K. W. Jeter coined the term “Steampunk” in April 1987. A retro-futuristic subgenre of science fiction incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins are sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, they often set Steampunk works in an alternative history of the Victorian era, where steam power remains in mainstream use.
In a superhero type of story, we have to place reality aside. We must alter physics, for example, to enable human characters to fly. In the Steampunk fantasy world, we also have to make similar exceptions. For example, there are steam-powered computers, but we know computers use electricity.
I enjoy Steampunk stories and like watching Anime Steampunk movies. Why? The stories are slower (compared to the modern world), and there is a comfortable aspect. However, in superhero, magic, space fiction, alternative reality, time travel, futuristic or comic book stories, we experience a hard tripping point. For example, one must immediately accept Superman flying around. If one cannot accept this altered reality, then one will not enjoy the work.
In a Steampunk story, the reader or viewer gradually moves into the altered world. The characters are ordinary people who happen to use steam for everything. It is as if the author encourages readers or viewers to join them in a more civilized age.
Steampunk is a throwback to a time where life did not move as fast. And yet, the characters may still accomplish the same tasks we do today. So what is the difference between Steampunk and a story set in the Victorian era? Victorian stories are hard to relate to because we no longer live in that time. Steampunk bridges the gap between the modern world and the past.
Yet, there are limitations. Victorian-era characters must use period-correct dialog, and writers need to be historical experts. Steampunk also has a limited audience, and this audience knows the topic.
Someday I would like to write a Steampunk story. I would love to create a character who flies around in a steam-powered airplane. Or perhaps a child who steals a steam-powered car and gets chased by the police who have just received their first steam-powered patrol cars. Something to dream about as my steam-powered computer brings this blog to a close.
You’re the best -Bill
August 04, 2021
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