Where Did Steampunk Come From?

In my explorations of the various art walks that occur around Seattle, I came across an interesting series of paintings by local oil painter Chris Sheridan that are currently hanging in the lobby of City Hostel Seattle. Some of the paintings combine one aspect of life the artist thought would have been in our lives by now, and one thing that is in our lives that he never saw coming.

Those two things? Aliens and Steampunk.

For many people, Steampunk seems to have appeared from no where, a random aesthetic that has very little past or history to account for its eccentricities. And while Steampunks love to point to Julies Verne and H.G. Wells as the founders of Steampunk before there was such a term, many of the archetypal elements of Steampunk fiction was found in many novels and short stories throughout the years.

Where Did Steampunk Come From? is an article by Jess Nevins that explores the appearance of Steampunk’s literary tropes. It’s an interesting in article because there’s likely to be no complete consensus if all of these works could be considered Steampunk by everyone in the community, but each features elements of the larger Steampunk genre in every title listed.

For more reading recommendations, check out this list of 25 recommended Steampunk novels, and to learn more about the history of Steampunk in a larger, cultural perspective, see A History of Steampunk and the The Great Steampunk Timeline.

History and Steampunk

I’m always interested in what other people have to say about Steampunk. More experienced, less experienced, and the clueless. I think it all lends a different perspective to our little movement.

Recently, NPR did a short piece on Steampunk, Did Steampunk Forget The Meaning Of The Word Dickensian? In that piece, they asked novelist Charlie Stross to chime in and give his opinion of Steampunk. In said opinion, Stross laments the lack of historicity in Steampunk. He thinks that Steampunk is “offensively ahistorical.”

I’m sure he thinks he’s very clever for noticing that we don’t particularly respect historical actuality.  As a trained historian, I know this is a central element of Steampunk, and really, I find it much more liberating and optimistic than actual history. Apparently, Mr. Stross didn’t get the memo that Steampunk isn’t historical reenactment. It will also probably come as a surprise to the author and Mr. Stross that Steampunk is not inspired by Dickens, but primarily by Verne and H.G. Wells.

Steampunk is about science fiction escapism with a Victorian twist, it’s not a bunch a history majors trying to create fiction about the Victorian period as it actually was (though history majors are welcome so long as they can check their degrees at the door).

What do you all think about the historicity of Steampunk. Does it matter?

The Great Steampunk Timeline

A recent article by Stephen Hunt has grabbed my attention and sent waves of glee through the historian in me. It’s called The Great Steampunk Timeline, and it’s nothing short of impressive. Hunt’s article takes a historical and cultural approach to the formations of Steampunk and placed it into one beautifully executed timeline of Steampunk historical goodness.

The timeline starts with the proto-punks, those authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells from whom we draw so much of our inspiration. And then, from there, he explains Steampunk as a reactionary force responding to all those promises about the potential of the twenty-first century. Instead, his decade of introduction into the new millennium has been a huge disappointment, war, terrorism, pandemics, the collapse of our economy. Our shining optimism about the continuing improvement of our future, that the world would be better for our children than it was for ourselves, was suddenly and violently thrown into question.

And this is why, Stephen Hunt argues, is precisely why we Steampunks are who we are, and do what we do.  We’re reacting to our current world to make something better, something that has never entirely existed before, and alters our reality into a much more pleasant world.

To read the entire article and to view the impressive timeline, please click here. And a big thank you to Stephen Hunt for offering a bit more insight into the subculture I love.

A History of Steampunk, by Cory Gross

Steampunk’s history has been hard to nail down. As a subculture created and sustained primarily over the internet, it’s hard to pin down names and dates that Historiography demands in compiling “A History of Steampunk.”

Cory Gross undertook this monumental task some years ago, though all record of his essay have long since vanished. Until now.

The Steampunk Scholar has been granted permission to repost this impressive article. It was originally posted at Cory’s site, Voyages Extraordinaires, and in a different form in Steampunk Magazine #2. Here’s how it made it to Steampunk Scholar, according to their website.

In wanting to establish some distance from the Steampunk scene, Cory removed the posts from his blog, which meant that there was no longer a searchable, hypertext version of the document. I know many folks who come by Steampunk Scholar considered Cory’s History to be definitive in many ways, and in doing a quick google search for History of Steampunk, saw that what was left to web browsers was mostly garbage. I asked Cory if I could post his history here, and he was cool with that. So, for your perusal, the most excellent History of Steampunk by the master of Extraordinary Voyages, followed by a commentary on what Steampunk has evolved into, by fellow Canadian Cory Gross.

To read this impressive article, click here and settle in for a long but informative read.