Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. Fiction in the steampunk genre is set in the past, or a world resembling the past, in which modern technological paradigms occurred earlier in history, but were accomplished via the science already present in that time period. The genre typically falls into the realm of science fiction.
The term "steampunk" was originally a tongue in cheek variant of "cyberpunk". The prototypical "steampunk" stories were essentially cyberpunk tales that were set in the past, using steam-era technology rather than the ubiquitous cybernetics of cyberpunk but maintaining those stories' "punkish" attitudes towards authority figures and human nature. Originally, like cyberpunk, steampunk was typically dystopian, often with noir and pulp fiction themes, as it was a variant of cyberpunk. As the genre developed, it came to adopt more of the broadly appealing utopian sensibilities of Victorian scientific romances.
Steampunk fiction focuses more intently on real, theoretical or cinematic Victorian-era technology, including steam engines, clockwork devices, and difference engines. While much of steampunk is set in Victorian-era settings, the genre has expanded into medieval settings and often delves into the realms of horror and fantasy. Various secret societies and conspiracy theories are often featured, and some steampunk includes significant fantasy elements. There are frequently Lovecraftian, occult and Gothic horror influences as well.
Inspired by the Scientific Romances, Voyages Extraordinaires and Edisonades of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Steampunk as a genre developed in the 1980s as an offshoot of, or reaction to, Cyberpunk.
K.W. Jeter's 1979 novel Morlock Night is sometimes cited as crystallizing the genre: It incorporates elements of Wells' The Time Machine, which Jeter expands with his own ideas. Other early examples include Robert Heinlein's 1980 novel The Number of the Beast, whose characters travel between alternate universes that are realizations of classic SF stories, or Philip José Farmer's 1983 foray into the writing style of L. Frank Baum, A Barnstormer in Oz .
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's 1992 novel The Difference Engine is often credited with inspiring the term "Steampunk". This novel applies the principles of Gibson and Sterling's Cyberpunk writings to an alternate Victorian era where Charles Babbage's mechanical computer was actually built. However, the earliest citation for the term belongs to Jeter. 
Some cite the origin of the Steampunk concept going back as far as Walt Disney's 1954 adaptation of Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The film was a benchmark in its conscious choice to maintain a Victorian look and feel rather than updating the story (as was the case with the 1953 adaptation of Wells' The War of the Worlds).
The present and growing popularity of Steampunk is likely due in large part to Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book series. Moore's concept and writing made the series popular, but reviews attaching the term "Steampunk" to it became many people's first exposure to the term.
Although it would be inaccurate to label the science fiction written during the actual Victorian era (such as the pioneering works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mary Shelley) as "steampunk", there is no doubt these works are a direct inspiration for modern steampunk authors. The term "classic steampunk" is rarely used to refer to these works.
Types of steampunk
There are two main sub-genres of steampunk: historical steampunk and fantasy steampunk. Historical steampunk tends to be more "science fictional": presenting an alternate history, presenting real locales and persons from history with different technology. Fantasy steampunk, on the other hand, tends to present steampunk in a completely imaginary fantasy realm, often populated by legendary creatures coexisting with steam-era or anachronistic technologies.
Although originally conceived as being Victorian-era science fiction only, the term has become common use for many related forms of speculative fiction set in the pre-Electric age era. Sub-genres include:
In general, the category includes any pre-electricity science fiction work with an emphasis on steam- or spring-propelled gadgets. This also includes many alternate history stories in the genre. The most common historical steampunk settings are the Victorian and Edwardian eras, though some in this "Victorian steampunk" category can go as early as the Industrial Revolution. Some examples of this type include the comic book series League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the novel The Difference Engine and the Dinotopia book series. The next most common setting is "Western steampunk", being a science fictionalized American Western, as seen in the television shows The Wild Wild West and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and films Wild Wild West and Back to the Future Part III. There are also "Medieval steampunk" stories set in the Middle Ages, in which steam and industrial technology is developed in the Medieval era.
Since the 1990s, the application of the steampunk label has expanded out of the pure science fiction realm into other forms of speculative fiction, including both steampunk science fiction alongside traditional fantasy or horror elements. Fantasy steampunk is any work of fantasy fiction that combines magic with steam- or spring-powered gadget technology. China Mieville is one of the better-known fantasy steampunk authors. Other notable examples of fantasy steampunk include the Castle Falkenstein role-playing game, The Vision of Escaflowne anime series, the Thief (computer game) first-person sneaker series, many of the games in the Final Fantasy console role-playing game series and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura for the PC.
