Saturday, July 28, 2012

What is Steampunk?

Valjeanne Jeffers is an editor and author. Below she discusses the definition of steampunk and why you should be reading it. If you want to try a steampunk title, Mocha Memoirs Press recommends, MOSES: THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN by Balogun.
What is Steampunk?

This is the definition of Steampunk, as defined by wikipedia: “Steampunk is a genre which came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art…”
So that’s the textbook definition of steampunk; sort of. It didn’t just come into being—it’s been around for a while. Think Adam Ant. Sherlock Holmes. And the movie Time After Time (based on H.G. Well’s The Time Machine).

But for some reason it’s wildly popular today, in fiction and in film. Why? I have my theories. One of which is that when something’s hot, opportunists tend to jump on board and squeeze that something like a lemon. But a less cynical reason (after all that’s not why I love the genre, or my fellow BSFS writers) is that steampunk is an island of fantasy— of escape— within our technological, very stressful 21th century. Just like every other type of speculative fiction. And a way of making one’s own personal statement.

Someone on a steampunk blog, described it as “poorly defined.” Really? Seriously? How about open to experimentation and imagination. Just like every other SF sub-genre. None of them is rigid. None are set in stone.

When it comes to steampunk, just like horror, SF, fantasy… there’s no wrong way to do it. The writer just needs to make sure he or she includes steampunk elements, make your rules, and write a story that will knock the reader out of their socks. I’d also humbly suggest asking yourself what does steampunk mean to you?
For me it symbolizes freedom. Groovy, funky freedom. Freedom from repression and/or an attempt to free oneself.

I’ll post a couple of excerpts and I’ll invite everyone to do the same. Along with a simple answer to this question: what does steampunk mean to you?

Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds“You called me ‘Karla.’ Why? That’s not my name. I’m Sonya. Where did you come from?”
His eyes searched her face. “I don’t know.”

Karla… The name was like a caress. It reminded him of a song—the words forgotten, but the melody etched upon his heart.

Joseph tore his eyes away from her and scanned the bedroom. To his right was a high bed with a canopy. A wardrobe sat beside it. Across from him, stood a vanity table and mirror. Filigreed lamps were arranged here and there about the room.

The furniture spoke to him of antiquity—of an older, bygone age. Yet above the vanity hung a triangular clock, full of visible cogs and dials and encased in metal. It was ticking loudly.

The Copper man looked behind him, at the tall mirror encased in a delicately carved frame.
“I think…I think I came from inside your mirror.”

Her eyes shot to the glass, and a curious mixture of fear and longing played over her face.

“From my mirror?” He nodded. “Ho-how did you do that?”

How indeed? “I’m not sure.”

The Switch II: ClockworkGoing below ground was more than leaving the upper city. It was like entering another world. Skylights were carved into the metal, for natural light, to keep under city dwellers from going blind.

Yet it was always gloomy, and the steam used to power their machinery created a perpetual fog. All refuse was recycled through pipes attached to brick walls along the alleyways that carried the waste farther below. The smell clung to the under dwellers skin and clothing.

Yet for all this, the underground had it charms. Cobblestone lanes adorned by streetlights ran the length of the under city. Wooden shops and flats overlaid with brass lined the avenues. In the distance, a clock tower chimed.
The people were known for their outrageous gear. As part of their rebellion, they refused to dress like those who oppressed them.

As the fugitives reached the street, a steam-powered auto puttered along the stones, its motor clearly visible in front. On the left a couple strolled past, the man dressed in knickers and stockings; the woman in a form-fitting dress with a bustle and pill box hat.

To their right, an old man carrying a walking stick stood before a haberdashery. He had a salt-and-pepper, handlebar mustache; and wore a red jacket with tails, and pants with suspenders.

Behind them came the running steps of the constables.

The old man stepped in front of the fugitives, as if to block their path, and tapped the stones with his stick.
The stones slid back, revealing a steam-powered elevator; it rose to the street…

Copyright Valjeanne Jeffers 2012 all rights reserved.


  1. Steampunk has always been a genre that I've been interested in exploring, but I never really knew that much about it. Thank you for making it simple!

  2. Hi Dahlia! Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed my article :)

  3. Hi, for those of your interested in checking out my steampunk titles (Valjeanne Jeffers) they're available at

    My steampunk erotic fantasy, Mocha Faeryland, is also available at