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Author Topic: steampunk?  (Read 672 times)
Banned user
Bahamas Bahamas

« on: December 26, 2019, 08:51:06 am »

Hi everybody! I’m Holly.
I have a few questions here, but they can mostly be summed up by the question: what is steampunk literature?
As far as books, what is necessary to make a work fall under the category of steampunk?
What is needed to make something steampunk as opposed to another genre? Are there themes, character types, or tropes that occur inside of a steampunk world that make it unique?

I'm curious to hear from you all--what do you think of when you hear the word "steampunk"?
Thank in advance.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2020, 01:19:11 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
Kensington Locke
Snr. Officer
United States United States

« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2019, 05:09:23 pm »

Here's a stab at what I'd consider steampunk literature (or fiction per some references I use).

Victorian/Edwardian era technology/cultural mindset (approx 1840-1910).
The culture cannot have evolved past that point and then regressed technologically.

Why? Because once you've had the eye opener of the Great War and everything we did after 1910, you are no longer innocent.

In actual fiction, books written back then are not steampunk: The Time Machine, 20,000 Leagues under the sea, etc.
That's contemporary science fiction written by a Victorian. They're Innocent. Note the 1950s 20K under sea is atomic age and is also NOT steampunk.

And that Innocence I spoke of?  Well, they're guilty as hell. Steampunk is retrospective science fiction. Written from the 1980s-present, it is Woke in a way that Jules Verne cannot be. Victorians were racist and sexist and close-minded.

Steampunk almost always revises history or has characters that rise above that. If the MCs are upper class, they get a dose of classism.  If they're lower class, they're probably overthrowing the government by the end of the book.

Steampunk is not always alternate history Earth 1840s-1910. It could be another world is similar development
It isn't purely steam-powered. As with the real time period, plenty of other energy sources were used
It can be fantastical, not strictly science-fiction.  From critters to power sources to magic.
It isn't always set in England/Europe. There are stories set in America. China. But generally, they all lock into the same time period for the feel. So re-imagine India during that period, perhaps having resisted the Britain with their giant mechanical Brahma.

That's kind of my generic steampunk definition. Which excludes things like DieselPunk because that's it's own thing in the same way that post-modernism isn't modernism.

Now, as a writer, how do I get that Steampunk feel?
It's not enough to be set in the Republic of Texas, 1890 (a setting I created).
There has to be enough technology (or magic) that emulates capabilities we have now, be it massive Babbage computers and pneumatic messaging tube networks.  Transportation that is distinctive from the actual period be it mono-cycles, airships, etc.
All of it has to be reframed in old-timey terms and possible implementations.  There's no internet or iPhone running on transistors. 

So the ideas of those things has to be broken down and re-imagined in baser forms (to us), but greatly advanced from them.  The cover artist should be drawing it like a Victorian built it, if it looks DieselPunk, send it back. That means it won't be Streamlined.  It'll likely be wood, brass, copper, iron and Bakelite.  It'll be ornate with filigree and trim.

That will get you in the ballpark of a steampunk setting.

As for Tropes, look at what was going on back then: Colonialism, racism, slavery, mysogyny.  Steampunk is almost always against those (I've not seen any book that supported them).  If the world didn't dodge them via alternate history, the protagonists are fighting against it (and probably win at the end).  That era was a contrast of soot everywhere and clean white gloves.  Those who are dirtiest have the cleanest souls, and vice versa. Those who are clean, fall and get dirty (remember the aforementioned upper class).

Synistor 303
Snr. Officer
Australia Australia

Zenyna Ironbracker

« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2019, 01:11:15 am »

My Steampunk is mainly art - gadgets, insects and animals and then humans made Steampunk. I prefer craftsmanship and workmanship and am not fond of; 'stick a cog on it and call it steampunk' type stuff.
Zeppelin Admiral
Scotland Scotland

Caledon Machinery (they/them)

« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2019, 05:53:44 pm »

Based on my experience reading:
To be considered steampunk, literature tends to do some of selected things, but not necessarily all these things.

- be from the victorian/edwardian era with elements of future predictions or supernaturalism
- be based on works like that
- have involved in a victorian-esque society, with elements of science fiction
- science fiction with elements of archaic tech and steam power


I actually know basic clockmaking now!
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