Monday, February 23, 2015

Steampunk Hands Around the World 2015

Steampunk: Our Playground, Our Classroom, our Workshop

Probably the simplest definition of steampunk I can come up with is: It’s an artistic movement based on retro-futuristic elements.

Steampunk is a reimagining of the past and the future that never was. Generally speaking, it’s a mish-mash of the Victorian Period, the Industrial Revolution, and the speculative aspect of technology common in science fiction.

But for many of us, steampunk is more than a mere visual art, fashion statement, or aesthetic (although all of that is VERY important to the genre). Steampunk can be such a fun playground. Visually, steampunk is just so striking and beautiful.

As a writer, I use steampunk to explore many of the major societal-historical issues existing out of the 19th century world. Think about it…the 19th century saw such tremendous growth in intellectual, technological, and sociological expression. Like anything else, such growth and prosperity came at a tremendous cost.

19th century history is also riddled with all kinds of oppression: racial, sexual, social, and economic inequality. European Imperialism might have started in the 15th century, but there was an explosion of colonization in Asia, South America, and Africa by the European powers.
Here in America, our country struggled with slavery, the industrial revolution, and social upheaval. Globally, conflicts arose from the British, French, Dutch, Russian empires extending their reach beyond their borders.

It’s easy for an artist to pull from history and find all kinds of profound conflict to explore. Along with all this global upheaval came the intellectual boom. People began to apply science to society in its attempt to understand the human condition. Marx, Comte, Darwin…these were just some of the big thinkers to propel the social sciences.

Literature in the 19th century gave birth to the Realism Movement. They were a sharp contrast to the Romantics. These new writers tried to portray the world not as they wished it would be like, but as it truly was. Life could be unfair, brutal, and filled with strife.

Steampunk is such a powerful platform to explore all of these themes, yet have some fun in the process. On the surface, all the cool steampunk aesthetics might seem pretty and otherworldly. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that the steampunk movement is:

* An exploration of where we’ve come from (history)
* The imaginative expression of “what if” (speculative)
* Where we might going (future)
* A reflection of our society today (contemporary)

Steampunk has served as a way for many of us to learn more about ourselves, yet stretch our imaginations in the process. We can still tackle the profound societal ills that still plague us in the 21st century, but we can do so in a way that is appealing, fun, and interesting.

Jay Noel, author of The Mechanica Wars series can be found at


Alex Hurst said...

This is probably one of the most succinct, and well-put, articles on steampunk i've come across. I have your book on my wishlist... I'm in love with the cover, so added it a while back, but visiting your blog again reminded me I actually need to read it soon. :)

Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
Out of Print, Fiction authors and their shorts

A-Z Blogging in April Participant

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And we've changed so much in the past hundred years. The world was very different then and some of it unexplored. You could really have a lot of fun with that time period and go anywhere.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Rewriting history could teach us a lot. Steampunk is fiction, but it's so closely connected with reality and the issues we face, both then and now.

Pat Hatt said...

Oh yeah, lots of fun can be had as it is only limited by ones own imagination.

Jay Noel said...

Alex: Thanks for your kind words.

Alex: It's been great being able to combine to of my loves: history and speculative fiction.

Diane: Many artists are taking steampunk in a more fantastical direction, which is cool. Me personally, I do love alternate history.

Patt: I think steampunk is firmly seated as a sub-genre of speculative fiction, where it belongs.

Tiana Smith said...

I tried writing a steampunk novel a while ago - much harder than it looks!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I like the steampunk genre. It also makes for some very interesting video games.

Cherie Reich said...

I think those things are what make steampunk popular today. We can see where we've come from and still how far we need to go. Adding in the cool gadgets, clothing, etc. is a very cool bonus.

Anna Soliveres said...

I really love the visual appeal of Steampunk. I often think of SuckerPunch (perhaps more thematically), though I don't think it rightly falls in the genre.

Jay Noel said...

Tiana: I had no idea that the word "steampunk" even existed, so that would be the main reason why I broke pretty much every rule in the genre. I know it ticked off a lot of purists, but oh well.

Michael: I have yet to play Bioshock, but the look of the games are amazing.

Cherie: VERY cool bonus!

Anna: SuckerPunch was a visual masterpiece. I watch scenes from that film over and over again. I just never watch it straight from beginning to end, though.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I delve into some Steampunk suspense and mystery. I love the settings in the brutal world of London and its underworld.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Very interesting. I find steampunk fascinating and have been seeking out more of it lately.

Nick Wilford said...

I'd never thought of steampunk in such depth before. Very enlightening.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Best explanation I've heard to date!

Christine Rains said...

Awesome description. I love playing in steampunk worlds too! :)

Pat Dilloway said...

Steampunk isn't really my thing, but I like your books.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Steampunk is a wonderful genre that deserves more respect and attention and like all sci-fi can put a mirror to today's problems.

Crystal Collier said...

I built a steam punk world in my head when I was 10 to 12, but of course it didn't have a label then. It's definitely an interesting genre to explore.

David P. King said...

Have you heard of J. Scott Savage's new Cove series? There's a steampunk dragon. I swear one of these days I'll end up writing a steampunk novel myself. :)

Loni Townsend said...

Great article! I'm a big steampunk fan. I sew my own corsets and rusched skirts. And I own goggles, though I wish I had the time and resources to make my own. Someday I will.

Carol Kilgore said...

This is a great article on steampunk. I love steampunk jewelry and some of the more industrial looking art pieces.

Stephanie Faris said...

The genre has certainly grown in recent years. I heard of it initially through writers talking about it.

Beth Ellyn Summer said...

confession: I never new what steampunk was, and have never read any! Thank you for explaining it! now I will read some lol

Carrie Butler said...

Great explanation, Jay! :)

cleemckenzie said...

I'm just beginning to explore Steampunk. Thanks for this information because it helps me understand more about what to expect while reading it.

Jay Noel said...

Thanks everyone!!!

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Brent Simpson said...

Hey Jay sorry to bug you. The first picture of the Asian girl. Do you know if that was modeled after a particular girl? If so what's her name if you don't mind me asking (totally cool if you don't want to say). It was just kind of uncanny to see this girl I once knew from San Francisco seemingly in a random piece of steampunk art (which I never knew she had any interest in... If indeed it is the same girl).

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