Steampunk is a science fiction or speculative fiction subgenre, with alternate history aspects, and aesthetics inspired by 19th century steam-powered machines. What to expect in steampunk art? Anachronism! History! Physics! Steam trains, clockwork and gears (lots of them), Victorian era settings—sometimes set in London.
Steampunk is also popular in Japan, with manga and anime (you might know, example, Hayao Miyazaki’s work). There can be flying boats (airships) and air pirates, art nouveau styles, and retrofuturism or neo-Victorianism.
Jules Verne is a popular inspiration for steampunk, particularly 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley are also inspirations for the genre. An alternate world that heavily draws from elements of steampunk is found in The Edge Chronicles.
Some steampunk art is also set in the “Wild West.” The genre can cross over with the genres of fantasy and horror as well as post-apocalyptic genres. A related term that describes a similar speculative fiction genre, inspired by Asian history, is silkpunk. Musicians, visual artists, movie or TV makers, writers, sculptors, and fashion designers can all work in the steampunk genre. An early influential example of steampunk in video games is Steel Empire.
Steampunk art rejects industrial design and the utilitarian visuals of modern machines, and sets out to create ones that are not just working machines but pieces of art, where the creator of the unique machine is also an artist. Brass, iron, wood, and leather frequently appear.
In writing, the works can create a critique of history, presenting dystopian and utopian ideas mixed together. In fashion, as well as with anything else steampunk, the more “out there” the better.
It’s a popular genre that’s meant to be fun without taking itself too seriously. Sometimes, historical figures or events will appear in unexpected situations. The most important thing to remember when viewing or reading steampunk art: just enjoy it, and have fun exploring everything you can!
Science Fiction Stories With a Steampunk Touch
“Stunning…from start to finish. Barkat is a fierce new voice.”