Pocket Watches hanging on chains

What is Steampunk Anyway?

The Steampunk Genre Defined

Ever find yourself daydreaming about roaming the streets of Victorian London, surrounded by brass clockwork machines whirring and hissing clouds of steam? What about battling outlandish villains with a ragtag crew of adventurers decked out in vintage regalia and souped-up gadgets?

If these kinds of fantasies get your gears turning, then my friend, you may just be a closet steampunk! This delightfully eccentric genre has been exploding in popularity over the last few decades. But many people are still left wondering - what exactly is steampunk?

The Origins of Steampunk

Well, buckle up and get ready to embark on an imaginative journey. Steampunk is a sub-culture that essentially reimagines the 19th century through the lens of futuristic technology and punk rock nonconformity. It takes the aristocratic aesthetics and industrial grit of the Victorian era and meshes it with whimsical sci-fi concepts like robots, ray guns, and airborne vessels.

Steampunk's Alternate History

At its core, steampunk is all about envisioning an alternate history where steam-powered machines advanced down a wildly different technological path than what we know. It's a world where the combustion engine and computer age never quite manifested. Instead, the innovators of this retro-futurist realm forged ahead with outrageous steam-driven contraptions and analogue accessories that seem both antiquated and avant-garde.

The Inventors of Steampunk Lore

So how did this weird and wonderful micro-universe emerge? Well, like many genius concepts, steampunk began as the brainchild of quirky writers and artists just letting their imaginations run wild.

While the term "steampunk" wasn't coined until the late 80s, its roots can be traced back to the speculative fiction of pioneering authors like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley in the 19th century. Their era-defining tales of steam-powered human invention like air vessels, submarine craft, and biological engineering planted the seeds for this unique genre's aesthetic and ethos.

Fast forward to the 60s, and you'll find modern masterworks solidifying steampunk's bizarre blend of historical inspiration and futuristic irreverence. Books like Michael Moorcock's "A Nomad of the Time Streams" and constituents of the "New Wave" sci-fi movement played with anachronistic depictions of technology, sowing the soil for steampunk's signature "retro-futurism" vibe.

It wasn't until the 80s that like-minded writers began consciously piecing together steampunk's disparate elements into a cohesive genre and subculture. Authors like K.W. Jeter, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers penned iconic steampunk-inspired works, culminating in "The Difference Engine" by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling - a novel that cemented steampunk's status in the literary zeitgeist.

The Funky, Chunky Steampunk Aesthetic

From there, steampunk's influence just kept steamrolling ahead into films, TV shows, video games, music, and especially fashion and DIY crafting. Which brings us to...

Undoubtedly, one of the most visually striking and unifying aspects of steampunk culture is its utterly unique fashion sense. This is a community that takes cosplaying and everyday self-expression to wild, sanity-defying new levels of creativity.

At first glance, you might mistake a steampunk cruiser for some kind of time-displaced aristocrat. Top hats, waistcoats, corsets, tailcoats - all the ornate flair and pomp of Victorian high society is on full display. But look closer, and you'll find these refined period pieces adorned with visibly modern accentuations. We're talking metallic goggles, cogs and gears, blinking LED lights, and robotic prosthetic accessories.

The steampunk aesthetic essentially takes the elegant lines and rich textures of the 1800s and dishevels them with exposed tubing, raw machine elements, and upcycled industrial accents. It's an gleeful clash of the vintage and cutting-edge that screams "What if the past had a punk rock fever dream?"

Not just for costume affairs, this unique fashion vibe has permeated into everyday streetwear and high fashion. Major designers and retailers have debuted couture steampunk jewellery, accessories, and clothing lines in recent years as its popularity goes mainstream. From functional keyboard peripherals to ornate home décor, the steampunk style's infectious spirit of anachronistic whimsy has infiltrated the entire world of design.

At every convention, meetup, or online maker community, you'll find obsessive inventors, tinkers, and out-of-the-box thinkers swapping ideas on crafting everything from plasma guns to mechanical monster sculptures - all built with scavenged machine parts, vintage curios, and elbow grease. For steampunks, fashioning far-out sci-fi imaginings with thrifty, upcycled materials is half the fun.

