In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Steampunk.com offers a definition of Steampunk.
This is a good question that is difficult to answer.
To me, Steampunk has always been first and foremost a literary genre, or least a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk). Unfortunately, it is a poorly defined subgenre, with plenty of disagreement about what is and is not included. For example, steampunk stories may:
- Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);
- Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);
- Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);
- Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or
- Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).
“It’s sort of Victorian-industrial, but with more whimsy and fewer orphans.”
- Caitlin Kittredge
There are probably plenty of other combinations I’ve forgotten, but that’s steampunk as a genre in a nutshell. Steampunk has also cross-pollinated its way into other genres, so there is steampunk romance, steampunk erotica, and steampunk young adult fiction. I haven’t spotted any steampunk picture books yet, but I won’t be surprised when I do.