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What Does Steampunk Mean?

what does steampunk mean

As a professional copywriting journalist, I have encountered numerous subcultures and genres, but none more fascinating than steampunk. Steampunk is a unique blend of science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction that emerged in the 1980s. The term itself was coined to describe a subgenre of science fiction that takes place in a Victorian or Edwardian-era setting where steam power is still widely used.

Steampunk has since evolved into a multifaceted movement that permeates music, fashion, art, literature, and even technology. The steampunk culture is characterized by a sense of adventure, exploration, and creativity that takes inspiration from the past while imagining a different future.

Key Takeaways:

  • Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction that imagines an alternative future where steam power is still widely used.
  • Steampunk culture is characterized by a sense of adventure, exploration, and creativity that takes inspiration from the past while imagining a different future.

The Origins of Steampunk

As a genre, steampunk has become increasingly popular in recent years, spawning a wide range of creative works across various mediums. But where did it all begin?

The roots of steampunk can be traced back to the Victorian era, a time of industrial revolution, scientific innovation, and an interest in mechanical devices. The term “steampunk” itself was coined in the late 1980s by sci-fi author K.W. Jeter, who used it to describe his own work and that of his contemporaries.

However, the influence of Victorian culture and aesthetics on science fiction and fantasy goes back much further. Classic literature such as Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” were pioneers in imagining fantastic worlds fueled by steam power and clockwork machinery.

Key Influences on Steampunk Explanation
Victorian Era The culture, fashion, and technology of the Victorian era have heavily influenced steampunk’s visual style and themes.
Classic Literature Authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells wrote imaginative science fiction stories featuring steam-powered technology and fueled the modern steampunk genre.
Industrial Revolution The widespread adoption of steam power and mechanical production techniques during the Industrial Revolution played a significant role in shaping the steampunk aesthetic.

Steampunk also draws inspiration from the Industrial Revolution and the rapid technological advancements that were taking place during that time. Steam power, gears, and clockwork machinery are common motifs in steampunk, reflecting the culture and technology of the era.

Steampunk Origins

Despite its historical and literary influences, steampunk has evolved into a unique aesthetic and cultural phenomenon in its own right. As we’ll explore in the coming sections, steampunk has inspired a diverse range of creative works and has become a thriving subculture with its own events, fashion, and community.

Steampunk Aesthetics

One of the most recognizable aspects of steampunk is its unique visual aesthetic. Drawing inspiration from the Victorian era and the industrial revolution, steampunk fashion is often characterized by a blend of antique and futuristic elements.

Corsets, top hats, and waistcoats are common staples of steampunk attire, as are aviator goggles, pocket watches, and various gadgets and gizmos. The fashion also incorporates elements of science fiction and fantasy, such as clockwork mechanisms, steam-powered engines, and mechanical wings.

The steampunk aesthetic extends beyond fashion, however, and can be seen in art, architecture, and interior design. Elaborate brass and copper machinery, aged wood paneling, and ornate filigree are all common elements of steampunk-inspired designs.

One remarkable example of steampunk art is the sculpture pictured below, entitled “Octopus Automaton” by artist Nemo Gould. The piece combines elements of steampunk fashion and machinery to create a whimsical and imaginative work of art.

steampunk art I am particularly drawn to the unique aesthetic of steampunk and the creative possibilities it offers. There is something captivating about the blend of antique and futuristic elements, and the focus on detail and craftsmanship.

Whether it is through fashion, art, or design, the steampunk aesthetic encourages us to explore our creativity and celebrate the beauty of the past and the potential of the future.

Steampunk Literature

Steampunk literature is a subgenre of science fiction that focuses on the Victorian era and the industrial revolution, often incorporating advanced technology powered by steam. It typically features an alternative history of the 19th century, including elements of fantasy and adventure.

One of the earliest examples of steampunk literature is “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, published in 1990. The novel explores a world where Charles Babbage’s analytical engine was successfully built and used to change the course of history.

Steampunk literature often critiques the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and emphasizes the value of individualism and creativity. It frequently features strong, independent female characters who challenge traditional gender roles.

