Tag Archives: Cyberpunk

Why Steampunk

Today is a day for musing. 12 hours at work, running day camp and walking dogs and home to my husband and the cats I sit wondering why it is we are drawn to Steampunk. When you read discussions about Steampunk, especially from non-Steampunk people, you see at first a certainty of its briefness, and now bafflement in its longevity and growth. Why is that shocking I wonder. The other thing I see is a complaint that it is poorly defined. Genres and sub-genres are rarely defined, specified, structured and then developed – they just happen and grow. Natural growth is what creates a genre and what keeps it alive and thriving through time. It is an oddity of human nature I think to want to define, categorize, and label everything.


This seems one of the very things Steampunk is rebelling against – the strict categorization of life, science, religion, people, and culture. When those in Steampunk fight this, they could be leading themselves into a frustrating pattern. Does this mean there are no boundaries? Of course not, but it is a concept, a theme, a style, a need, a creativity that by its nature reaches into several other genres at least.

What I see is that Steampunk, by its very nature cannot be a sub-genre, it reaches into too many genres even without leaving the written and cinematic focus.

Cyberpunk is strong and clear but it doesn’t have the potential reach and longevity of Steampunk for several reasons. One, it is based in present and future. Present issues and technologies are not as well known, not universally relatable or understood, not pervasive, and not connected to an emotional part of people. Future is nebulous and potential not universally agreed upon or accepted. On the other hand, Steampunk has its core in a period known very well and deeply connected to cultures around the world by the very nature of what went on in that time. Key terms like Victorian evoke immediate imagery, feelings, and thoughts in everyone even if they are widely varied. This is another reason it will remain varied and branching in styles and focus. Two, the basis of what might have been is very different and emotional to people than what is going on or where we are going shown in darkness. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cyberpunk in every form I have dealt with it, but sentiment of what might have been or what could have been is natural to most people. In their personal lives or families people often speculate on that very thing, thus drawing on a strong natural sentiment anyway, Steampunk has a good chance of touching them if they give it half a chance. Three, simple aesthetic appeal cannot be ignored. Cyberpunk has a strong, deep impact and visual strength; but it is not a universal appeal. Steampunk on the other hand has elements to appeal to a hugely diverse audience. The materials, the style, the ethics, the creativity, the science, the culture, the mad-scientists, the history, the reality blended with wild fantasy these reach out and find their targets and touch minds, hearts, and imaginations.Almost Victorian

Almost Victorian is really a better description than Victorian, and that is why it is appealing – the differences are just out enough to draw you in.

Individual achievement, individual ability, individual strength, individual rights, individual identities are all incredibly important in Steampunk. People in need of something will often find this appealing. People already holding these concepts as important are obviously going to see the appeal. Why are they important in Steampunk? Scientific development, scientific leaps, acts of heroism, and creative actions are done by individuals not committees. A person willing to step out of the boxes of others, and leap into an idea will risk more but has great potential. Risk is inherent to the point of almost being irrelevant in Steampunk – of course one willing to step out is under more risk, why discuss it. Some say Steampunk is hopeful and ignores the ills of society, but I do not agree, it simply focuses on those people acting, doing, changing, developing not on those destroying, wallowing, following, or changing from within the box. If you focus on society you are not focusing on Steampunk, you are using Steampunk in a fiction about society. Yes the dark reality is there, but what might have been? Besides, there is always people at every level of society, which ones have the materials or funds to actually build Steampunk devises in most periods the stories are set in? You cannot break the logic of the story to create a false focus. It is a what-if not what was or what is, just accept that and work within that and you could get a more realistic view of reality.


When did tradition become a dirty word? How did tradition come to be in people’s minds something malleable moment to moment?

Cambridge Dictionary defines tradition as “a belief, principle, or way of acting that people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a long time, or all of these beliefs, etc. in a particular society or group.”

Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on. A long-established custom or belief that has been passed on. [in singular] An artistic or literary method or style established by an artist, writer, or movement, and subsequently followed by others.”

Key to both of these is a past tense having been passed on state. Present action to create a new tradition is by nature merely a breaking of tradition, it cannot be a new tradition until it has been passed to a future generation actively and they are holding as tradition. Not to be misunderstood, I am not saying one should always follow tradition or accept all traditions. However, understand the tradition, not just the actions but the reasons, the emotional and group impacts, what is being honored, upheld, passed on, developed, or reinforced. My family had traditions and from time to time all the kids keep them, not religiously or constantly, but we remember and we feel the reassuring and strengthening connection to our past when we do. Mother was quite determined that we all learn to think, we make decisions, and we live. Thinking just like her was not the requirement; though she believed we would, based on data, follow her beliefs. Making our own decisions inherently means we do not always follow her’s, we choose our own path. Living life means trying things, going places, not acting in fear and not letting others control us. Political, religious, social or other pressure to conform with non-conformation just like them, to follow this correct path, to destroy this mindset in favor of this other, are all control factors that hinder thinking and deciding. I may or may not decide to be religious or political, but my decision is mine and where it takes me is not pressured by other’s belief in where it should.

“Never break a rule you don’t understand.” My mother quoted that or similar at us frequently. Her issue was not the breaking of the rule, though I think that was lost on many people. Her issue was a lack of thought, knowledge, understanding, and research. Understanding, not just knowing by rote is vital. Why and from whence is important not extraneous fluff? Why do we have such a convoluted system to begin with? People learned to act on the letter and the rote not the intent and purpose. Thus they made it more complicated and gave more specifics and less intent.

