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Steampunk: An Overview

Updated August 26, 2009

In anticipation of the release of Shane Acker’s steampunk-influenced animation 9, Jeff Vandermeer presents a primer on the fantasy subgenre.

Slide 1: An Introduction
Slide 2: Jules Verne
Slide 3: The American "Edisonade"
Slide 4: The Rise of Modern Steampunk
Slide 5: The Role of
Slide 6: The Aesthetic Influence on Movies
Slide 7: The Role of DIY Fashion
Slide 8: Steampunk Art
Slide 9: Reimagining Technology Through the Maker Movement
Slide 10: The Future of Steampunk
Slide 1: An Introduction

Slide 1: An Introduction

My Steampunk equation pictured above, in a lovely design by John Coulthart, was meant to describe Steampunk literature, but it does point to a few facts about Steampunk generally. First, it’s both retro- and forward-looking in nature. Second, it evokes a sense of adventure and of discovery. Third, it embraces divergent and extinct technologies as a way of talking about the future.

Over the past decade, Steampunk has gone from being a literary movement to a way of life, a part of pop culture, and a mechanism to look at the idea of “progress.” Steampunk has gained strength and momentum as it has transitioned from a “movement” to an “aesthetic.” A Steampunk aesthetic now permeates movies, comics, fashion, art, and role-playing games, as well as events such Maker Faire and the Burning Man festival. Media coverage from juggernauts such as the New York Times and MTV has fostered its spread through the zeitgeist.

Steampunk draws people from all political persuasions and social classes, but the best of Steampunk in my opinion is unabashedly progressive, proactive, and deliberately pushes against a cynical and jaded world with a brand of cautious optimism. Steampunk also serves as a potent entry point for people to reclaim technology and to talk about a sustainable way of life. Both the Maker movement and the Green movement have become part of the Steampunk subculture.

An exploration of Steampunk begins more than a century before the term was first coined in 1987.