Victorian literature, such as the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, heavily influences the genre. Many steampunk novels also draw inspiration from historical events, such as the American Civil War or the exploration of Africa.

Steampunk has gained a dedicated following and has inspired countless works of fiction, including comics, graphic novels, and video games. Its unique blend of historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy continues to captivate readers and influence other genres.

steampunk literature

The Steampunk Subculture

One of the most fascinating aspects of steampunk is the community that has formed around it. Steampunk enthusiasts come from all walks of life, but they all share a passion for the unique aesthetic and cultural aspects of the genre.

At its core, the steampunk subculture is all about creativity and self-expression. People who identify as steampunks often create intricate costumes and accessories that showcase their love for the genre. These outfits typically feature a blend of Victorian-era fashion and steam-powered technology, and many steampunks take great pride in crafting their own unique pieces.

Aside from fashion, steampunk culture also encompasses a wide range of activities and events. From conventions and art shows to music festivals and tea parties, there is no shortage of ways for steampunks to come together and celebrate their shared interests.

steampunk subculture

One particularly noteworthy event is the annual Steampunk World’s Fair, held in New Jersey. This massive gathering draws thousands of attendees from all over the world and features a wide range of activities including live performances, workshops, and vendors selling steampunk-themed merchandise.

Steampunks are also known for their love of all things literary. The genre has its roots in the works of authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and many modern steampunk novels draw inspiration from these early pioneers. In fact, the steampunk subculture has even spawned its own dedicated publishing houses, such as Airship 27 and EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.

Overall, the steampunk subculture is a vibrant and diverse community that values camaraderie, creativity, and self-expression. Whether you’re a longtime enthusiast or just discovering the genre for the first time, you’re sure to find a welcoming home among the steampunks.

Steampunk in Art

Steampunk has a strong presence in various art forms, including painting, sculpture, and digital art. The unique visual style of steampunk, characterized by antique and industrial aesthetics combined with futuristic elements, has inspired many artists around the world.

One notable example of steampunk art is the work of American artist James Ng. Ng creates intricate illustrations that blend historical and fantastical elements, such as mechanical dragons and clockwork warriors. His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and publications.


Another prominent steampunk artist is French sculptor Gilles Tosello. Tosello creates stunningly detailed sculptures of animals and mythical creatures, reimagined as clockwork machines. His work has been displayed in galleries and exhibitions across Europe.

Steampunk art also has a strong presence in the digital realm. Video game developer BioShock, for example, incorporates steampunk elements into its Art Deco-inspired dystopian world. The game has been praised for its unique and immersive aesthetic.

What sets steampunk art apart is its focus on innovation and creativity. Artists often incorporate found objects and repurposed materials to create one-of-a-kind pieces. It’s a celebration of ingenuity and resourcefulness, perfectly aligned with the steampunk ethos.

Steampunk and Technology

One of the defining characteristics of steampunk is the use of technology. However, it’s not the technology of our modern world; it’s the technology of the past, reimagined and repurposed.

The technology of steampunk is typically based on steam power and clockwork mechanisms. Inventions such as airships, automatons, and flying machines are common in steampunk literature and art.

One reason for the popularity of steampunk technology is its aesthetic appeal. The intricate gears, cogs, and brass fittings of a steampunk machine are visually stunning. In addition, the use of antique technology reflects a desire to return to a simpler, more elegant time.

Another reason for the popularity of steampunk technology is its potential for sustainability. Unlike modern technology, which often relies on non-renewable energy sources, steampunk technology can be powered by steam or other renewable resources.

While the technology of steampunk may seem fantastical, it is often grounded in reality. Many of the inventions found in steampunk are based on real-world technology from the Victorian era. In fact, the word “steampunk” itself was coined as a reference to the steam-powered machinery of the Industrial Revolution.

Overall, the technology of steampunk is both fanciful and practical, combining the aesthetics of the past with a vision for the future.

steampunk machine

Steampunk in Pop Culture

Steampunk has had a significant impact on popular culture, from movies to music to television. One of the earliest examples is the 1960s television show The Wild Wild West, which blended the western genre with steampunk elements such as gadgetry and Victorian-era aesthetics. In more recent times, we have seen steampunk influence many aspects of popular culture.

