Imagine listening to the “Renaissance Man” himself, Leonardo da Vinci, describe his vision, a technological panorama of pulleys and gears, great winged flying machines and steam-armored vehicles. At the edge of your seat and with widened eyes, the only word to escape your lips is, “Yes!” Five hundred years later, what began as creative imagination still sounds extraordinary. While he is one of many great men of vision, who believed that combining engineering, nature and science could lead to a viable technology, the origination of steampunk cannot be pinpointed to one person, novel, or movie. Quite possibly, for over seven decades, a great movement has been sweeping through our televisions and theaters, literature and art, without most knowing its name.
The Name “Steampunk”
The term first appeared in a letter by science fiction author K.W. Jeter in 1987, who wrote, “Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks,’ perhaps.” Many aficionados believe the genre has been in existence since the 1960s; yet, discussions continue to “forge” on.
The definition of “steampunk” has not yet been conclusively determined; however, the following qualities are present:
- While the location may be in another world, the era of Victorian England or the American Wild West provides a “scene” (backdrop) of culture, fashion, art and architectural style.
- Combining a science fiction and fantasy genre, steam punk, as a subgenre, seeks to create an alternative history by featuring industrial steam-powered machinery and eliminating the use of electricity and petroleum.
- Authors H.G. Wells and Jules Verne have helped create a definition of steampunk; however, modern writers continue to expand the genre by including vampires, zombies, magic, alternative histories, time travel, romance, and moving beyond the Victorian era.
For those who enjoy science fiction and an alternative history, steampunk literature may be of interest to you. In fact, if you have read Tim Powers, James Blaylock, K.W. Jeter, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, you can claim to have read steampunk. Even young-adult authors have captivated readers in this genre. Alan Gratz, author of The League of Seven trilogy, claimed he wanted to write a book comprising “all the things a ten-year-old boy would have thought awesome, including brass goggles, airships, tentacled monsters, wind-up robots, secret societies and super powers.”
Additional steampunk novels include
- The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
- Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.
- Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina.
- YA Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.
- YA The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare.
Theater and Movies
Whether seated in the comfort of your home or in a theater, you may have had a different cinematic experience by watching Van Helsing; League of Extraordinary Gentleman; The Wild, Wild West, featuring Will Smith and Kevin Kline; and Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr., and Jude Law. Like most, you may have watched those movies time and again.
Children would have been exposed to steampunk through the movies 9, Igor, Treasure Planet, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to name a few.
Collectibles and Art
The creative machines designed with brass and gears have sparked an interest among steampunk geeks. What others see as junk or scrap parts, collectors or artists will transform into an original creation or a modification of a modern convenience. What better place to gather ideas than a television show. In August of 2015, Steampunk’d aired as a game of two teams to “transform ordinary objects and fashion into masterpieces.” As collectors or designers of steampunk art, it is one thing to possess an electronic item; yet many are going one step further to create fully functioning gadgets, such as computer screens, ipod docks, flash drives, furniture and more.
Victorian-era clothing has been a further step in creating the steampunk fashion. All you have to do is imagine the leading man or woman walking out of the pages of a steampunk novel. Picture a top hat, vests, trousers and an ornate pea coat or long grunge black coat for men. Women have a variety of options, depending on their mood. Is this the day for sailing across the skies or attending a function? The steampunk fashion for women ranges from corsets, blouses, skirts and boots to a gown with a broad belt, feathered hat and long cape.
The world of steampunk is here to inspire creativity and imagination while looking simultaneously to the past and future. If you look closely enough, steampunk is everywhere.