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Phoebe Darqueling &
the Network of Indie Steampunks (NOIS)

I am captivated by everything STEAMPUNK and I write articles about the current state of the genre, as well as its historical underpinnings, and pen some fiction of my own as well. I’ve got big plans for 2017, so subscribe to this blog or my monthly newsletter to find out more about my upcoming releases and appearances.

Are you interested in learning more about the Network of Indie Steampunks? Right this way…

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What is Steampunk?

 

The word “steampunk” has been popping up everywhere lately, but if you are new to the scene or just looking for a history lesson, this is a great place to start. In short, Steampunk is like fan fiction about the 19th and 20th centuries that explores a futuristic past that never happened, or “punks” real events or literary characters with an imaginative twist.

I became interested in the movement a few years ago when I went to a friend’s Steampunk-themed burlesque show in Minneapolis, MN. I had never heard of it before, but when the aesthetic and its underpinnings were described to me, I couldn’t believe all of these things I already liked had a name! My buddy obliged and decked me out in a corset (which I wore upside down for the first several hours by mistake), bowler, and goggles for the evening. I had a blast at the show, and I’ve been researching and immersing myself in Steampunk ever since.

Steam

From the Cutty Sark museum in London, 2014
From the Cutty Sark museum in London, 2014

So, let’s start with the word itself. The “steam” of Steampunk refers to the era when steam power and clockwork technology dominated the Western world. For many, the term is tied most specifically to Victorian England (1837-1901), but the wild west of the United States is another popular backdrop. Depending on who you ask there is more or less wiggle room here. I have found some people who would say that without a British accent it can’t be Steampunk, and others that include works like The City of Ember in the canon because of the emphasis on machinery even though it takes place in a post-Apocalyptic future. The Illusionist is on many Steampunk movie lists, but it takes place in Austria.

I always err on the side of inclusivity rather than exclusivity (who am I to tell you what your artwork is?) and so will my fiction, as well as my reviews and articles at Steampunk Journal. I usually use the war of 1812 to WWI to help people get a handle on the dates but there is a lot of wiggle room as a story set in the 18th century that uses ‘futuristic’ weapons technology and awesome corsets could definitely be considered Steampunk (for instance, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) in its broadest sense (especially because Grimm’s fairy tales was first published in 1812).

Punk

Photo taken at Weekend at the Asylum 2014. Artist unknown
Photo taken at Weekend at the Asylum 2014. Artist unknown

The “punk” part of the term has to do with the rebellious spirit and a Do-It-Yourself attitude that goes hand in hand with innovation. Early science-fiction writers like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne would have classified themselves as ‘futurists’ because their stories pushed the boundaries of technological innovation and explored new way humans can interact with their environment. The term Steampunk, of course, did not exist until long after stories like The Time Machine and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea were already classics, but these authors provided the seeds that would some day branch into a popular genre that includes not only books, graphic novels and movies, but fashion, artwork, and handicrafts.

The word Steampunk first appeared in 1987 when a contemporary Sci-Fi writer, K.W. Jeter, was looking for a term to describe works like his own book Infernal Devices, as well as works by Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates). On Jeter’s own blog, Steam Words, he writes:

“Here’s the deal: I didn’t invent steampunk. I did, however bumble into coining the word “steampunk.” There’s a lot of creativity, written and otherwise, and just general fun that’s going on in regard to Victorian-themed fantasy & science fiction, and if a word I created has become attached as the portmanteau handle to all that, then I’m flattered. But it would still be going on, with or without that label.”

Yeah, but it has an awfully nice ring to it. 🙂