Steampunk Is Dead? Gadzooks! Why Didn’t Anybody Tell Me?
What is Steampunk
Steampunk is often cited as a branch from Cyber Punk, adding an extra dimension of fantasy to the mix, not to mention a little weirdness. Whereas Cyberpunk tends to follow serious philosophical issues.
Steampunk is free to explore the individual, less the decline of civilization found in films such as Mad Max, and more how a small collected few can carry on regardless.
There is hope In Steampunk, likely because at its core the genre is about standing against oppression and using tech or magic (sometimes the two are synonymous) to build a World where society and the self can co-exist.
Back in the past, commonly known in Steampunk as “the good stuff” Steampunk was barely a twinkle in the eye of punk. The term Punk means to rebel, or to be a judged youth or outsider. This would come to fit the community well, but for the oddest of reasons.
Steampunks are by nature non-confrontational. Now, if they lived in a world where there really were robot butlers and houses with canons attached then this would be an entirely different issue. Most of these people tend to be on the lighter side of goth.
You get eyeliner, Victorian aesthetic, but it tends to come with more mad-cap ideas. For those D&D fans, think of Gnomes. For those impressionable women who like bearded men in eyeliner, think Cap’n Jack.
Warning, those seeking to enter the Steampunk community for handsome men who look like Johnny Depp may find themselves let down. I’m sure there are wonderfully handsome chaps lurking in the rigging. But from experience, you’re more likely to find a room full of Alan Quartmaines than Alan-I’m-Sexy-Six-Pack. That being said, with the news that hunky geeks such as Henry Cavil coming out of the closet who knows what’s about to happen.
Steampunk began with themes of adventure, man vs nature. People in Pith helmets, with mustaches large enough to box a squid. It was there, but in spirit, drawing from ideas of time travel, bygone eras, and a society not ready for the technology at hand.
That dreaded decade. A time when the waves of the radio were plagued with the likes of Bros (still Luke was cool in Hellboy 2). A time of bright shiny fabrics. Marketing celebrity status, and terrible, terrible dancing.
It was at this time, dear reader, that those lost and hungry for art. For people looking for something highbrow, well, maybe not highbrow. It certainly looks it at a distance, through a wet window, using a soft-focus lens. This, was the birthplace of Steampunk.
There had been signs. Jules Verne had Nemo. Mary Shelly had a man give life through science. Yet, there hadn’t been a unifying theme, specifically, there hadn’t been a uniform. And as we all know, you can’t get into the club without the proper dress code.
Coined by K. W. Jeter as a tongue in cheek alternative for Cyber Punk. May transdimensional Gnomes smash him with glass hammers.
Steampunk was said to have gotten into its stride in the early 2000’s. With Wild Wild West’s (WWW) doing what Blade Runner did to Cyber Punk. Steampunk finally had some grounded looks and feel. WWW was camp, over the top, and filled with concerns of social issues meets unstoppable tech. It wasn’t long before the genre had its influences everywhere with releases such as Treasure Planet Van Helsing and League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Then came Japan’s influence, and with it, Steampunk gained what all little wooden boys dream of, a soul. Miyazaki presented Howl’s Moving Castle , and through it the sensitive side of the genre was allowed to come to the surface. We weren’t in the action and adventure side of things, no, these were introspective. Katsuhiro Otomo released Steamboy. It was his second animation since Akira and it’s really cool to see him contribute to the hearts of both Cyber and Steam.
It was a time rich in fantasy. A place where worlds are there to be discovered. A time when heroes may step up and be heard. Sadly, for the realms of Steam, it would not last. With 2016 coming around, Steampunk was said to have hit its peak.
The movies stopped coming. Mortal Engines was prettier than deep. In essence, Steampunk needed something to help define why it was important in these times of freedoms, and rights. Unfortunately, it seemed that the genre was very much like its more gimmick aspects, lost in a past, unable to speak up in a crowded room.
