- Joseph Stanga
- Wichita, KS
- United States
Executive Director, Wichita Con 2012
Steampunk 101: On the import of retro-futurism.
Note: The views expressed herein are solely mine, and do not necessarily reflect the entire Steampunk movement.
Steampunk was a term coined in 1987 to describe a subset of science fiction literature which drew heavily on elements of late 19th-century to early 20th-century technology, aesthetics, and typically-dystopian worldviews. In contrast to Cyberpunk, which looked towards a futuristic dysfunctional human society wrought by digital technologies and societal frailties, Steampunk employed a retro-futuristic perspective in which steam was the source of propulsion and mechanical energies. Often drawing on actual historical data relating to Victorian-era societies, it envisioned an alternate future based on the notion that technology did not necessarily evolve as it actually did, and that the resulting history of the 20th-century did not necessarily occur the way it did.
Since then, Steampunk has evolved to encompass society in fields well beyond literature: fashion, art, music, film, gaming, politics, history, and education. It has transitioned from its origins into an entire set of outlets, one in which creativity and imagination are valued traits, in which history and social commentary run parallel, in which the throwaway culture is met with resistance, in which we are called to evaluate our technological progress and look for ways to improve it.
In some ways, the Victorian era was one of enlightenment: new technologies were reshaping society from the ground up, as people transitioned from animal-drawn machines to steam-powered ones, as gas lights were replaced with electric lights, and as colonization produced the beginnings of a heterogeneous culture.
The value of this is (no less than) threefold: First, that understanding history helps provide perspective to the modern era. Second, that appreciating the origins of our technology can help us think outside the box when contemplating new technology. Third, that creativity and imagination are valued traits.