Steampunk – What It Is, What it’s Not

I have been a fan of Science Fiction since I was old enough to pick up a book and read it for myself.  Normally I prefer hard science Sci-Fi to any form of fantasy.  However I have been captivated by the old Wild, Wild West television show and movies such as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and books like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon, H.G. Wells’s First Men in the Moon and The Time Machine.  All of these combine a Victorian environment with high-tech achievement but without high technology.  Confused?  So was I when I first heart the term “Steampunk”.

The ‘punk’ part misguided my brain onto thinking it was some urban-new wave sort of stuff and I paid it no mind.  But as the term was bandied around more, I became curious, and found that it is in fact that odd, red-headed  stepchild of Sci-Fi with which I was so fascinated.  But I still was not clear on what the rules were; where are the boundaries.  Then I came across this PBS mini-documentary that cleared it up nicely.  If you are less than certain, I hope it will do the same for you.


For more information about Steampunk check our these resources (updated as I discover them)

  • The Airship Ambassador News, interviews, books & DVDs as well as an art gallery.
  • An Educated Guess definition (and discussion) of Steampunk
  • IO9 It’s Time to Rethink Steampunk
  • The Pyramid Collection Steampunk clothing for those real-life adventures (or book cover photo shoots)
  • Quiet Earth Offers a preview of the new War of the Worlds: Goliath movie.
  • Steampunk News The latest news on anachronisms from around the globe – and it doesn’t even take eighty days.
  • The Steampunk Tribune Reporting on steampunk since 2007.
  • Xerposa a blog dedicated to all things Steampunk.

13 thoughts on “Steampunk – What It Is, What it’s Not”

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Corinne. I found the video helpful and entertaining, thought I’d share it here. Naturally, I can take no credit for the vid – that was PBS. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. I have not yet read anything that is labeled as steampunk, Sophie, but I’m keeping my eye out. A couple of steampunk authors have responded via twitter and e-mail to enlighten me further, but neither of them offered samples. Here is Random House’s top 20 recommendations: and here is Tor Books, Steampunk Magazine page (they’re looking for submissions) where I (I think) samples of the mag can be downloaded. I haven’t tried it yet, but that’s on my list.

      One of the comments was that writing steampunk is extremely difficult because it is such a visual medium; movies and comics pull it off well, novels and short stories take real skill to set the stage without pages and pages of expository description. I can see her point, much of the charm is in seeing familiar things re-purposed into the extraordinary.

    1. You’re welcome, Ken. I’m poking around trying to find a good Steampunk novel to read and review. To me something in the vein of Heinlein, AC Clarke or Asimov gone steampunk should be fascinating. I don’t care much for the fantasy end of the spectrum.

    1. I’m just getting into reading Steampunk. I have read the books I mentioned above, but these are not labeled as SP, and probably don’t conform well enough to truly bear that label. At the moment I am reading Burning Sky – just started it last night (and I’ve gotten to where I read slowly) so it’s too soon to render an opinion on the story. It seems the most difficult part of SP is figuring out the world they live in: it is both familiar and strange at once. I would look forward to reading your SP stories, but it sounds like I should not hold my breath for that day 🙂 Thanks for visiting, Mary!

  1. Thank you so much for posting this for me on Twitter. I had no idea I was a Steam Punk fan. Now I have to pass this on to my friends.

  2. Ooh, videos. Fun! 🙂

    I’ve been surprised that many folks have tagged my Emperor’s Edge books as steampunk on Amazon, because they’re pure heroic fantasy to me. I just set them in an Industrial Revolution time period. I’ve embraced it a bit though and have more steam-powered gadgets in the 2nd and 3rd books.

    Interestingly, I’ve had a hard time getting into a lot of the steampunk out there. I find it often comes with one of the classic SF pitfulls–lots of world-building and gimmicky science/gadgets/tech and a lack of characters that you really get into. I did very much enjoy Westerfeld’s Leviathan books though.

    1. Thanks for your input Lindsay – some folks do seem confused. And I agree completely; some books I’ve read are so focused on scene setting and describing the gadgetry that the characters are wooden and lifeless. This approach may be great for artwork, but a story needs strong characters – something you do exceptionally well.

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