The Steampunk Empire

The Crossroads of the Aether

Hi guys - I only joined recently. I've really enjoyed chatting to everyone I've met so far XD

I've started a blog and I wanted to write about what steampunk is for new people. But I thought that... what would be more interesting is to ask everyone here. We all know the usual stuff we read on wikipedia and stuff. What I'm really interested in is what it is about steampunk that excites *you* - what you like about the genre, maybe what you like to see and don't like to see, whether in art, fiction, film or otherwise. 

I'll go first (to be fair)...

I think there is an optimism in steampunk, a promise by technology of what could be at a time that is otherwise pretty grim, a bit like Oliver Twist starting in the rookery and finding his family. Steampunk is about the big city that is oppressive and dark, but there is a sense of magical wonder, a bit like Disney's workshop. Visually the world is amazing - even beyond the corsets, long coats, top-hats and goggles. It invites the steampunker to be an inventor and creator and to fix problems using wit and elbow grease, whether travelling through time, exploring a still mysterious horizon or soaring through the sky n majestic wings and balloons. There is sometimes a sense of magic as well, or at least the sunset of magic as dawn of reason and machine approaches.

I guess in summary there is a sense of romanticism. Not romance in the sense of Romeo and Juliet (though there is often that as well) but the sense of wonderment in a world that is not *that* distant from our own. There is also mystery, in the truest sense of Holmes as the dawn of the industrial era opens and artificers plum the potential of its depths. 

That's me :3

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I think my biggest problem with a pervasive sense of optimism in Steampunk is that we know what the consequences of the late industrial revolution, colonialism, and the rise of nationalism were. And while yes, those things all have build the world we enjoy today, there was certainly no guarantee of that result (and until the last 20-30 years only the US and Western Europe have been able to enjoy those fruits on a grand scale).  

To me, Steampunk is about the interplay between achievement and sacrifice. We can build these marvelous empires held together by airships, steel, and coal fire but where do those things come from? What feeds the furnaces that make those wonderful machines? Where does all their waste product go? How many men die for every ton of steel or brass? Where does the gentleman inventor get his fortune so he can indulge himself? Colonies? Plantations? Mining? Arms manufacturing? Everything has a price, in resources spent and in human sweat. The more grand the project, the higher the cost. And unlike the futurists who we draw inspiration from, we know close to exactly just how high that cost might be. To me, Steampunk is very much about exploring the results of that ignorance/willing disregard of consequences, particularly as paired with the very expanded possibilities of the superscience we play with. 

To go further, and to dovetail with the Major's point, now place all of that superscience in service to the frequently violent, often aggressively evangelistic ideologies of the 19th and early 20th century, and let's have some fun seeing just how deep and dark this particular rabbit hole will get. 

This is from my blog - I hope it helps. I write on just this subject frequently:

Dearest Readers and Friends,
I have of late been privy to discussions/debates concerning the nature of a genre I have become increasingly fond of over the last few years: Steampunk.
Coming into this thoughtful fantasy, I was amazed at the shear variety of work that was “steamed”. I had grown enamored of Datamancer’s functional art, Dr. Grymm’s delightfully crafted sculptures, the cosplay of conventioners and the like. Perhaps my favorite portion was the rebirth of interest in classic imagineering from the very era steampunks emulate.
The literary works and art of the genre inspired me as I thought of my own life; I have been enthralled by gears and clockworks my entire life. As a child, Lego building blocks Co. introduced a line that was about creating working machines with visible gears and mechanics. It was called Technics. I bought all I could find with my paper route money. I continued to purchase these sets up through my late teens. Peering through my sketchbooks (which I have saved all from age 12 on) I found gears etc were a constant theme. Even of late, my wife would laugh when we passed shop windows with clocks, I’d always have to stop and stand in awe.

Perhaps it is the focus of what we do as artists that makes steampunk so appealing as it now hits the mass market in so many ways. Time is what defines artists. Artists are who define time. We are the keepers of history, so why not imagine our own history? We have created parallel universes, altered states of being, images and words that capture the imagination of this generation like the turn of the last century was captured by Verne, Lovecraft, Doyle, Mieles and others. The fact of the matter is, this generation of faceted time where instantaneous is not fast enough, steampunk flaunts patience.

This brings me to the case at hand, what and who defines “steampunk”? I do. You do. Anyone who practices the art of change and rebirth of imagination does. I will refer to the end of the word first since it is the one that is taken for granted most. We all know where the steam portion came from and yet we forget the better, more important portion of the genre; punk. In the late 1970′s children from England rebelled against the class system by rehashing old icons of hatred (neo-nazi), self-mutilation (piercings with odd objects in obviously distasteful methods and odd hair), wearing clothing inappropriate for a respectable youth (rips, tears, leather, etc.) all in reaction to one phrase, “There is no future.” They saw their lives as over and the confines of their system daunting to the point where the outward manifestation of their angst became a statement to the generation before them, “This is what you’ve left us with. No way out and no future.”

When the genre hit New York, the term “punk” was coined by Lou Reed. By the time it reached our shores it had lost its meaning. It was marketed. It was recorded. It had a future. The premise still held on in a spark: youth discontent with a system they had no control over.

