In this chapter, I’ll be talking about possibly the most famous sub-genre of Science Fiction: Steampunk. Unlike cyberpunk, steampunk has a pretty consistent aesthetic. It has lots of grinding gears, hissing valves, and pipes spitting clouds of steam. Everything is plated with brass and iron. It’s basically an extrapolation of the industrial revolution.
Steampunk really became popular due to the book The Difference Engine, written by... William Gibson! Remember him? He was the star of my previous chapter on Cyberpunk. Yep, that means he basically kicked off the two most popular sub genres of sci-fi. While there were some books that could fit in that genre before it was published, The Difference Engine was the book that really opened up steampunk to the public.
Steampunk, like cyberpunk, has a multimedia quality, but it is admittedly less propagated. It appears a lot in games and animated films and series, but steampunk is yet to have a real success in live-action movies. It has a few movies which are rather mediocre, but not much more. One of the better ones is City of Lost Children, getting a 3/4 from Roger Ebert and a 7.6/10 from IMDb. This lack of good movies is probably because steampunk has a more fantastical style which wouldn’t translate well to live-action. This also explains why it is common in the animated medium, particularly in some Studio Ghibli works, such as Howl’s Moving Castle or Castle in the Sky. Lots of castles, I know. Steampunk is one of my favorite styles to draw, because it basically allows me to throw practicality to the wind and let loose. Steampunk is also a very popular subject for cosplay. In fact, searching “steampunk” will get you a lot of images of cosplayers.
It also has many great books. However, I think steampunk’s main strength is in aesthetics. This is made clear by the fact that it is mostly made famous by cosplay, art, and animated film.
Now that you know a bit more about steampunk, I’ll give you my thoughts. Steampunk isn’t my favorite. It’s good, but I generally prefer dieselpunk or cyberpunk. I prefer dieselpunk for mainly aesthetic reasons, while cyberpunk has always been able to explore more interesting themes and concepts. However, steampunk stories usually have a fascinating world. Any steampunk or dieselpunk story which bothers with worldbuilding will usually have a rich and complex world. You can explore alternate histories, and repercussions or alterations on historical events due to the advanced but still steam-powered technology.
Here’s a suggestion for those writing steampunk and are looking for a challenge: try and give a reason why technology never stopped being powered by steam. Unfortunately, many stories use steampunk as a cheap aesthetic to distract readers from poor writing and characters.
Overall, I believe steampunk is an interesting genre, but it is often misused and can be cheap or uncreative. It usually doesn’t explore broader themes, like cyberpunk does, but it is a good genre for worldbuilding.
William Rubel says
Marco, thank you for these pieces you are writing for Stone Soup‘s blogs. When I was in high school and college I often read one science fiction book a day. I also read fantasy. I would like to get back into science fiction, I miss it, but now forty-five years have passed since I was reading it–a couple of generations of writers–so I appreciate these introductions by you into the current science fiction genre.
Marco Lu says
Dear Editor Rubel: I’m really happy to see your comment here. I’m glad that I was able to bring you back to your younger days with my post, and that I was able to offer you my knowledge on the current state of Sci-Fi. I’d like to ask you, what books did you like? Who were your favorite childhood authors? I’m happy to find someone who has had a similar experience with science fiction as I’ve had, and I hope my following posts are enjoyable.