Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Putting a finger on a definition...

I had a bit of an existential dilemma whist I was taking a break from the tyranny of my current rl existence... What exactly is Steampunk, Victoriana, ect... and how does one define it? Well, after searching, I resorted to one of my favorite sites, Brass Goggles, which had an efficient answer to my inquiry...

"What is Steampunk!?
Very good question, and there are different (but similar) answers out there. Heres mine: Steampunk is a genre of fiction set somewhere in the 1800s during the Victorian Era. The fictional part comes in that technology has gone a bit skewed - though the exact methods vary, generally steam-powered devices that would have been impossible or unfeasible at the time are found to exist. Examples include steam-robots, flying castles, under-water bases, moon rockets, time machines etc.
But I know that as
Yes, Steampunk has many names and very close relations -

Victorian Science Fiction - Steampunk by any other name, though possibly leaning more towards fiction actually written in Victorian era, as opposed to fiction retroactively set in Victorian times. Abbreviated as VSF.

Gaslamp Fantasy - The Girl Genius equivalent of Steampunk, with more leeway for very tight bodices, slapstick comedy and non-humans. Not set in any real Victorian historical location, Girl Genius has its own time and place.

Steampulp - Perhaps if I had the opportunity to rename Steampunk, it would be to Steampulp - the -punk suffix causes a lot of confusion amongst those who imagine it means strife and rebellion.

Fireside Science Fiction - A warm and cozy alternative name where decent Victorian gentlefolk may begin their adventure around a fireplace with a small brandy, but could end up on the moon or beyond!

Neo-Victoriania - A Japanese originated alternative where the aim is to recreate certain Victorian aspects of life using modern tools and ways. Elegant Gothic Lolita is a variety of Neo-Victoriania, and were this some kind of many limbed diagram, wed be at our closest point to Gothic in Neo-Victoriania.

Wild/Weird West - Specifically focused on the American West in the 19th Century, and youll find cowboys and scientists alongside saloon girls and giant mechanical spiders.

Voyages Extraordinaire - The title of the series of works of Jules Verne, when he decided to explore the wonders and potential of science and exploration in his tales of adventure. Now almost synonymous with Victorian adventures with a larger than life twist.

Scientific Romance - An early, mostly British, name for science fiction, that fell out of fashion, but was also used to describe Vernes works. Now being used more for nostalgic Victorian based science fiction - just how I like my Steampunk!"

Giving credit where credit is due, the reference page is by Miss Tinkergirl, with the specific reference at
and is listed under the "Steampunk FAQ". Needless to say, this article does not address the more, shall we say, lady-esque Victoriana, with writing from Jane Austen and others writers of similar vein, but there are probably other individuals who could illuminate the shades of grey of that genre.


Tinkergirl said...

Dear Dr. Fabre,

While I'm flattered that you've chosen my FAQ to reference here, I'd appreciate if you were to somehow obfuscate my email address to confuse the internet spiders (Much as I did in the "To Whom It May Concern" page). I realise it's a bit of a pain, but you know how these things go, and I try to avoid recieving unsolicited mail regarding the size of unmentionable male body parts.

Many thanks,


Kristan Tetens said...

Dear Dr Fabre,

If you like Brass Goggles, you may like my blog, The Victorian Peeper, at

Recent posts that might interest you are "Salmagundi #4" (steampunk bugs, rayguns, subculture, and film) and "(Steam)Punk'd Model Trains."


The Victorian Peeper

Dr. Rafael Fabre said...

Miss Tinkergirl - I will fix the circumstance immediately, realizing that the aformentioned mail certainly must surpass any desrcrible levels of annoyance.
Miss Tetens - Went to your site and found it quite enjoyable and informative! With your permission, I must annotate it as a resource site, madam.

Virrginia Tombola said...

Wonderful links!

As with so many things, though, we cannot quite define Steampunk (a clumsy term, but it is the one used), but we know it when we see it.

One thing that I have discovered in my researches for delightful toys is how many amazing devices really did exist in the Victorian period. There really WAS a working ornithopter that flew 70 metres, there really WERE monocycles, and of course we all know about the difference engine.

I love fantastical Steampunk--I am a huge fan of Girl Genius Comics and the like. But the most fascinating parts to me are when we take that minor nudge from a working idea that almost left the workshop, and imagine "What if this had seen more widespread adoptation, or worked just a little bit better?"