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So what is Steampunk?

I had a challenge presented to me during the week. Well, in truth, not just me: it was presented to a rather large group. The publishers of 42 Stories Anthology were after some more steampunk stories for their anthology (if you follow the link, you can have a look yourself – but the only options needing submissions are Steampunk and Indigenous. I’ve already had a paranormal story accepted for this anthology, so I thought I might have a go at Steampunk – if I could work out what it was.

Of course, the internet was my first line of enquiry. And Wikipedia, as usual, provided me with a concise answer:

Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes anachronistic technology, usually from the Victorian era. It is also used to refer to a trend in fashion and music.

Wikipedia also provided a more complex response, but the mention of the Victorian Era was enough for the historian in me. But I need to unpack the definition more if I was to write in the correct genre.

The first elements to understand are speculative fiction and science fiction. No problem, I thought. All I needed to do was to look up the definitions, right? Ummm – not quite. I have seen definitions of both that list each as a subgenre. Depending on who you are reading, science fiction is a subsection of speculative fiction or speculative fiction is a subgenre of science fiction. Personally, I like Margaret Atwood‘s explanation:

  … stories set on Earth and employing elements that already exist in some form, like genetic engineering, as opposed to more wildly hypothetical science fiction ideas like time travel, faster-than-light drives, and transporters.

Margaret Atwood, ‘Margaret Atwood on Science Fiction, Dystopias, and Intestinal Parasites’, Wired

This was in response to many classifying some of her work, including The Handmaid’s Tale as science fiction. And in that context, her explanation is as clear as it comes. It never entered my head that it was science fiction: it is a speculation of a world dominated by religious fervour in the future. This was enough research for me. I’m confident with the difference.

Now to tackle anachronistic technology. As a history teacher, I was well aware of what anachronistic was: stuff that didn’t belong in that time period. So, I think I’m safe in believing that the term would mean technology that didn’t belong. Did it have to be steam related? And ‘usually from the Victorian era’. Did it have to be from the Victorian era?

I found my best explanation of the two questions in the previous paragraph on The Steampunk Explorer.

… but many steampunk works do not have steam engines. Nikola Tesla is one of the icons of steampunk, and he was best known for his work with electricity.

Steampunk is often associated with the British Victorian era or the American Wild West, but some steampunk tales have been told from the perspective of cultures that were colonized by European powers. Others are set in imagined alternate worlds, or future postapocalyptic worlds that have regressed to using 19th century technology.,for%20his%20work%20with%20electricity.

I think maybe I can do this! Certainly worth a shot – no pun intended.


Featured image: Steampunk City Clock

Categories: Uncategorized

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Kerry A Waight - Author

A writer of historical fiction and paranormal stories.

2 replies

  1. Kind of like trying to sort out the difference between magic realism and fantasy or something along those lines. I have developed a liking for magic realism which led me to recommend The Hundred Secret Senses for a literary salon/class based on the works of Amy Tan. How do you feel about this genre and this author?

    I went to the link and was nearly overwhelmed by the specific requirements for this anthology. Made me even more impressed that you’ve already submitted one for it and are willing to tackle another. I hope you’ll share both at some time on this blog.


    1. Thanks! I haven’t submitted a steampunk – that’s the one to come. The one I’ve submitted and have had accepted is paranormal.

      I’m not really across magic realism and fantasy. Maybe I should look at them – and Amy Tan.


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