Steampunk Summer: What is Steampunk, Anyway?

After working on a steampunk book for over 2 years, it's hard to believe there was a time I didn't wholly embrace this growing phenomenon.  I remember seeing steampunk-themed pictures on Pinterest and thinking, Oh, that looks interesting, but I don't know if I'd ever go whole hog about it.

Guess who's gone whole hog?  Life would be so much more boring if we lost the ability to surprise ourselves.

So what is this steampunk everybody's talking about?  What draws us in and never lets us go?

Steampunk is based on two things.  Its premise:  that instead of electricity being the main or only big technology of the 19th century, steam-powered engines and good old-fashioned ingenuity run the show.  This leads directly to point number 2:  that steampunk brings together Victorian beauty, grace, and style mixed with the gears, grime, and clanking of machines.  Steampunk can vary widely by decade, inclusion of the supernatural, creating alternative histories, and even taking place on other planets.  But if it's labeled steampunk, it's probably got a healthy dose of adventure, brazen characters, fun, creative technology, and gusto.

Since steampunk by its very nature involves an alternate reality that (unfortunately?) never existed, there are no holds barred.  The sky is the limit - or in some steampunk stories, the best way to travel by ship or personal flying device.

I admire steampunk for its unique ability to influence and target all five senses.  Machines and period fashions dazzle our eyes.  Grinding gears and horses' hooves striking the streets fill our ears.  Sometimes it's absinthe on our tongues, sometimes it's grit.  The air smells of pollution but also baked goods.  In some stories, it's a hard metal wrench in our hands - in others, it's the feather-light fan behind which the heroine hides her face.

I think it's this universal quality that lets steampunk branch from books into pretty much every other facet of life:  cosplay, music, movies, comics, gadgets, trinkets, jewelry, crafts, and anything else that can be adapted to fit steampunk's general look and feel.

It's easy to see how I'm going to spend all summer covering this single topic.  Stay tuned for next week.  We're just getting started.  If you have a great steampunk picture of yourself, feel free to share it here or on Facebook.

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