Steampunk: The First Overview


For many of you readers, Steampunk is not a new term.  As a matter of fact, it is probably more new to me than to you.  So very many elements are involved in Steampunk that many people even judge it before trying to understand.  This is sad just like watching some teenager trying to go to a rock concert for the first time and either way over-doing the wardrobe…or totally underestimating the bathroom mirror.  In either scenario, it is a serious flaw in judgment.

For me, Steampunk is a unique subject matter that is often hard to describe and even more complicating in trying to duplicate.  It requires the skills of dying art forms that are being replaced by plastic gears and foam clocks…and that is upsetting.  There are a view people left who appreciate the authenticity of the spirit of Steampunk, but first let’s have a bit of a history lesson shall we?

Where did Steampunk come about?  Well, Wikipedia says this about Steampunk, and I quote,

“Although many works now considered seminal to the genre were published in the 1960s and 1970s, the term steampunk originated in the late 1980s as a tongue in cheek variant of cyberpunk. It seems to have been coined by science fiction author K. W. Jeter, who was trying to find a general term for works by Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, 1983); James Blaylock (Homunculus, 1986); and himself (Morlock Night, 1979, and Infernal Devices, 1987)—all of which took place in a 19th-century (usually Victorian) setting and imitated conventions of such actual Victorian speculative fiction as H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

…but this is a very technical term for myself personally.  The Victorians had their own versions of science fiction, many of which are our reality such as in the writing of Jules Verne and Sir Author Conan Doyle.  Submarines, rocket ships that take us to the moon, trains that can be pulled by electricity and magnets…all these things seemed fantastical for a Victorian.  And like today’s scientists trying to make a more energy efficient car or a probe to land on an asteroid, the Victorian’s also had beautiful dreams to better their lives or to understand what they couldn’t touch.

However, where we don’t care what a space satellite looks like today, the Victorian’s were aesthetics who wanted to get to their destinations in style.  To me, the working gears in a vintage clock is a thing of beauty. The countless hours a watchmaker slaved over his craft to make sure that every gear was in-sync with it’s brothers around it makes the actual workings of a clock a thing of art.  Steampunk is exactly that…art.

Since the dawn of the digital age, the aesthetic quality of our everyday items has…well..been very flat.  We like small, compact, versatile, and boring, sad to say.  My favorite thing about Steampunk is that people take their newly bought flat screen monitors and iPods and then proceed to rip them apart and Steampunk it out!  Honestly, when will you move your desk around or replace your computer screens?  That is an artistic talent I don’t care what the goth emo college student complains to you about for using scrap metal or smashing a broken clock for your gears…it is brilliant.

And Steampunk can also be used as a study in history.  Many students have tried replicating devices that were invented and maybe even used for a short amount of time, such as a steam powered sewing machine. (By the by, if you, dear reader, did not make the connection with the term “Steampunk” and “steam-powered”…I’m sorry).  However, many were outdated by a faster growing industrial surge that took the world by storm.  Soon, all too soon, electricity replaced steam and gas replaced coal.  The Victorian Industrial Age was over, but it paved the way for the progress of the future.

Then came the 1980’s…rocking it like 1880!  A sweeping fad came back.  A enclave of wanting nostalgia permeated the science fiction world.  The only way I can truly describe Steampunk is complex simplicity.  Think of the third Back to the Future movie and you will understand. (Don’t you just LOVE that train?!)

I’m very sure this will not be the last posting on defining Steampunk.  I am learning something new everyday from readers input (which I love) and my own research delving into the wonderful, mysterious world of Victorian history and beyond.  Even for years after the end of the Victorian Age steampunk was present in both World Wars.  I think the next will be on the Victorian aesthetics and why it is missed today.

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