Movies such as Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Mortal Engines have incorporated steampunk elements in their storytelling and visuals. The music industry has also seen steampunk influence, with artists like Steam Powered Giraffe and Abney Park incorporating the genre into their music and fashion.

steampunk movie poster

The fashion industry has also taken notice of steampunk, with designers creating clothing lines inspired by Victorian-era fashion and incorporating steampunk accessories such as goggles and pocket watches. Video games like Bioshock Infinite and Dishonored have also featured steampunk themes and aesthetics.

Overall, steampunk has become a popular and recognizable genre in pop culture, influencing everything from fashion to music to film.

Steampunk Gaming

As a huge fan of both the steampunk genre and video games, I love seeing the two come together in the form of steampunk-themed games. From the classic Bioshock Infinite to the more recent Iron Harvest, steampunk gaming has a unique aesthetic that sets it apart from other genres.

One of the defining features of steampunk gaming is the use of steam-powered technology, which often takes on a larger-than-life quality in these games. These machines and gadgets are not only visually impressive, but they’re also often integral to the gameplay itself. In some games, you may even get to build and customize your own steam-powered contraptions!

But steampunk gaming isn’t just about the technology. Many of these games also feature rich, immersive worlds with complex characters and engaging storylines. Whether you’re exploring the floating city of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite or fighting for survival in the post-apocalyptic world of Frostpunk, there’s always something new to discover in a steampunk game.

Of course, tabletop gaming is also a big part of the steampunk community. Games like Space 1889 and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura allow players to fully immerse themselves in a steampunk world, complete with airships, steam-powered weapons, and other fantastical devices.

Steampunk gaming isn’t just a fun way to pass the time, either. It can also be a great way to explore environmental themes, like the impact of industrialization and the dangers of unchecked progress. steampunk gamingBy blending fantastical elements with real-world issues, these games can challenge us to think more critically about the world around us.

If you’re looking to get into steampunk gaming, there’s no shortage of options out there. Whether you prefer console or PC games, there’s something for everyone. And with new games coming out all the time, there’s always something new to explore in the world of steampunk.

Steampunk and Environmentalism

While steampunk is often associated with Victorian-era technology and aesthetics, it can also have significant ties to environmentalism. By envisioning a fictional world where steam power and clockwork mechanisms reign supreme, steampunk highlights the environmental impact of modern technology and the importance of sustainability.

One example of this is the prevalence of airships in steampunk literature and art. Airships rely on the use of renewable resources like wood and hydrogen, making them a more sustainable form of transportation than many modern modes of travel.

Additionally, steampunk often incorporates themes of recycling and repurposing into its fashion and design. By embracing a DIY mentality and using found objects to create intricate and unique designs, steampunk enthusiasts can reduce waste and promote sustainability.

The steampunk community also often takes an active role in environmental causes, such as supporting renewable energy and promoting conservation efforts. Through events and gatherings, steampunk enthusiasts can come together to raise awareness and take action on environmental issues.

Ultimately, steampunk and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive concepts. By exploring the potential of sustainable technology and promoting eco-conscious practices, steampunk can offer a unique perspective on the relationship between humanity and the natural world.

Steampunk airship flying over a forest

Source: Image by Vladojotic from Pixabay

Steampunk Events and Conventions

Attending steampunk events and conventions is a fantastic way to immerse oneself in the community and culture of the genre. From elaborate costumes to unique art installations, these gatherings offer something for everyone.

One popular event is the Steampunk World’s Fair, held annually in New Jersey. This three-day festival features a variety of concerts, panels, and vendors, as well as a fashion show and tea dueling competition.

Another notable convention is SteamCon, which takes place in Seattle. With a focus on the intersection of steampunk and science fiction, this event features guest speakers, workshops, and a masquerade ball.

For those looking for a smaller gathering, the Watch City Steampunk Festival in Massachusetts offers a day of live music, vendors, and interactive experiences.

Regardless of which event you attend, be sure to come dressed in your best steampunk attire and ready to socialize with fellow enthusiasts. As one attendee of the Steampunk World’s Fair put it, “It’s like coming home to a family you never knew you had.”