As a continuing play on the cyber/steam-punk naming convention, there have been a handful of divergent genres based on the general conceits of steampunk, each set further into the past. "Clockpunk" (so called because of the use of clockwork machinations, as opposed to steam-engine) is one of the more relatively prominent, set during the Renaissance era or a fantasy equivalent thereof. The term was coined in the GURPS role-playing supplement GURPS Steampunk, and is a relatively uncommon subgenre, appearing most famously in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, in which things we would consider "modern technology" are invented with a combination of Renaissance technology and, perhaps, magic. The genre is largely inspired by the "ahead-of-their-time" designs of Leonardo da Vinci. Clockpunk works include Pasquale's Angel by Paul J. McAuley and the comic book 1602 by Neil Gaiman.
The "sandalpunk" sub-genre posits a world in which ancient civilization never collapsed into the Dark Ages and instead saw rapid technological advancement after a few key discoveries are made or developed into industrial technologies, such as Hero of Alexandria's steam engine, built around 130 BC. One such example is Inne piesni (Other Songs) by Jacek Dukaj.
GURPS Steampunk also introduced several other variations on the steampunk theme, including "timepunk" (a general term covering any historical variation on steampunk), "bronzepunk" (steampunk set in the Bronze Age), and "stonepunk" (steampunk set in the Stone Age).
In between the historical and fantasy sub-genres of steampunk is a type which takes place in a hypothetical future or a fantasy equivalent of our future where some variety of steampunk-style technology and aesthetics dominate. Examples include the Neotopia comic and even Disney's Treasure Planet film. This could also be considered a type of Retro-futurism.
Steampunk as a culture
The most immediate form of steampunk culture is the community of fans surrounding the genre. Others move beyond this, attempting to adopt a "Steampunk" aesthetic through fashion, home decor and even music. This movement may also be (more accurately) described as "Neo-Victorianism", which is the amalgamation of Victorian aesthetic principles with modern sensibilities and technologies.
"Steampunk" fashion has no set guidelines, but tends synthesizing Punk, Goth and Rivet styles as filtered through the Victorian era. This may include Mohawks and extensive piercings with corsets and tattered petticoats, Victorian suits with goggles and boots with large soles and buckles or straps, and the Elegant Gothic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat styles.
"Steampunk" music is even less defined, and tends to apply to any modern musicians whose music evokes a feeling of the Victorian era or steampunk. This may include such diverse artists as Rasputina, Thomas Dolby, Paul Roland , The Dresden Dolls and Sarah Brightman.
- The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo
- The Difference Engine by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling -- the designs of Charles Babbage led to the wide usage of mechanical computers in Victorian England. (See difference engine)
- Morlock Night by K. W. Jeter
- The Light Ages by Ian R. MacLeod
- The Grand Ellipse by Paula Volsky
- Pasquale's Angel by Paul McAuley
- Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick
- Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
- The Scar by China Miéville
- Age of Unreason Trilogy by Gregory Keyes
- by Mike Pondsmith
- A Nomad of the Time Streams by Michael Moorcock
- Infernal Devices by K. W. Jeter
- The Sundowners Series by James Swallow
- Homunculus by James Blaylock
- L'équilibre des paradoxes by Michel Pagel
- Lord Kelvin's Machine by James Blaylock
- Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter
- Greatwinter trilogy, by Sean McMullen
- The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
- Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time and The World Beneath by James Gurney
Quasi-Victorian science fiction
- A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! by Harry Harrison -- an alternate history novel written and set in the 1970s in a world where the American Revolution failed and the British Empire is still going strong. It has a nice mix of technologies advanced or behind ours, with high powered lasers used for drilling, while Babbage engines are used to do calculations for sub-orbital flights.
- Queen Victoria's Bomb by Ronald Clark -- in the mid 19th century; a physicist gets the idea of isotopic separation after seeing pebbles graded by size on a pebble beach, and makes an atomic bomb. He intends to use it to end the Crimean War, but it never gets used, and no difference is made to history.
