Is steampunk a sub-genre of fiction? A fashion? A philosophy? Or a subculture?
The short answer: It's all of those things.
First and foremost, steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy fiction. Steampunk fiction generally includes social, fashion and technology of the last 19th century (think Victorian era) but with some kind of rebellion against at least parts of it. Put these two ideas together and you get steampunk. But of course once we define the genre, you'll be able to find scads of books that defy the definition I've just given and still end up being steampunk. The genre grows and morphs and branches out in yet still more subgenres so we now have steampunk romance, steampunk erotica and steampunk young adult fiction. And steampunk can take place in the future or on other planets. So maybe the best way to define steampunk is to look at the visuals that go with it.
|A Steampunk Wedding|
Steampunk has bloomed into much more than just a sub-genre of fantasy fiction. Steampunk has emerged as a bonafide fashion culture as well. Steampunk is what happens when you take Victorian clothes and merge them with gears and gadgets and goggles - always the goggles. If you play World of Warcraft, the gnomes and their world are definitely steampunk! As a fashion, it's about modifying the clothes yourself to create something that may merge old and new. Oh, and corsets. I have to mention corsets. Take goggles, a corset and throw in a top hat and you're on your way to a steampunk look.
Steampunk isn't just for wearing though. People who like to tinker and build find creative outlet by taking new, modern objects and injecting an old-world feel through layering on steampunk materials - wood, brass and gears especially. The result are things like a steampunk mouse or keyboard or laptop. Check out this steampunk spider. How creepy and cool is this?
Like many great things that start out in fiction and make their way to the collective, steampunk has become synonymous with more than just fiction or fashion. Steampunk has become, for some, a way of life. It's not just about how they dress or fashion their modern tools. Steampunk has come to represent for some a way to re-think how we live in our modern age. It's like a forward thinking but backward looking philosophy.
Okay, for some it's just fashion, not philosophy.
Even if you have never heard the term steampunk before, you've probably seen it all around you. If you watch movies, you've seen steampunk fashion and vision. The Lilliputians in the movie Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black - they were steampunk. And recently I saw The Three Musketeers (an awful movie by the way), but it had a steam-powered flying ship. That was steampunk. Though I have not yet read it, the covers of Clockwork Prince certainly looks steampunk. If you've read it, leave me a comment and let me know if I'm right or wrong about that.
And in case you missed it, steampunk has been co-opted by the Mr. Hairdo himself, Justin Bieber, in his video for the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town. If you can't stand to listen, just turn down the sound but look at the fashion and props - it's steampunk.