Steampunk Literature's Retro-Futurist Stories

Of course, at the heart of steampunk lies a vast and ever-expanding collection of literature, films, games, and art. Its core narratives explore thought-provoking questions about if humanity had taken alternative technological paths.

Many of the most iconic steampunk tales are set in Industrial Revolution-era metropolises like Victorian London, where the affluent live lavishly while the working class suffers in squalor - all amid the soot and machinery of a new modern age. The protagonists often wrestle with themes of wealth inequality, imperialism, emerging artificial intelligence, and ecological crises stemming from rapid industrialization.

The backbone of these stories usually involves an intrepid anti-hero, inventor, or ragtag group of freedom fighters battling nefarious villains, authoritarian AI systems, or supernatural forces...all in delightfully over-the-top spectacle. They may pilot archaic airships, wear powered exoskeletons, or wield quirky clockwork armaments in their globetrotting escapades.

While the visuals and action are grand, many beloved steampunk stories also offer deeper allegories and social commentary on the ethics of technological progress and mankind's impact on the planet. At their heart, these tales challenge us to imagine better, more conscientious paths forward as we keep modernizing.

Beyond the printed page, steampunk's unmistakable calling cards and twisted alt-histories have bled into mainstream TV shows like The Nevers, movies like The Golden Compass, video games like Bioshock Infinite and Final Fantasy VI, and countless anime series like Howl's Moving Castle. Each explores the steampunk's central question - "What if?" - through vastly creative and provocative lenses.

Steampunk's Thriving Global Community

More than just fiction, steampunk has grown into a full-fledged subculture and movement in its own right. People from all walks of life have embraced its core tenets of hands-on innovation, upcycling, progressive values, and rejecting conformity.

Every year, tens of thousands of fans migrate to massive events like the Steampunk World's Fair or Teslacon to connect with like-minded makers and cosplayers. Panelists discuss everything from Victorian engineering concepts to the punk rock philosophies underlying the genre. Vendors peddle their latest ray gun prototypes and eccentric hand-crafted accessories. And raucous festivals of music, dance, and theatre performances bring steampunk's anachronistic world to life in surreal grandeur.

On a local level, steampunk communities have blossomed in major cities worldwide. Hobby groups, workshops, and meetup events welcome newcomers of all ages to tinker with machines, exchange DIY tips, and more. The spirit of curiosity and ingenuity lives on in the makers who constantly push the genre's crafting possibilities with each new wild invention.

The Progressive Steampunk Philosophy

While rooted in retro-aesthetics, the steampunk ethos is very much a forward-looking one - encouraging us all to reject conformity, question societal norms, and dream up bold, ethical paths for technological and cultural progress. It's an optimistic call for us to become hands-on agents of positive change through creative expression.

Express Your Steampunk Persona

So...What's Your Steampunk Persona?

With its rich literary history, a thriving global community of innovators and rebels, and aesthetic that makes every piece of gear look like wearable sci-fi art, it's no wonder steampunk has captured so many imaginations. From the grimy machine shops of working-class London to fantastical flying pirate flagships, its worlds offer infinite potential for escapism and contemplation.

Whether you're looking to craft your own photon deflector out of curios, design a lavish Victorian ballgown with robotic accentuations, or just curl up and get lost in a rip-roaring airship adventure, there's something for everyone to explore in this extraordinary anachronistic amalgam.

So dust off that old spyglass and imagine - if you could pluck any obscure inventor or rogue agent out of steampunk's timeline, what might your eccentric persona look like? An emancipated robot with a secret vendetta against the anti-machine regime? A jet pack-equipped aeronaut searching for lost treasures? The possibilities are endlessly quirky and compelling.

In steampunk, conformity is overrated. Tap into your inner nonconformist and dare to reimagine what the past could have held using the power of retro-futurism and good old-fashioned elbow grease. The steampunk revolution is waiting for you.
Back to blog