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What is Steampunk?


Michele Dutcher


My earliest brushes with steampunk come from an unconventional source perhaps: The Wild Wild West. This American TV series ran for four seasons from 1965 to 1969. James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) were a pair of Secret Service agents under President Ulysses S Grant who foiled villains each week who had technologically advanced devices conceived to allow the villains to take over part or all of the United States during Victorian times. The devices, which used steam, gears, airships, and such were often designed by the producer and shows were written around the devices themselves. The good guys travelled in their own train called the Wanderer which had living quarters and a laboratory.


This emphasis on advanced mechanisms for their time period has given some to claim the TV series was a ‘visible’ origin of what is now called Steampunk.  The show was eventually cancelled because Conrad got tired of getting hurt while doing stunts and because Congress thought there was too much violence in the episodes.


More than anything else Steampunk is made up of technologically advanced devices for a story’s time period or place or history.  For instance, since Steampunk is a subclass of Science Fiction, the storyline can occur on a far distant planet where the technology has yet to discover electricity – or perhaps electricity was discovered but then lost because of a disaster either manmade or nature made.  Civilizations can rise and be lost, but the ingenuity of intelligent creatures will fill in the gap with gears and steam and pipes.

Steampunk is known for its valiant, intellectually superior, daring heroes and heroines that use their brains as their first resource to thwart the equally ingenious villains who never give up trying to take over the world – at least their slice of the their world, be it Earth or a different planet or a different timeline completely. There is an emphasis on high adventure and sweeping views of the hero’s worlds from airships.  Against all odds, the main character will be victorious against super villains or time itself, using MacGyver-like strokes of genius at the last moment! – the odds by damned!


Of course there are steampunk conventions where fans dress up as their favorite characters while shopping for gizmos that don’t function – but given the right amount of science, probably could.

Steampunk is fast-paced, fun, fanciful fiction at its finest! – simply meant to be devoured and enjoyed by the reader. Which also describes this month’s stories – the Best of 2017, as ascertained by the staff here at Quantum Muse. Maybe there are some here that you are glad to see again.  Perhaps there are a couple you missed. See if you agree with our decisions. The Muse says, “Enjoy”.

Michele Dutcher   





2018-01-21 18:14:04
micheledutcher - My cyber-friend Eddie Sullivan says Steampunk is Civil War 1860 to 1910; ray punk is gothic from 1910 to 1930; diesel punk 1930 to 1950

2018-01-09 16:42:57
last comment was mine RT

2018-01-08 14:48:20
I see it as a "what are we missing" in today's world?

2018-01-07 23:35:32
Ironspider - I can vaguely remember Wild Wild West - though I'm sure the film version has blurred some of what I think I recall... My first encounter with what I would call 'steampunk', it certainly contained may of the tropes that would appear within the steampunk genre, was the RPG Space 1889, produced by Game Designers Workshop. Using technology and a little 'magic' (mostly in the form of 'anti-gravity liftwood') the likes of the British Empire, Russia and America had sent expeditions to the Moon, Mars and Venus. In a way it was a combination of Burroughs-style planetary romance and Verne-style science-fiction. I found it an intriguing setting. The first actual steampunk book I encountered was 'The Difference Engine' by Sterling and Gibson, which laid down what seemed to be the main principles of the genre - extrapolating very early technologies to see how they might develop and their effect on society. I've attended several steampunk conventions - not dressed-up though - and was amused by the mock antagonism between steampunk devotees and those of 'dieselpunk', which seems to be a sub-genre based firmly in the forties, where all-things greasy and diesel-powered are the forefront of technological design.

2018-01-07 11:56:58
dandrew72 - I remember The Wild Wild West. It was a pretty good TV show. Lately I've been watching old westerns and the inspiration those shows provide has proven interesting (at least to me). In a related matter, I believe there is still room for Steampunk to grow but I fear stereotypes may have typecast the genre.

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