As with all things, trends differ. It’s been suggested that the 2007 surge of popularity of the Steampunk was in response to the Iphone. A time when technology met a social understanding that didn’t really comprehend its power.
It’s easy to see how you could come to this conclusion. With the focus of many a Steampunk story being a backward Victorian society that comes into contact with technology far out stretching our current.
If that’s the sole reason then why hasn’t Steampunk continued down this track? Social media has reflected a lot of the ancient customs such as the forum. Now, we’re in the heated battle of whether these negative opinions are merely a side-effect of new technology “trolls” or simply part of the same mob that murdered Julius Caesar.
What is known about social media is that it’s uncontrollable nature and inability to be considerate across all social platforms has led to society looking for methods in which to assert a manner of consideration. Like a parent trying to keep children under control, we do seem to be finding ourselves in the middle of a very difficult argument on proper parenting.
Why hasn’t Steampunk risen to balance and play out these problems? Is it too close to the pulse? Are we living in a time so Steampunk that it’s become that most dreaded of all things? “Meta”. Or is it that Steampunk has moved beyond its roots.
It’s no surprise that the Blade Runner aesthetic of Cyberpunk has come in and out of favour. World’s that borrow from Raymond Chandler and put it in a rain soaked future fit with Tokyo neon marketing. It’s the story that really defines the genre, otherwise it’s like a lamp without a bulb. It can be interesting to look at, but without a light it’s just there, not doing what it’s supposed to.
Why It’s Not Dead
For the very reason this article exists. As George RR is known to filch the words, “What is Dead May Never Die” the same can be said here. In fact, Steampunks would be something more akin to, “You Cannot Kill What Was Never There.”
It’s an expression in conservative liberation. A way to express pride for all things Imperialist without having to worry about any politics. It’s aesthetic. It’s silly. It’s bloody Steam-powered! Yes, Elon Musk might not approve of its use of non-renewables, but I think we can all agree that solar-powered steampunk just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Steampunk has existed in various nascent forms for over a hundred years. It's quite durable. Yes, the name is fairly recent. The lines of what exactly is Steampunk aren’t always clear. Is it the lighthearted version of Dystopian Diesel-Punk? Well, have you seen Wild Wild West? I, dear viewer, almost threw myself off my floating butler.
Steampunk is one of those where it can be hard to separate the genre from the aesthetic. Like Cosmic Horror. It all shares something of the DNA with HP Lovecraft, and yet, much of today’s works involving people of colour, the liberals making and playing the games, not to mention the all-round good natured fun of it would have him spinning in his grave.
So, in answer to the question. No, Steampunk isn’t dead. It’s merely adapting to the environment. Going through a metamorphosis. Whether from Caterpillar to zoom-call moth is unsure.
If you need examples, then I think I have a few.
Steampunk games continue to evolve as technology gets better just like in Victorian times with all its industrial break throughs. There fore as history shows the games get more enjoyable and evolved this just goes on and on improving in the user experience though off course classics are classics and stand the test of time. There are so many Steampunk games out there because it is a perfect platform for the genre easily exploring locations, characters, weapons and stories some inspired by old and some new.The ever growing popularity of the games in this genre is testament to Steampunk being very much alive and works as two fingers on the pulse of the movement and a great sign of life. Some examples to prove my point:
SteamDolls - Order Of Chaos
SteamDolls is Oddworld for people who don’t want to feel depressed. Its rich artwork is perfect for anyone looking for that Sunless aesthetic . Lamp-lit, eerie, with that gossamer fog that trails like a cloak. The classic side-scroller shouldn’t be a shock for anyone looking for that “Old-New” feel.
Frost Punk is sadness in the snow. It’s Snowpeircer the game. Snowpiercer comes from the graphic novel Snow Le Transperceneige . You could call the whole thing Diesel Punk or Dystopian (if you’re a casual). All I know is, there’s robots. Now, maybe in the future we’re going to see robots that aren’t goofy like the stuff now, but hopefully not as bad as some others. Truth is, for me, Diesel Punk is the more realistic, but robots seem to employ the Rule Of Cool which is definitely giving me Steampunk vibes.