Steampunk cosplay costume

Steampunk and the Future

As the world becomes more advanced technologically, it can be easy to imagine that the steampunk genre would become outdated. However, I believe that the opposite is true. Steampunk will continue to be relevant and inspiring to new generations of artists and creators.

One reason for this is that the steampunk aesthetic offers a unique blend of old and new. It combines vintage style with futuristic technology, creating a world that is both familiar and excitingly new. This dichotomy will continue to appeal to people who are interested in imagining alternative futures.

Steampunk Future

Furthermore, the steampunk genre often challenges traditional power structures and social norms. It provides a canvas for artists and writers to explore themes of resistance, rebellion, and justice. As these themes remain relevant and important in our society, I believe that steampunk will continue to be a source of inspiration and creativity.

Finally, the steampunk community itself is vibrant and supportive. With events and conventions held around the world, it provides a space for people who are interested in this genre to connect and collaborate. This community will continue to foster new ideas and push the boundaries of what is possible within the steampunk universe.

In short, I believe that the future of steampunk is bright and full of potential. As long as there are people who are interested in imagining new worlds and exploring themes of justice and rebellion, the steampunk genre will continue to inspire and captivate us.

Steampunk Influences

Steampunk is a genre that draws heavily from various literary, historical, and cultural influences. These influences can be seen in the aesthetics, themes, and narratives of many steampunk works.

Literary Influences Historical Influences Cultural Influences
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells is often cited as a major influence on the steampunk genre. Other notable works include Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Victorian era, with its emphasis on industrialization, innovation, and exploration, heavily influences the steampunk aesthetic. Additionally, the fashion, architecture, and technology of this time period are frequently referenced in steampunk works. Steampunk often incorporates elements of various subcultures, such as goth and punk. Additionally, steampunk’s focus on individuality and creativity is often seen as a response to the conformity and mass production of modern society.

These literary, historical, and cultural influences have helped shape the unique identity of steampunk, and continue to inspire creators within the genre today.

steampunk influences

Steampunk and Gender

One of the exciting things about steampunk culture is its potential for subverting traditional gender norms. In steampunk literature, female characters are often portrayed as strong, independent, and capable, challenging the traditional roles assigned to women in Victorian society. This is reflected in steampunk fashion as well, with women donning corsets and other historically feminine garments while also incorporating elements of practicality and functionality.

Steampunk culture also provides a space for individuals to explore and express their gender identity in a supportive and creative environment. Many steampunk events and conventions embrace a gender-bending ethos, encouraging attendees to experiment with their appearance and challenge traditional gender roles.

However, it is important to acknowledge that steampunk, like any subculture, is not immune to issues of sexism, racism, and homophobia. While many steampunk enthusiasts embrace diversity and inclusivity, there are still those who perpetuate harmful attitudes and behaviors. It is crucial for the steampunk community to actively work towards inclusivity and intersectionality in order to create a safe and welcoming space for all.

steampunk gender

Overall, steampunk presents a unique opportunity for individuals to explore and challenge traditional gender norms while embracing creativity and innovation. As the steampunk community continues to grow and evolve, it is important to prioritize diversity and inclusivity in order to ensure that all feel welcome and supported.

Steampunk and Creativity

One of the most intriguing aspects of steampunk is its ability to inspire creativity and innovation. The genre encourages people to think outside the box and reimagine everyday objects and technologies in a new light.

From intricately designed clothing and jewelry to fantastical inventions and machines, the steampunk aesthetic is all about blending vintage styles with imaginative futuristic concepts. This blend of old and new allows for endless possibilities and sparks the imagination of artists and makers from all backgrounds.

One particular area where steampunk has had a significant impact is in the world of cosplay. Fans of the genre often take inspiration from their favorite books, movies, and games to create elaborate and visually stunning costumes that capture the spirit of steampunk.

Steampunk also has a strong presence in the world of DIY and crafting, with many enthusiasts using found objects and repurposed materials to create unique and functional pieces of art. Whether it’s a handmade clockwork lamp or a fully functional airship replica, steampunk enthusiasts are always finding new ways to express their creativity and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Overall, steampunk is a genre that values creativity, imagination, and innovation. It invites people to explore new ideas and concepts, experiment with different materials and techniques, and push their creative limits to new heights.

