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Nerd Talk – What in the world is steampunk?

Posted on July 28, 2016 by Maple Creek

After speaking to a few people about an upcoming fashion show produced by Jim Saville, I’ve come to realize something. Many people have no idea what steampunk actually is.
This is surprising to me, but it shouldn’t be. I am heavily involved in the costuming world and as such I am well aware of the sub-genre of steampunk.
What really surprises me is many don’t realize there are steampunk influences in pop culture and the sub-genre is becoming increasingly popular.
So I have taken it upon myself to educate those who may be wondering “What the heck is steampunk?”
Like I stated earlier, steampunk is a sub-genre. But a sub-genre of what? It is considered to be a sub-genre of science fiction and science fantasy.
Generally speaking, steampunk incorporates an industrial, mechanical aesthetic. Often the world of steampunk takes place in the 19th century, around the time of the industrial revolution.
In a steampunk world technology is often more advanced than it should be. Use of mechanical arms and machinery is seen in both fashion and within the world itself. Robots, or automatons, are also created and widely used in this sub-genre of science fiction.
Steampunk is often viewed as an alternate timeline of Victorian England or the American Wild West. Sometimes steampunk is used as a post-apocalyptic world where people have reverted back to using steam-powered everything.
Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style and art.
Steampunk has also taken root in the mystery and horror genre. In this, genes are often centred and used to create new creatures, clones or hybrid beings.
Anything can be made into its steampunk counterpart. For example; take your favourite character, for me I’ll use Disney’s Tinkerbell.
What does the character look like and what is the personality?
With Tink, she is feisty and wears her signature green dress. But most importantly she is a tinkerer.
Now imagine that character in a more advanced version of the industrial revolution. Using gears, cogs, clockwork and the character’s personality redesign the character.
For me I image Tink’s dress to have metal rivets along the edge. Her dress is made up of scrap pieces of leather in varying shades of green. She wears a pair of goggles with many different sized lenses so she can look closely at objects. Around her waist is a tool belt. And her wings are entirely mechanical, and you can see the gears and metal tubes that power the wings.
That is my version of a steampunk Tinkerbell.
Like I said anything can be steampunk-ed.
The sub-genre can also be seen in our pop culture. Take a look at the Will Smith movie “Wild, Wild West” and you will see old west steampunk. “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is another great example, this one is more of a Victorian military feel. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” also showcases steampunk in the creatures and mechanics of the movie.
The novel “The Difference Engine,” the comic book series “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” the Disney animated film “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” Scott Westerfeld’s young adult series “Leviathan” and the role-playing game “Space: 1889” are all further examples of steampunk.
It is everywhere, if you just look.
Take some time and get acquainted with the rather unique world of steampunk. Who knows it may open your eyes to other worlds, such as cyberpunk. But that is a topic for another day.

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