few years ago, Sci~Fi  conventions & such like weren't the multi billion dollar industries they are now. There certainly wasn't the abundance of props & costumes readily available , and any market for them was considerably more niche. This is just one of the reasons why a dedicated number of Sci~Fi  fans began to emerge, with an impressive & ever evolving array of diy skills. Whether amateur or professional, some of them began to turn their hand to Steampunk inspired creations. That work when showcased through previosly stated mediums naturally attracted others, and so the attachment of Maker Culture & the diy ethic to Steampunk began. This arguably culminated in the launch of Steampunk Magazine, and indeed this forum in about 2007. The often hilarious arguments about what exactly Steampunk is have been going on ever since., but that's another story.
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« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2017, 12:44:27 am »

One aspect which sets Steampunk apart from other "fandoms" is that Steampunk has no definitive, canonical basis. Instead, each of us comes up with a personal perspective on Steampunk which can vary substantially from our friends' definitions, and part of the fun lies in seeing how other Steampunks see things. Indeed, I suspect the process of coming up with a personal working definition may be an important part of the process of becoming a Steampunk.

One important ramification of this is that any definition which denies, rejects or dismisses some other definition can safely be disregarded.





We also, as a group, tend to be fond of irony.
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« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2017, 12:48:54 am »

And mixed in with all the above are the concepts of 'fun' and 'silly'.
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« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2017, 01:37:23 am »

All of the above.  Just disregard anything you find by GD Falksen* on the subject.

(or Robert Brown* if you get round to Steampunk music)

* They both have their own agendas.

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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2017, 01:49:10 am »

And there you are ^^ some more perspectives on supposedly exactly the same thing. The reason I've provided this little potted history, and obviously left a lot out, is because there is no one simple answer (no it isn't Victorian Sci~Fi ). I can tell you the history of the name, give examples of why it's risen to prominence (music art & literature have all played their part) but that doesn't actually explain what it is now. lt's potentially morphing all the time and different individuals have their own perspective on it. For example I've been told by many Steampunks that they have no interest in the original literature, take no influence from it & consider it has little to no bearing on the current subculture (I won't repeat what I think about that) Loosly it's a contemporary take on Steam Age concepts incorporating some sort of twist (sometimes considered to be the Punk part). But that could mean many things so really the question nowadays is not so much what is Steampunk? but rather what is Steampunk to you?
« Last Edit: January 11, 2017, 10:58:32 pm by Argus Fairbrass » Logged
Kleven
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« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2017, 06:01:47 am »

Thank you, you have all helped out a lot.
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« Reply #13 on: January 11, 2017, 09:10:47 am »

I think most of what needs to be said has been said. Perhaps the only things left to discuss are:

1. Are there any rules to Steampunk? Is it confined to a given period? I guess circa 1900, in your case?

2. How did the subculture of Steampunk expand throughout the world? Is it just UK and the US?

I guess it's only natural that being a type of science fiction, that technology might be central of the genre. And that implies the centrality of the Industrial Revolution. And being a technological movement, whose first expression was found in the invention of the locomotive, then you'd probably realise that that people in Great Britain - and other English Speaking countries, would find most of this aesthetic somewhat... "folkloric" shall we say? After all, the 19th. C saw the peak of the British Empire. And what about the United States, emerging as a global power toward the beginning of the 20th. C? If so, the 19th. C seems to be the "chosen" period, and English Speaking nations are the "hosts" of Steampunk. Does it not seem natural the the movement would be strongest and have started in these two countries?

Well that’s exactly what happened; English Speaking countries came first into Steampunk. But I must say that Steampunk did not stay confined within the English Speaking sphere, for the simple reason that the Industrial Revolution was not confined among English speaking countries - in no small part, because Great Britain was wholly invested in exporting the Industrial Revolution to the rest of the world.

All in all - which regions / countries developed their own Steampunk movements after the English Speaking countries and mainland Europe? What if I told you that non-English speaking countries developed their own Steampunk movements more or less in the same order as the Industrial Revolution Spread around the world in the late 19th. C? How's that for a coincidence? To understand that look at the locomotive as a technological icon.

The locomotive seems to be another one of those clichés in Steampunk, and with good reason: it is the symbol of the technology that was dominant in the period. This technology actually ties the whole world, culturally speaking, during the late 19th. C. So does the locomotive tie all Steampunks globally.

The implication, is of course, that Steampunk can't be limited to the Victorian Era in the UK, of the Gilded Age in the US. Instead, you’d have to take a look at when the Industrial Revolution arrived in other parts of the world. That is why it's so difficult to pin Steampunk to just the Victorian Era (1837 -1901). Instead, you'd have to stretch it to the relevant historical periods in non-English Speaking countries, when the Industrial Era was manifested in their culture. That usually means expanding Steampunk into the Edwardian Period (1901 _1910), and a little beyond, just before the Roaring 20's which belong to another subculture called "Dieselpunk" (I will leave that explanation for another thread).

