Considered to be closely related to the cyberpunk genre Steampunk often takes place in an alternative history from the 19-th century (The Wild West in America or the Victorian Era for the British), in a long distant future torn apart by apocalyptic events where steam-powered machines have maintained its usage, or in a fantasy world where once again the steam usage is at its peak. This is why Steampunk is often described as neo-Victorian.
In a shell, Steampunk is the way people from the 19th-century envisioned the world would change in the future. And the way architecture, art, machines, fashion, and culture will evolve while still using their perspective.
This includes fictional machines found in numerous works of authors like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and a lot of modern artists. Steampunk is a hybrid genre that combines various genres in itself. Alternate history, fantasy, historical fiction to name a few.
The History and Origin of Steampunk?
In 1990 writer Bruce Sterling created “The Difference Engine, a historical sci-fi novel which is often credited as the pillar for modern Steampunk. That being said, look back into the distant past and you will find numerous inspirations. K.W. Jeter`s Infernal Devices is just one of the many Victorian pastiche novels written in the 70`s and the 80’s, add sci-fi films like Time After Time (79) and the earlier works of French illustrator Albert Robida and you have a pretty stable fundamental already.
Notable mention about the origin of the term Steampunk
You should know that K.W. Jeter is highly regarded as the first man ever to use the word Steampunk. He came to the term while trying to find a way to generalize some of Tim Power`s works and some of his own ( “The Anubis Gates, 1983”, James Blaylock “Homunculus, 1986”, “Morlock Night, 1979”, and “Infernal Devices, 1987”) to be precise. They all had one thing in common they took place in a 19th-century (mostly Victorian) setting. His letter was issued on the 1987 April issue of the sci-fi magazine Locus. In the letter Jeter wrote:
Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it to Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.
Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like “steam-punks,” perhaps….
Entering Mainstream Entertainment
In the start of the 2000s, Steampunk made a significant impact with movies like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen starring the everlasting Sean Connery. In the meantime, the Steampunk influence in literature grew a lot among fantasy and science fiction fans. Steampunk let its branches and affected fashion and music as bands like Abney Park flourished on the goth and cabaret scene.
The fastest answer to the question what is Steampunk?
A modern world (sci-fi, horror, fantasy) where electronics are pretty much non-existent and steam-powered machinery are everywhere. There are Steampunk trends in fashion, architecture, culture, art, and technology.