We now come to steampunk. Not created by youth. Created by artists. A literary genre that is defined by the discontent with the rampant view of technology and the world in general as disposable and temporary. Adults began to recognize that we too could form a group of outsiders determined to define time and space as not linear, but flowing with imaginative possibilities and colliding in a whirlwind of now and then. History itself became a playground. The craftsmanship of days gone by with the current ability to have information in an instant gave birth to what we have now.

I am a steampunk artist. I write, illustrate, sculpt and enjoy steampunk. I have always been a slave of time and yet now, we walk together creating amazing things that intrigue others. Is my book or my art just “putting goggles on something and calling it steampunk?” No. It is subtle. It is not like others in that there are hints of altered time and snippets of advanced tech in a Victorian setting. It was said once to me that the reason my writing worked so well was that the steampunk comes out quietly as if it is just a fact of life, not like a hammer over the head proclaiming its existence.

That being said. My version and perception of how the genre is handled varies even within my own work. Sometimes I like the hammer blow of difference. The bottom line is that this genre is punk. It is about making a societal statement in the way that best fits you. If you want to be subtle and just wear goggles, do it. If you want to outfit yourself in a fully automated steam powered suit and walk through the city streets, more coal to your fire, my friend. Anyone should be able to express him or herself in whatever fashion is befitting them. No one should narrow a definition to the genre. Least of all me.

Yours in Art,

Jason Robert LeClair

Ok, I hear (see) several opinions. Most are good, a few are lacking in vision, but overall we get a sense of what SteamPunk is.

First, lets disallow any restrictions. As one member said, Ancient civs used Steam to power "curiosities".  I do know that the Greeks made Steam powered missile launchers, and locking devices that were powered by Steam, or Hot water. The Romas did likewise, and throughout History, many others did the same. The Chinese experimented with wind up machinery, and steam powered objects for nearly as long as Western civ has.

 Franklin experimented with the capture of electricity, and others played with and learned how to create it. Edison was BY NO MEANS a pioneer. In fact, a great deal of Edisons patented discoveries were actually thefts from other experimenters, the Greatest of which was Nikola Tesla. Radio waves were experimented with much further back than anyone truly is aware of, as well as internal combustion engines, chemical driven missiles and rockets, and refining chemicals to make medicines or poisons.

Clothing... Here, a great many people disagree, but let me clarify a few points. Pretty much anything goes.  You do not have to outdress Queen Victoria, or royal up as pretty as King george. However, if you can afford to wear crown jewels, more power to you. The supposed era we are looking at has a lot people don't look at when they are looking at SteamPunk.  Here are some Ideas;

  • Old West (United States) Cowboys to saloon girls to Mexican (spanish) dons, to Chinese coolies and Mandarins in San Francisco.
  • British middle class.. trench coats, Detective hats, Umbrellas, Knee boots with pants bloused into them, Spats, Leathers, and multitudes of hats (top hat, Bowler, Fedora, Slouch caps etc).
  • Civil War era (united states)..  Cadet uniforms, Rebel uniforms, Union Uniforms, Rebel flags, LOTS of brass on the clothes. Sabers, Cutlasses, Flintlock anything.
  • ANYTHING  Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Orwell, also anything modern-ish flight, German airship uniforms, Pilot outfits for Triplanes, Bi Planes, Blimps, Zeppelins, Submarine outfits, including underwater devices (or their lookalikes) WW1, WW2  military outfits, Blacksmith gears, or pirate gear.


Basically what I am saying, It doesnt matter WHAT you wear. Put it together, make it your own, have fun inventing it, and with that last line, we get to the heart of STEAMPUNK. Invention, Creation, originality, and ADVENTURE.




I like!

If you want to talk about what steampunk is, i think you have a fairly good synopsis right there, even your description takes us into the world of the minds eye.

wow... some really, really amazing answers... thanks guys!

Steampunk is what you make of it, and it doesn't have to be anyone's accepted version, not even Imperialist or Victorian. I like to try and keep in in the Victorian Era, but even that is subject to variation if we take a Time-Travel stance. I'm looking into Asian inspired influences and American/Australian Old-West influences, not to mention indigenous peoples from around the globe. Why stick to a single fashion when there is so much to explore...dare I say the sky's the limit? You might sail it in a dirigible or with mechanical wings...just check the Tesla Coils before you launch; you wouldn't want them failing once you've crossed Aether-space into Captain Challenger's future-realm.

I am a personal fan of history. And when history has airships i have a nerd attack and foam from the mouth. But what i truly like is the gears and the cogs and the elements. Just the feel of it all. It is also a very accepting community where you will not be judged because we all are weird.

Wow am I glad I found this thread. I am extremely new to Steampunk and was having a problem trying to get a good handle on what it "IS". I have done medieval recreation and really enjoyed it. With that there were hard and fast rules on what either was or was not. I was searching for that over the last few days and was getting frustrated because there arnt many rules per se. If you can dream it and follow some basic guide lines then you are fine. We are our own authors of our own great adventure.

Personally I am creating a Man at Arms persona and I think I am going to have a lot of fun with it.


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