Steampunk Wiki
This is about the sub-genre. For the graphic novel of the same name, see Steampunk (comic).

The quintessential steampunk

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the late 1980's and early 1990's. Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used, typically the Victorian Era and the Edwardian Era, that incorporates prominent elements of science fiction and fantasy. A modicum of fantasy is necessary because steam alone simply will not do enough to fulfil the visions of most authors and artists.

Steampunk is often associated with cyberpunk, from which it is derived. They have considerable influence on each other and share a similar fan base, but steampunk developed into a separable movement. Apart from time period and level of technology, the main difference is that steampunk settings tend to be less dystopian. Steampunk is described as "full of wonder" and as "functional, logical, and very British". Steampunk stories are often romantic and peppered with historical references and brewing rebellions.


Main article: History of steampunk

The term "steampunk" was first coined in 1987 by author K.W. Jeter and was used to describe a genre of speculative fiction in which steam, not electricity, drove technological advancements. Steampunk, however, draws on history, first appearing in the 1800s in the scientific romances of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.


Although steampunk settings vary widely, the most common one is during or inspired by the Victorian Era, often taking place in an alternate history. Other settings/periods include the Industrial Revolution and sometimes the American Frontier. Settings may take place in or derive inspiration from other eras, as well. It is not uncommon, for instance, to see a 1920s steampunk world, complete with jazz, and evoking a sense of whimsy and optimism. Alternately, a steampunk setting in the 1930s or 1940s is more dystopian with a far more oppressive atmosphere. Any setting after 1920 is called Dieselpunk, centered around internal combustion engines and electricity, spanning 1920 to 1950. Both genres can be combined using World War 1 as the separation point.

Steampunk settings are also used for alternate history and/or dimension linked to the real world. This can be seen in the anime "Last Exile" and "Fullmetal Alchemist".


Steampunk as a literary phenomenon has its roots in the 19th century, courtesy of Verne, Wells, and other authors and since then has begun to appear in other media as well, such as television shows, media games, films, literature, comics and graphic novels, and Japanese anime and manga. Because these are all visual mediums, the steampunk genre has also developed a visual expectation, although it does tend to vary from story to story.

Common steampunk themes include corruption (usually in the government or a similarly powerful organization), at least one fantastical element, and rebellions. Steampunk settings also tend to be somewhat dystopian, although not as strongly dystopian as the Cyberpunk genre.

Steampunk has also developed a genre of music, however the steampunk sound is only loosely defined, and may best be described as eclectic. The instruments used are just as varied, often incorporating exotic or unusual instruments some of them handmade from found materials. What seems to define a band as steampunk are the stage performances, with band members dressing in steampunk attire.



Clockpunk is a sub-genre of Steampunk. It is similar in many respects, except rather than focusing on steam driven mechanisms, it focuses on devices that rely on energy stored in springs, using clockwork in its technology.

Any science fiction or fantasy story wherein the technology primarily relies on wound springs for its power. If the technology involved in the story relies on a secondary source for power, say nuclear, it would remain in the clockpunk genre. Springs do wind down and must be rewound by some means, even if it is something as mundane as human muscle. So, as conceived, clockwork technology relies upon at least one other source of power.

Clockpunk is featured in Jay Lake's novel, Mainspring and its follow on novels. Another example of a Clockpunk piece is Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters.

Gaslamp Fantasy[]

Gaslamp Fantasy, also known as Gaslight Romance, is a sub-genre of Steampunk that takes place in the Victorian era. It differs from pure Steampunk by having less super-science, and is less often associated with alternate time lines. There are notable exceptions to this description in that Girl Genius is set in a completely different version of Europe, referred to internally as Europa, wherein super-science and alternative time lines are central to the plot.

John Clute and John Grant, as two of the forefathers of gaslight romance, commented that, ...Steampunk stories are most commonly set in a romanticized, smoky, 19th-century London, as are Gaslight Romances, but the latter category focuses nostalgically on icons from the late years of that century. The early years of the 20th century with the stories of Count Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, and even Tarzan, can normally be understood as combining supernatural fiction with recursive fantasy; though some gaslight romances can be read as fantasies of history.

A literary example of gaslight romance is the Gaslight Grimoire. To the left is an exciting video preview from YouTube. Another example is Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio.


Main article: Steampunk culture

Although originating as a genre of fiction, steampunk has eventually become a subculture in its own right. Steampunk culture is heavily defined by its fashion. A key component of steampunk culture is known as modding, which alters modern-day objects into distinctly steampunk counterparts. Forums allow steampunks to share ideas, designs, and how-to projects, and even sell their own steampunk wares. Steampunk conventions, fairs, and festivals are held throughout the world for Steampunks to meet and show off their costumes, buy and sell steampunk themed goods and share their love of the steampunk culture.

Art and Design[]

Main article: Steampunk art

Steampunk art is a forum used by many artists attempting to convey particular ideas. Common themes in steampunk art are ones concerning the advancement of technology, over-industrialization, and sometimes corruption. Steampunk artwork can be whimsical and humorous, or dark and thought-provoking.


  • Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer
    • "Steampunk"
    • "Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded"
  • Art Donovan
    • "The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement"
  • Dr. Grymm, Barbe Saint John
    • "1,000 Steampunk Creations: Neo-Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art (1000 Series)"
  • Jay Strongman
    • "Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism"
  • Jean Campbell
  • Jeff VanderMeer, S. J. Chambers
    • "The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature"
  • Jema “Emilly Ladybird” Hewitt Hewitt
  • Prof. M.C. Waldrep
    • "Steampunk Sourcebook (Dover Pictorial Archive)"
  • Thomas Willeford
    • "Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker's Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts"

Time Magazine[]



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