Friday, March 2, 2012

A Closer Look at Subgenres: Steampunk

I was recently reading the Steampunk Bible, by Jeff VanderMeer, and my teen son came in. After looking over my shoulder for a minute, he asked if he could borrow it when I was done. Later I caught him reading it. "Why haven't I heard of Steampunk before?" he asked. His tone was aggrieved. Of course, what's funniest about that is I'm sure there's a great deal that my fifteen-year old hasn't heard of yet, or had the chance to enjoy. All the same, that was my feeling, too, when I first discovered that there was a name for this weird obsession I've had, and a whole genre, too!

A few notes on Steampunk, in case you, too, are wondering what this new beast is and why you haven't heard of it.

  • You get to dress up, and your costume can be as historically inspired and wildly creative as you like. Many times they include funky gadgets, goggles, and glorious gizmos. Plus a corset, if you like. Not that I would know anything about that ;)

  • There's lots of opportunity for hands on--in fact, do it yourself is kind of at the core of steampunk. If you're like me and you love to see your own contraption take shape and work, this is for you. If you love an independent and self-sustainable lifestyle, this is for you.

  • It has its own music, and its own art. Above and beyond the literary genre lives an entire culture that is vibrant and always pushing the creative envelope.

  • The underlying philosophy is one that embraces alternatives. That history didn't have to run the way it did, that you don't have to buy everything from a store, that the possibilities for self expression run deeper than whatever clothing ad is currently running.

Stories started the whole thing, and stories (imho) keep it going. Classics include H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. My personal favorites are Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan books, and Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. Which kind of shows you the scope of what steampunk is capable of. When the future has been reinvented through a lens that recreates the past, anything is possible.


  1. I think I'm the only person on the planet formerly unaware of what Steampunk consisted of. I always suspect those purple-tophatted people with lace, coattails and goggles at Comic Con were it...but was never really sure.

    Dang! Where were you when I was in the midst of a bunch of writers going on about this and was LOST?

  2. Probably lost with you! lol I really feel like I've always had a bit of steampunk in my soul, and can't believe it took me so long to know its name!

  3. Great post, Suzanne. I totally think steampunk ranks as the most fun genre!

  4. I need to read some of those novels. I've heard of this genre but am not real familiar with it. Thaks for the explanation.