Is steampunk historically specific, or could any genre story benefit from a few more cogs and zeppelins? What are the pros and cons of exporting the steampunk aesthetic to stories set in other times and places? Can ‘the future that never was’ be extricated from the past it definitely did have? In other words, can you have steampunk without empire, and all that implies?
Steampunk is often associated with alternate history usually in the Victorian era, post-apocalyptic futures and fantasy settings, and has strong links to retrofuturism and gaslamp fantasy. In essence, it’s a counter-culture for the working class which looks at the future while exploring the past. As it glorifies manners and propriety it’s in danger of conservatism though Steampunk’s politics are anything but; men drank coffee and women tea while planning revolutions. As Laurie Penny once said, ‘storytelling is a form of activism’. Steampunk Anna Goldman would agree. From her About page on Facebook:
I began time-traveling some time after my exile from the United States in 1920. I arrived in the year 2011, where I began organizing pro-labor, pro-feminist, pro-gay-rights rallies and events within the steampunk community. Because today is the parent of tomorrow. And while steampunk looks like a lot of fun, if I can’t start a revolution, I don’t want to come to your dance.
Steampunk is like marmite, you either love it or you hate it.
One panellist went through all the different types of punk she was aware of:
[Image credit: Liz de Jager]