Steampunk Goggles
Image Source: Unsplash


In conclusion, steampunk is a vibrant and endlessly fascinating genre that has captivated fans around the world. From its origins in literature and science fiction to its diverse expressions in art, fashion, and culture, steampunk offers a unique blend of retro-futuristic aesthetics and innovative creativity.

As I’ve explored in this article, steampunk has a rich history and a wide range of influences that continue to shape its evolution. Whether through its emphasis on environmentalism and sustainability or its potential for subverting gender norms, steampunk remains a powerful force for imagination and ingenuity.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that steampunk will continue to inspire and challenge us in new and exciting ways. Whether through gaming, fashion, or literature, the steampunk genre will undoubtedly continue to thrive and evolve, drawing in new fans and pushing the boundaries of creativity.

So, what does steampunk mean? Ultimately, it means whatever we want it to mean. Steampunk is a genre that allows us to explore the past, present, and future, combining historical elements with futuristic innovations. It is a genre that encourages us to imagine new possibilities and push the limits of our creativity. So, whether you’re a die-hard steampunk enthusiast or simply curious about this fascinating subculture, I hope this article has shed some light on the many facets of steampunk and its enduring appeal.


Q: What does steampunk mean?

A: Steampunk is a genre that combines elements of Victorian-era aesthetics with futuristic technology and an alternative history.

Q: What are the origins of steampunk?

A: Steampunk has its roots in the science fiction and fantasy literature of the 19th century, particularly the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Q: What are the main characteristics of steampunk aesthetics?

A: Steampunk aesthetics are characterized by a blend of Victorian fashion, mechanical gadgets, and steam-powered machinery.

Q: What defines steampunk literature?

A: Steampunk literature often features themes of adventure, exploration, and technological innovation set in a world where steam power is prevalent.

Q: Is there a steampunk subculture?

A: Yes, there is a vibrant steampunk community that includes enthusiasts who dress in steampunk fashion, attend conventions, and participate in various activities.

Q: How does steampunk influence art?

A: Steampunk has inspired artists in various mediums, including painting, sculpture, and digital art, with its unique blend of historical and futuristic elements.

Q: What role does technology play in steampunk?

A: Technology and inventions are central to steampunk, often represented by fantastical contraptions powered by steam and clockwork mechanisms.

Q: How has steampunk influenced pop culture?

A: Steampunk has made its mark on movies, TV shows, music, and fashion, with its distinctive style and themes of adventure and imagination.

Q: Are there steampunk-themed video games?

A: Yes, there are numerous video games that incorporate steampunk themes, offering players the opportunity to explore fantastical steam-powered worlds.

Q: Can steampunk reflect environmental concerns?

A: Steampunk can be seen as a critique of excessive industrialization and a celebration of sustainable alternatives, incorporating eco-conscious themes into its narrative.

Q: What are some popular steampunk events and conventions?

A: Steampunk enthusiasts gather at events such as The Steampunk World’s Fair, Dragon Con, and The International Steampunk Symposium to celebrate their shared passion.

Q: Will steampunk remain relevant in the future?

A: Steampunk’s enduring popularity and its ability to adapt to changing times suggest that it will continue to inspire creativity and captivate audiences for years to come.

Q: What are the influences on steampunk?

A: Steampunk draws inspiration from Victorian literature, historical events, industrial revolution, and various cultural movements, such as punk and gothic subcultures.

Q: How does steampunk challenge traditional gender norms?

A: Steampunk offers opportunities for gender exploration and subversion by presenting strong female characters, gender-neutral fashion, and empowering narratives.

Q: How does steampunk inspire creativity?

A: Steampunk’s emphasis on invention, imagination, and repurposing objects encourages individuals to think creatively and explore their own artistic expressions.


In summary, steampunk is a genre that combines Victorian aesthetics, futuristic technology, and alternative history to create a unique and imaginative world. It has influenced various art forms, sparked a vibrant subculture, and continues to inspire creativity in many individuals. Steampunk’s ability to adapt and evolve ensures its relevance in the future, making it an enduring and captivating genre.

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