Look at the the way in which the Industrial revolution was brought to the (formerly Spanish) Americas after the birth of many new independent nations, like for example, Britain's exports of locomotive and railway technology to Mexico, and the role train system had decades between their Independence war (1810-21), and their Revolution (Civil War) of 1910-1920. There's plenty of inspiration for the Steampunk Mexico forum:

The oldest forum in Mexico (Estd. 2011), of which I was one of the founding members (albeit remotely as I live in the US)
https://www.facebook.com/Steampunk.Mexico/

Steampunk Subculture Analysis by Vodoo Girl
(Skip to 5:32 to see actual Mexican Steampunks from the "Retrofuturist Mexico Collective" a newer group made of some original Steampunk Mexico members)
Steampunk: México Retrofuturista


The basis for their movement could easily be inspired from these historical scenes and period movies:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Revolution

Rebel soldiers moving by rail during the Mexican Revolution

El Atentado (Trailer oficial Alta resolución)



And what about the United States' influence in Japan, after Commodore Perry's visit, vis-a-vis the Japanese Meiji Restoration Period 1868 to 1912? Japan very quickly became a military power and an industrialized nation during that period. They merged their culture with Western culture including their clothing. Similar to the way the Mexicans adopted Continental European attire and customs in the historical drama above. The Meiji Period is a perfect starting point for the Tokyo Inventors Society

http://www.tokyosteampunk.com/designfesta44report/

スチームガーデン 8 PV Steam Garden 8


At some point Meiji period clothing can also be inspired from historical records and period cinema. Any historical aesthetic you want to study is available online:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meiji_Restoration

The Last Samurai - Official® Trailer [HD]



And who can forget the role of locomotives in Russia?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Revolution
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_rail_transport_in_Russia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikzhel

To which out forum member and friend, Mr. Morozow, can bring you examples (and hopefully some videos), better than I can...


~ ~ ~

Technology in an antiquated sense, yet aspiring to reach toward the future: that is Steampunk. Even beyond our present, toward the future, technology is what ties all Steampunk together.

Steampunk is Industrial Folklore more than anything else in my mind. The Steampunk aethetic is the aesthetic natural to the onset or beginnings of the Industrial Age, which is the most romantic way of representing technology - quite literally, as that is - from a Fine Arts perspective - coincidental with the "Romantic Period."

Steampunk is centered around the 19th. C and beginning of the 20th, because that was the golden era of the Industrial Revolution. These are fantastical folkloric tales of a past that never was but that could have been. And there are no limits to what technology you want to use - as long as it looks anachronistic - as if some terrible time warp had placed the technology in the hands of mid 19th or early 20th. C people.

There is no rule that says that you can't have nuclear reactors or airplanes in Steampunk. Especially when you consider the efforts by Sir George Cayley (1773-1857), Otto Lilienthal (1848 -1896), Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (1840 – 1916), Samuel Langley (1834 – 1906), and the Wright Brothers, Wilbur (1867 - 1912) and Orville (1871 -1948). Plus the fact that a nuclear reactor is basically a heat generator for a turbine steam engine  Roll Eyes ... Let your imagination fly.

Now if I really wanted to stretch your mind (assuming you're still reading my post), then I'd tell you that Anachronism is not the only way to "do" Steampunk. Anachriosnism as a literary device, more or less means that you take something from one era, and place it in another. More or less preserving history and geography. England is still England, and America is still America, if not politically, at least geographically. But to really test your Steampunk brain muscles, you have to ask yourself whether Steampunk can be created in an alternate world.

How about a world in which the history is all made up? Where you can't really place the story or plot withing any real know historical period? Then, if you can make that fictitious world look convincingly Steampunk, then the story is not an anachronsim, but rather a "Uchronism" or Uchronia," meaning you can't pinpoint a historical period. Like Robert E. Howard 1930's pulp fictions about Conan the Barbarian. Howard purposely avoided a historical period because he found it to hard to tie in with real historical societies, like the Ancient Greek, for example. The caveat is that you have to make it look believable. I think that one example of a Uchronic Steampunk would be the anime "Trigun," where the characters have a 19th. C Wild West-esque look, but the whole plot takes part in some far unspecified future. What about the TV series "Firefly"?

OK, so let's stretch the mind a little more.... What if the Steampunk world is not even on Planet Earth?  Is that possible? Could you device some sort of alien race who undergo some similar Industrial Revolution and 19th C aesthetic? And then by accident or warfare, launch them into space? I would call this style "Virtual Steampunk," because you'd be generating Steampunk out of nothing... no Earth history, nor Earth geography... a universe entirely made by you - but in the Steampunk style.