Here we have a few examples of current Steampunk literature. The fact that people are still putting out work is a testament that humanity is built of some strong and flexible stuff. To have such an array of Steampunk to choose from is the icing on the cake.
A genre often linked to the dumb and the irreverent. To sit down during this pandemic and create something that a lot of people assume is dead and buried is one of the reasons why I love people. It shows that Steampunk isn’t dead, it’s just hiding in the grass, waiting for the larger and older genres to make a mistake.
Here’s a list of recent editions to the world and in and around it. It’s hard to say to what standard as many of the more recent lack reviews. That being said, their existence alone is enough to show that interest in the genre is still up and running despite its 2016 pique and the recent viral slowdown.
Outside of this, a quick google search of 2021 Steampunk will reveal some interesting facts. First of all, most of what I found was stuff from years ago proving that once again Search Engines are more about marketing than education. That being said, I did find a few good examples.
Djèlí Clark may not be a name that springs to mind, but the man has a lot of credentials to his name, but the thing that makes it legit for me is that you can read excerpts of his work. A try before you buy. What do you have to lose? A Master of Djinn is his 2021 book. An intriguing title regardless.
Craig Gallant brings an alternate history with Rise Of The Alchemist (source) The artwork is cool, and that’s always a good sign. What’s a book, even an electronic without a good front cover? Check it out, see what’s going on in this alternative timeline. Worst case scenario, at least things aren’t as bad as they are over there.
What’s The Future?
Like with everything else, Covid has put a stop to time travelling and domestic Steampunk for quite some time. In response, the utilisation of call tech has allowed introverts everywhere the opportunity to speak to one another.
As a practice of theatrics, it isn’t enough to simply be seen in a frilly copper corset. Nor is it remotely proto to sit down and exchange texts all day. The classics of Reddit are still used to express everything from clipart to phone case design. What’s most interesting is the use of tech like Zoom. People have taken advantage of the social media hangout to share their love for one another while cursing the eldritch gods of poor wifi.
Literature, like other genres, is a lot like rivers down a mountain. As you go down you realise that there are many ways to get into the ocean. Overtime, you see confluence as rivers merge and grow faster. Yes, traditional publishing is still considered one of the easiest ways to get your work out there, but it’s not like the old days (sadly) Social media and self-marketing is as much a part of traditional as it is self and hybrids.
In essence, what’s the future of Steampunk? Well, it’s like everything else after Covid, it’s weird. I would be surprised to see stories reflecting themes of isolation and confinement. Think Edgar Alan Poe but with a Steam-powered watch under the floorboards. He’s less worried about guilt and more scared that in half an hour the warranty will end at which point the watch will likely explode.
What Can We Do To Keep It Alive?
As long as there’s interest in something it’ll never go away. Steampunk works as a line for fashion, art, literature, and gaming. Even if its mainstream affection goes away it’s influence and aesthetic can be found everywhere. It’s like HP Lovecraft, you don’t have to like his views. You don’t even have to know who he is. Cthulhu is a part of the zeitgeist, and even if you don’t know the name, there’s something off putting about the imagery that HP would have wanted.
If you’re looking for specific ways to get involved. I’d check out social media. Reddit is Modern Rome, with all manner of threats and civil discord thrown in.
Facebook is much of the old timer in the way of modern media. That being said, most people who are into Steampunk are into the retro aesthetic. Hopeless Maine is a good place to meet a devoted community. It’s indie comics with all kinds of Steampunk Faire and events thrown in. Professor Elemental can connect you to the world of Chap Hop and similar steampunk groups.
Cosplay events are a good idea if you’re looking to throw yourself into the deep end. Social Media like Instagram will point you in the direction of who is where. A good example is all things Critical Roll. While not a Steampunk only group, the D&D community tree has long roots. You’re more likely to find something geeky and fun where no doubt you’ll find a social gathering of Steampunkettes sitting in a steam filled corner.
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