What is Steampunk?

Not too long ago, IMPACT introduced you to a slightly different topic than usual, the pop art phenomenon that is steampunk. And we showed off a beautiful steampunk dragon and some stunning steampunk clocks from artist Eric Freitas. You can see an example of his work, as well as the dragon, below.

Freitas Quartz no6 AGDM | What is Steampunk?

Freitas' Quartz no. 6

Steampunk Dragon | Definition Steampunk

Now, though, you may be wondering what exactly steampunk is. And we’re here to introduce you to something that we think is really cool, a little steampunk culture.

History: Defining Steampunk

Steampunk, which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advance technology.” Most of the time, you can see this definition of steampunk represented in a story set in a historical time period that features anachronistic and impossible machines. Originating in the 1980’s and 90’s, steampunk actually can be traced back much further, even to a century before the defining of the term.

Steampunk in Fiction & Novels

Two of science fiction’s most famous authors (and founding fathers) both featured steampunk-like machines in their seminal works. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, featured a time machine and a submarine, respectively, that are both anachronistic machines set in a (now) historical time period, the Victorian Era. Today, we might consider those novels a part of the steampunk genre and culture. In fact they are classic examples of the steampunk definition.

Check out five very cool steampunk novels and fiction!

Steampunk Movies

If you’re having trouble actually visualizing what steampunk looks like, that have featured similar elements. The Wild Wild West (both the original 1960’s television show and 1999 film with Will Smith) features a time and place, plus really cool machines, that are all indicative of steampunk. The show and movie cleverly blend futuristic, steam-powered machinery with a historical time period. In this particular case, the film is set in the American West, but clearly in an alternative history. Recent films, like Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, also shows off a little bit of the steampunk genre. Sherlock Holmes and A Game of Shadows are both set in the Victorian Era featuring some of Holmes’ and Moriarty’s impossible inventions and machinery.

Steampunk in The Wild Wild West | Define Steampunk

Remember the spider-machine from The Wild Wild West? Classic steampunk.

The Culture of Steampunk

This, of course, just scratches the surface as to what steampunk is and the unique art and creativity that can be expressed with this genre. Steampunk culture actually has become so popular that Royal Caribbean is featuring the first annual Steampunk Cruise and Duchess of Nola High Seas Ball on March 16, 2013. The cruise will be a seven night trip out of New Orleans that will stop at Grant Cayman, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico. Events on the ship include an evening ball, mad scientist monologue competitions, and much more.

Truly, steampunk has become more than just a sub-genre of literature. It’s also clearly part fashion trend and social movement, too!

Also, be sure to check out an interview with Eric Freitas from a few years ago, conducted by one of our editors Vanessa! (Note, you may only be able to see a preview of the interview, from Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market and Artist’s Market Online, if you are not a member.)


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