Perhaps some human like race like the Centauri, in the 1990's Sci Fi TV Series Babylon 5?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon_5
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centauri_(Babylon_5)

Centauri Males in Babylon 5


~ ~ ~

If you really want to get pedantic about it, and would like to have a chuckle at my madness, look at the link below. One night when I was delirious with a high fever, and when I was, apparently, channelling my graduate school mathematics professor, I came with a Steampunk theorem"  Roll Eyes The Principle of Virtual Steampunk  Grin

http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,33164.0.html

~ ~ ~

I remain (truly in madness) yours,

Adm. J. Wilhelm
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Cora Courcelle
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« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2017, 09:17:29 pm »

And never forget that if you ask any three steampunks what it actually is, you will get at least four different answers.
And they'll all be correct.
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« Reply #15 on: January 11, 2017, 10:18:57 pm »

And never forget that if you ask any three steampunks what it actually is, you will get at least four different answers.
And they'll all be correct.

Hmm, well that is one of the bones of contention for folks like me. As I said elsewhere, try turning up to a Steampunk gathering in a pink velour track suit and see how much of a splendid reaction you get (even if you have matching goggles). Y'know there are some guidelines all be they loose and open to interpretation, not just anything is Steampunk. I'll concede pretty much anything can be Steampunked, but as some folks seem to have boiled the aesthetic down to some brass coloured paint and a few glued on gears I guess that's hardly surprising. Personally I think the concepts work best when executed with finesse and perhaps a touch of class. But there we enter the realm of subjectivity, and I do of course concede everyone has to start somewhere.
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« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2017, 11:38:29 pm »

And never forget that if you ask any three steampunks what it actually is, you will get at least four different answers.
And they'll all be correct.

Hmm, well that is one of the bones of contention for folks like me. As I said elsewhere, try turning up to a Steampunk gathering in a pink velour track suit and see how much of a splendid reaction you get (even if you have matching goggles). Y'know there are some guidelines all be they loose and open to interpretation, not just anything is Steampunk. I'll concede pretty much anything can be Steampunked, but as some folks seem to have boiled the aesthetic down to some brass coloured paint and a few glued on gears I guess that's hardly surprising. Personally I think the concepts work best when executed with finesse and perhaps a touch of class. But there we enter the realm of subjectivity, and I do of course concede everyone has to start somewhere.
Amen Brother Argus.  Amen.
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« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2017, 08:25:36 am »

Perhaps the next subject is What is not Steampunk?  Grin We've had a thread like that before....
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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #18 on: January 12, 2017, 12:25:52 pm »

Lol, ironically folks tend to be in generally more unanimous agreement about that than what it is. But that would seem to illustrate there is some vague consensus by which to judge. Dieselpunk is interesting, because there is supposedly this ''Holy Trinity'' by which to identify it. Contemporary,Decodence & Punk (IKR? that's as clear as mud!). But actually it makes kinda sense. Contemporary means it's a modern take on relevant period concepts. Decodence that it features some form of identifiable styles or aesthetics from said periods, and the Punk part is really any kind of unusual twist. I think a similar idea could equally apply to Steampunk (not that y'know, I'm trying to make up rules or anything) hehe.
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« Reply #19 on: January 13, 2017, 03:38:36 am »

If you start giving me rules, I'll give you theorems, lemmas and corollaries!  Grin
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von Corax
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« Reply #20 on: January 13, 2017, 05:30:08 am »

We need axioms first.

I propose that the First Axiom of Steampunk be, "If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong."
« Last Edit: January 13, 2017, 04:11:54 pm by von Corax » Logged
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« Reply #21 on: January 13, 2017, 08:28:10 am »

The first rule of Steam punk is that we don't ask what the first rule of Steampunk is.

The second rule is still Be Splendid.
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« Reply #22 on: January 13, 2017, 05:35:10 pm »

We need axioms first.

I propose that the First Axiom of Steampunk be, "If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong."

Hear hear!
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« Reply #23 on: January 14, 2017, 10:58:29 am »

Steampunk is an experience
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« Reply #24 on: January 15, 2017, 06:36:22 pm »

My personal favorite description of steampunk is "if you asked a Victorian what 2017 would be like you'd probably end up with something pretty close to steampunk" .

What I like to do with steampunk is to see it as an alternate present, for example if Babbage's analytical engine had been built there could have been a computing revolution in the Victorian era put computers today would probably be very different. Or if Tesla had been able to develop his ideas, would we have had wireless electricity instead of the national grid? What other inventions may have come off the back of these?
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