What does this have to do with tradition? I shall ask a question in answer. Why do you feel the need to break tradition? Is a bad memory a reason to pick and choose your past and change your history? Does your childhood still control your future? Yes, there were bad things in my childhood. Yet I am an adult, I choose to see the beauty in each place I am and live today, not to heal but just to live. If I live in the past, I am not truly aware of my present. If I live in my future, I am missing my present. I choose to live in today but be aware of the past and future, to actively see where I have been and where I am going. By doing so I can see the intent and move out of the emotional impact into a strength of the family traditions I might have missed or thought just my parent’s oddities. At any rate, my choice of activity will not be a tradition even if wanted it to – I have no kids to begin the tradition after my time.

Back to Steampunk and my project. I am still debating with myself what extent writing and research falls into an acceptable piece for my year long project. Writing, research, and reading is and has always been a passion. Given that, some of my projects should be writings – both fiction and research. I am uncertain at the moment if today will be one of those, but I am going to reflect on Steampunk for a moment. First let me clarify some connection to my previous topic. First research is in itself a tradition in my family, as is writing, publishing, and creation of …well anything. Second, Steampunk is a sort of tradition or collective of traditions. Time is developing branches and sub-genres within the culture but that is to be expected. Thus my research on the word, the subject, the forms, the art, the concept, the culture, and more was spawned. Where this will go will be determined as the year progresses but let me begin with the word.

Cambridge dictionary: books or movies about an imagined time when machines use steam for power rather than modern engines and methods, or a style of fashion based on this

Oxford Dictionary: noun – a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.

Reading these I was reminded of a conversation I recently had regarding what Steampunk meant to each of us. This conversation inherently bothered me at the time and I couldn’t put my finger on why or clearly articulate my issue. I see it now in these definitions – there is no inherent time setting. Past, present and future are equal with the elements, elegance, technology, and thought processes of a particular time and society. What I feel missing in these definitions and in a more recent prevalence of Steampunk work is the elegance and the type of research and creative approach. But is that something fitting to a dictionary? How do you define in a short sentence the difference in research approaches, aesthetic, and cultural dynamic? Stories and imagery that Steampunk is rooted in embraced the possible. I have seen many references to their embracing of technology and the future, but my observation so far is of an embracing of possible that was inherent in a time of development and wonders amid great hardship and changes. This is what I see a key to the science – the possible, not the known or understood. Probability, rationality, and details of science were less important than trying it and imagining it, seeing how it could make things better. Great hope is only possible in need, without need, there is little to hope for. Yes there was much suffering in society at the time but there was also amazing development, wondrous innovation, imaginings beyond what was vital and into sublime. This is also where I see some of the aesthetic, luxury, and Victorian details as vital to Steampunk. It is not the Victorian specifically but the pointless luxuries indicating improvements so vast basic needs were not the issue.

Understanding that, I return to the open time scope of Steampunk. This is what prompted the discussion previously mentioned. I am interested in the blending of timelines and merging of timescapes not for purely aesthetic reasons but in a socio-cultural context. One of the primary reasons Science Fiction appeals to me is the use of science in what-if scenarios often exploring the impact on cultures of a technology or development. How this leads me to Steampunk should be obvious if you know the genre, it is inherently a what-if scenario. Can a genre be that diverse in each person and remain a genre? Evidence says more than yes, but that it will be strengthened, explored, developed, and expanded more than a rigid form. I also like Cyberpunk but it is much less broad, for many reasons. One key is likely the distance. Distance of time, place, thought, culture, technology, society, and more have opened the interpretive possibilities. Cyberpunk inherently uses current technology in new combinations in what-if scenarios, not readily accessible technology, but existing or developing elements put to actual use in places current regimes would never allow them. Is this different from those texts that developed Steampunk? Yes and no, as I see it. The way of viewing research itself has changed from a broad scope of possible ideas and find a way to examine details and follow paths to expected and predictable results. Cyberpunk seems a way to break that but in a very different way than Steampunk does and less extreme. But they view the possible from very different perspectives. One is a moral vacuum and one an ethical vacuum; neither answering should we do this but rather can we do this.

Cyberpunk is a dystopian future, a society so vast and gritty the disillusionment doesn’t allow hope and the exploration of the possible examines expected impacts of science developed without restriction. Steampunk is a time of what would have happened if we developed a different technology, rooted in a British colonial ethic that removes ethical restriction from the need to develop at all cost and advance. Cyberpunk moral vacuum explores development of technology above all else and at the exclusion of all else. Steampunk ethical vacuum explores potentialities of could it have been different for society if? What would hold over in society and what wouldn’t? This is why the growing sub-genres are such a logical development. Cyberpunk is all about image and technology, Steampunk is about development at all cost. Vital distinctions that show very different directions, not branches of the same. The type of technology itself is a major part of the reason Steampunk cannot be a part of Cyberpunk. By nature it explores what might have been and Cyberpunk explores what could be from this society and technology. This may sound minor but the very core of each is involved. Traditions held over in many Steampunk stories are important because of the social evaluation. What is the tradition in a Cyberpunk story? The nature of the story is technology and corporations gone rampant and destroying the existing in place of the new. Steampunk often wonders what might not have been destroyed if technology followed that path.