Friday, 6 April 2012

What is Steampunk and why we love it so much ?

I stumbled upon the phenomenon known as Steampunk a few months ago after watching the movie, Dorian Gray, starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth. I didn’t know the movie had steampunk overtones until I googled the movie and its soundtrack, loving the sound and feel of the production, and the word steampunk kept coming up.  

When I click a Google link, I am invariably drawn down a path of discovery, clicking link after link in a quest for knowledge; my initiation into “steampunk” was no different. I got lost: steampunk art, steampunk music, steampunk fashion, steampunk movies, and for a voracious reader like me, the Holy Grail, steampunk fiction.

I don’t know exactly what it is about “steampunk” that drew me to it, but it was love at first sight.  I love the eclectic-ness of the fashion, the idea of bringing the inside out reflected in much of the art, the quirkiness of the music, the dark undertones in the movies, and something that is a little out of the norm in the fiction.
From left to right, clockwise - Clockwork Universe by Tim Wetherill, Telectroscope aperture at London City Hall, a "steampunked' cell phone, scene from the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, steampunk band Abney Park.

Yes, but what exactly is steampunk, you say.  Hmmm, well that is a difficult question, which many struggle to answer, so I’ve borrowed from Wikipedia’s definition in this instance to do so …

Steampunk is a genre which came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates elements of science fictionfantasyalternate historyhorror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashionculture, architectural style, and art.

As you can see steampunk is not a new idea, it’s been around for a while with many people citing the works of Jules Verne and Mary Shelley as the pre-cursors for this genre.  Wikipedia cites a letter from K.W Jeter, a science fiction author, to Locus, a science fiction magazine, which they published in their April 1987 issue, as the source of the name. Jeter suggested the name "steampunks" to collectively refer to a group of writers wanting to publish books in this style.

What is abundantly clear from following link after link is that it is a theme that appeals to both men and women pretty much equally.  When we added the steampunk genre to our list of works that we will be publishing, the husband of my publishing partner zeroed straight to that anthology cover and asked, “What is steampunk?”  The answer interested him enough to check steampunk out a bit more.  But why?

The genre has elements that appeal to the inner scientists and inventors in men (and women) who love to tinker with machinery and contraptions; artists and appreciators of art are drawn to the eclectic re-use of bits of machinery and industrial flotsam, often bringing the intricate inside workings to the outside for appreciation of its beauty; and the fashions have an element of the modern mixed with Victorian themes. It’s different and quirky and appeals to men and women alike. 

Movies incorporating steampunk themes have been around for a long time but seem to be making a revival in recent years and appealing to men and women, old and young alike. Take for example the recent Oscar-winning Hugo, the latest forays into the tales of Sherlock Holmes, The Golden Compass and Van Helsing.  They all have themes that have universal appeal: an alternative reality or a mechanical mystery, heroes and heroines that are on the outskirts of society for being a bit different, and usually a theme to right the wrongs against that society. A little shot of romance or attraction between the leads doesn’t go astray either.

Now I give you a challenge, go to your search engine of choice and type "steampunk" and check it out.  But be prepared, only click the enter key if you’ve got plenty of time on your hands and nowhere to be early the next morning.

Bottom Drawer Publications
5 April 2012


If you’re already an aficionado of steampunk and love to write it, we are calling for short story submissions to include in a steampunk anthology, Steamworks, to be published in July 2012. For more information check out our submission calls here on our blog or here on our website.

If your interest has been piqued, here are some videos that reflect the steampunk themes:

1. Abney Park - Steampunk Revolution music video

2. Steampunk exhibition at the Oxford Art Gallery

3. A peek into Hugo, the Oscar winning movie

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