- The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson -- A steampunk-flavored adventure set in a nanotechnological future, with much of the action in a neo-Victorian society
- The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling -- Meteors devastate Europe and America in the 19th century, causing much of the British upper class to flee to India. The story is set in 2025 in a thoroughly Indianized Angrezi Raj (British Empire), with its capital in Delhi.
Classic SF novels, inspirations for steampunk
- From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
- The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
- Robur the Conqueror by Jules Verne
- The Steam House by Jules Verne
- The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
- The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
- The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells
- The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
- The Ablest Man in the World by Edward Page Mitchell
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
Comics / graphic novels
- Daisy Kutter by Kazu Kibuishi
- Le Régulateur T1 : Ambrosia by Corbeyran
- Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1898 by Alan Moore
- Steam Detectives manga by Kia Asamiya
- Steampunk by Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo
- Texas Steampunk series by Lea Hernandez : Cathedral Child and Clockwork Angels
- Les Cités Obscures by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten
- (DC Comics Elseworlds) by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola and (DC Comics Elseworlds) by Augusten and Eduardo Barreto
- (DC Comics Elseworlds) by Adisakdi Tantimedh and Galen Showman
- Justice Riders (DC Comics Elseworlds) by Chuck Dixon and J. H. Williams III
- (DC Comics Elseworlds) by Mike Mignola and Troy Nixey
- The Amazing Screw-On Head by Mike Mignola
- Neotopia by Rod Espinosa
- The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Heart of Empire, or The Legacy of Luther Arkwright by Bryan Talbot
Steampunk role-playing game material
- Castle Falkenstein (RPG) by Mike Pondsmith
- GURPS Steampunk by William H. Stoddard
- Iron Kingdoms by Privateer Press
- Sorcery & Steam by Fantasy Flight Games
- Space: 1889
- Forgotten Futures
- Brassy's Men by Interactivities Ink (Live action role-playing game)
- Warhammer mostly renaissance and gunpowder age in nature
- A Trip to the Moon (1902)
- The Impossible Voyage (1904)
- Conquest of the Pole (1912)
- The Invisible Man (1933)
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
- The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958)
- Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
- The Time Machine (1960, 2002)
- Master of the World (1961)
- First Men in the Moon (1964)
- The Asphyx (1972)
- The Adventures of Mark Twain (1982 claymation)
- Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan (1983)
- Castle in the Sky (1986)
- Back to the Future Part III (1990)
- Hudson Hawk (1991)
- The Rocketeer (1991)
- Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
- Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)
- The City of Lost Children (1995)
- Casper (1995)
- Wild Wild West (1998)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
- Steamboy (2004 anime)
- Van Helsing (2004)
- Hellboy (2004)
- Around the World in 80 Days (2004)
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
- Howl's Moving Castle (ハウルの動く城) (2005)
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., FOX series
- Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars (1975), The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977), Ghost Light (1989)
- Dinotopia, syndicated series
- Fullmetal Alchemist, anime TV series
- Gormenghast BBC series
- Jack of All Trades, syndicated series
- Kino's Journey, anime TV series
- Last Exile, 2003 26-episode anime TV series
- Legend , series
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, anime TV series
- Sakura Wars, anime TV series
- The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, Sci Fi Channel series
- Secret of Cerulean Sand, anime TV series
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World , syndicated series
- Steam Detectives, anime TV series
- Trigun, anime TV series
- The Wild Wild West, ABC series
- The Vision of Escaflowne, anime TV series
- Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
- Chaos Engine
- Chrono Trigger
- Chrono Cross
- Crimson Skies
- Dungeon Siege
- Final Fantasy, most prominently Final Fantasy V (Neo-Classical), Final Fantasy VI (Tuscan/Victorian/Western) and Final Fantasy VII
- Jak and Daxter series
- Magic: the Gathering, prominent in the Weatherlight storyline and dominant in the Mirrodin storyline
- Morrowind, specifically Dwemer culture
- Sakura Wars
- Septerra Core
- Shining Force Series
- Slouching Towards Bedlam
- Tail Concerto
- WILD ARMS series (Western)
- World of Warcraft
- Steampunk FAQ
- Steampunk - Victorian Adventurers in a Past that Wasn't
- History of Robots of the Victorian Era
- Steampunk Central
- Gothic Steam Phantastic
- Steampunk Giant Robots
- Wildwinter Steampunk - The Lemniscate Club Archives
- Steampunk Chronology
- Victorian tabletop list
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