Monday, January 23, 2012

Manic Monday: What is Steampunk Anyway?

Welcome to Steampunk week on Natalie Wright's YA blog! This week is all about Victorian fashion, gears, rivets and steam powered machines. And in today's post I present a Steampunk primer for those of you reading this that don't know what the heck I'm talking about when I say steampunk.
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 spiderSteampunk 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.

If Bieber is going steampunk, does that mean it's no longer a sub-culture?

If you want to learn more, check out the site It's a well-done site with lots of great information.

And stay tuned here on Natalie Wright's YA for more of Steampunk Week. Wednesday, I'll interview author Jason G. Anderson and discuss his first steampunk novel, Gears of Wonderland. And Friday I'll review said book.

I love to hear from you so post a comment. Are you steampunk? If you have photos of steampunk fashion or gear you'd like to share, post it here or on my Facebook author page.


  1. I spent a fab Hallowe'en with a veritable lair of NorCal/Wine Country steampunks and you are correct in that corsets are de rigueur; Glugg and absinthe are also of vital importance. As it regards the corsets, key is, natch, getting one's waist as tiny as possible. (I got mine down to 20", but spent most of the night hallucinating ... maybe that was the Glugg.)

    Steampunk might be running its course wherein mainstream popularity has taken notice; yet it shall retain its devotees no matter what the weather: much like Goth, Grunge, Faire or country music. (Someone explain country music to me, btw. I find it induces the same hallucinatory seizures as do corsets and Bieber tuneage.)

    Moi-meme? I've been drawn to steampunk since reading Jules Verne as a child and going on the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction at Disneyland. Maintenant? I feature a steampunk heroine in my recurring Hannah Hart ghost series at Dr. Lucia Devereaux and her pet octopus Onslow. Dr. Lucy was Scripps Institution of Oceanography's first hot marine biologist, beginning her research in 1904. Yes, in corsets! Who descends into the Pacific in a submersible without a corset?)

    I also expect to create a steampunk character for myself: a femme archaeologist for this year's Comic-Con costume. Why archaelologist? I was a geology major for a bit, so I love fossils and, ahem, if I do say so, I can "rock" a pith helmet, red lips and khaki corset.

    Great steampunk titles, btw? The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger.

    1. I came across Gail Garriger's name quite a few times whilst researching this post so I have to go check that out.
      And I want to see pics of your costume for Comic-Con - it sounds full of delicious possibility.
      I'm considering a steampunk version of myself for my Halloween festivities this year.

    2. I shall absolutely be posting pics come C-C time! In the meanwhile, there are a couple of snaps at my personal blog (not the Geek-site) if you'd like to see. (Note: Blogger seems to be messing with individual post-links; so just click on the pic with Moi as Bellatrix Lestrange, titled Post-Hallowe'en Post: Boy, Did Your Mothers All Do Numbers on You!)!/2011/11/post-halloween-post-boy-did-your.html

      Perchance, you'll be headed to C-C? Phoenix isn't too far away :) Be sure to pre-register, though! Getting badges is an epic production. Ick. It's like pre-dialing 9-1-1: 9-1- ... wait for it. I'm doing finger exercises now.


    3. Thanks for the heads up on CC - I've never been before and I definitely want to go. Thanks Jennifer!


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