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Guest post by Damon Garn

This post about Steampunk was written by a friend and talented author, Damon Garn. He’s absolutely amazing, and I encourage you to find out more about him and what he’s written here!

And now, without further ado, let us move on to his post:

I’ve never been one for strict rules about genres and I tend to prefer fantasy and science fiction, but mainly I use those terms as only a very broad description of my reading and writing habits. I really don’t pay a lot of attention to what category a particular flash, short story, or novel falls into. It can, however, be useful to label stories in order to more easily communicate what the reader can expect. One of the labels I am fascinated with is Steampunk. I thought I’d explain a bit about the genre and give some ideas about where to learn more. In addition, I would also encourage you to watch for elements of Steampunk, even in places where it’s not really intended or expected.

The basics

First, let’s discuss the basics of this genre. The term originates in the 1980s from author K.W. Jeter in an attempt to describe a particular writing style. It plays off the “cyberpunk” genre of books and games. Let’s break it down a bit:

Steam – this is the dominant form of power, rather than petroleum-based fuels and combustion engines. Gunpowder, electricity, gaslights, flying machines, trains, and horseless carriages may all exist. Some intrepid authors may also add elements of magic. Technology is a driving force in the stories. There is a feel of forward-motion, based on the Industrial Age.

Punk – going against the grain, self-reliant and possessing ingenuity. Characters may be breaking the social bonds of the era.

Steampunk may gloss over some of the more ugly aspects of the Victorian and American Wild West social issues (but then many genres do the same).

Steampunk history

A variety of authors from the 19th and 20th centuries are now associated with the Steampunk genre, including Jules Verne, HG Wells, Mary Shelley, and others. While these authors weren’t consciously writing in this style, looking back we can see many Steampunk elements in their works. Look no further than Captain Nemo’s Nautilus as an example. Modern authors include Lindsey Buroker, K.W. Jeter, Cassandra Clare, and many more.

If we consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel a bit closer, we can see the common caution toward pushing the boundaries of science and engineering. The “mad scientist” or driven genius is a common hero in this genre, and periodically something goes wrong with the new devices. Shelley most certainly contributes a great deal of the Steampunk framework.

Modern Steampunk

 Steampunk has actually made small appearances in many different movies and books; any place where an automaton pops up or perhaps where the hero “MacGyvers” a tool to save the day. The current movie “Mortal Engines” would fit this description, too.

The Steampunk movement has inspired a whole new cosplay world. Costumes, some homemade and elaborate and some purchased as ready-made outfits, are common and trendy. Top hats, top coats, corsets, and peculiar round glasses all seem to dominate the image. This is an image that captures the imagination and has been expressed in many different ways in the last three decades. For example, the Sugarland album “The Incredible Machine” has a Steampunk visual component, even though this genre did not inspire the music itself. Anything with a gear on it might seem to be Steampunk-inspired.

In the future

So, what does the future of Steampunk have in store for us? I think we can anticipate more writers adding to the genre. In my case, for instance, I have a WIP fantasy novel that is in need of a rewrite. I’m going to be converting it to include a great many Steampunk elements. The result will be some sort of mix between high fantasy and Steampunk, with mechanical devices driven by magic, and mechanical devices increasing the abilities of magic users. I’m very excited about this idea. There are many authors who have already gotten up a good head of steam (see what I did there!) in the genre already. A great example of this is Lindsey Buroker. She has several series that integrate traditional fantasy with components from this genre. The result is a fun and less predictable way of constructing a fantasy world.

The grittier aspects of fantasy that seem to be very popular today could offer an interesting and attractive element to writers of the genre. Up to this stage, many Steampunk authors have avoided the great social issues and inequalities of the Victorian era. Class divisions, economic divisions, women’s rights, religious issues, genocide, slavery, abject poverty, and labor exploitation all could make for some very strong commentary on social issues through the lens of Steampunk. In current works, many of the heroes of existing Steampunk works are attempting to rise above these issues or are becoming successful in spite of the social problems. Villains are often exploiting these inequalities. This leads me to believe that this genre could be a very strong venue for the display of the human condition during the Victorian era.

Last thoughts

Even though Steampunk is commonly used to describe the entire genre, there is a uniquely American subset, as well. These works are classified as Weird West stories and are built on the American West milieu. They take place in the same time period as “Victorian” Steampunk but draw on more American wild west themes and settings. The movie “The Wild Wild West,” starring Kevin Kline and Will Smith, is a great example of this style of work.

Really, the future of Steampunk is wide open, because it has existed as a solid base for storytelling for a very long time. This genre is deftly integrated into many works that have existed for decades.

I hope that you’ll take some time to explore this fascinating genre. I will provide a brief suggested reading list at the end of this blog to help you get into gear.

Reading list:

  • Lindsey Buroker – “The Flash Gold Chronicles” and “The Dragonblood” series
  • Cassandra Clare – “Infernal Devices” series
  • K.W. Jeter – “Infernal Devices” series
  • Jules Verne – “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”
  • HG Wells – “The Time Machine” and “The War of the Worlds”
  • Mary Shelley – “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus”

Other resources:

Cat Rambo’s class “Hex-engines and Spell-Slingers” – https://catrambo.teachable.com/p/steam-engines-and-hex-slingers

Sugarland – concert footage from “The Incredible Machine” tour

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences – Novels, short stories, general fun – http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/what-is-steampunk/

Steampunk Journal – News, reviews, stories, etc – https://www.steampunkjournal.org/

Steampunk clothing – https://www.rebelsmarket.com/blog/posts/top-10-steampunk-movies-of-all-time-ranked-in-order

We’d love to hear from you; is Steampunk a genre you enjoy and are curious about? What are you favorite Steampunk stories, be they books, movies or other? Let us know in the comments!

If you’d like to read more about fantasy world-building, check out a post on the subject here!

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