What is Steampunk to you?

If I ask one hundred people for a detailed definition of what steampunk means to them, I am sure to get ninety nine different definitions. Of course, I don’t have one hundred regular readers, but I would still like to spark some debate on this subject, so please feel free to trackback to this posting! So, what does Steampunk mean to you? I’ll start off with my interpretation.

We could always look at the Steampunk Wikipedia entry on the subject and get a good, generic understanding of the genre. But, with the time I’ve spent in Caledon, Babbage and Steeltopia, I have seen many different interpretations of this theme. Caledon seems to be more Victorian than Steampunk whereas Babbage seems to be Steampunk within the laws of physics with a dash of Victorian attitude.

I see Steampunk as what we would have if steam was the primary motive force instead of gas or electricity. I see Steampunk as bending the laws of physics, and I think that many authors must agree with that view as many vehicles are simply not possible with what we know. Heck, take Wells and his cavorite! I see Steampunk as a “can do” genre where if you can have an idea that seems plausible, then it should be possible.

But my own vision of what I enjoy about Steampunk goes deeper. Look at the movie “Brazil“. To me, this has the look and feel of Steampunk, although it is not truly Steampunk. It is mechanical, dirty, dystopian and yet inspires hope of human spirit. I enjoy the clunky improbability of Steampunk. I love the mad scientist feel of Steampunk. Heck, I’ve always been a bit of a mad scientist in real life! I also like the draws from Victorian-era architecture and styles.

Above all this, Steampunk is creating solutions with creative expression. And that is what 2ndL is ALL about! Many are drawn to 2ndL because of what has been created that cannot exist in real life. Yes, there are friendships, but they are friendship that have come about as people are drawn together by similar interests. Interests, in many cases, in worlds that do not exist anywhere, but in our minds. Caledon is such a world and it is what drew me there a long time ago and keeps me calling it home. We do not have a Victorian Steampunk country in real life. The Victorian era had long passed before most of us were conceived. Steampunk has only existed in literary form. In 2ndL, we can have both, if not physically, but in the next best way: virtually.

I enjoy the ability to create in 2ndL where my only limits are those of my imagination and the technical capabilities of the system in which I build. I try to make things that don’t completely defy the laws of physics, but that is my decision. Your view of Steampunk may very well be impossible, yet I would welcome that view, none the less! After all, there are two things that keep me coming back to 2ndL: FRIENDS! and creative builds.

Let me just add that although I have developed a character with a Victorian Steampunk look, I am not Victorian Steampunk. I enjoy Victorian Steampunk and have chosen to build and live Victorian Steampunk, but I also enjoy most other forms of in-world creative expression that expresses one’s heart and soul. There is a lot of that out there. Far more, in fact, than I have time to see by myself! There might be builds that I don’t find aesthetically appealing, but I appreciate the effort that went into the build, assuming that effort did go into the build. Technicolor Popsicle buildings aside.

Back to my main frame of thought . . . . I recently opened a new shop in a sim outside of and unrelated to Caledon. I am very proud of the build, even though it isn’t a huge departure in style from my other builds. I have built a look for my shops, so I keep working off that theme. It suits my shops and it suits me. I also built a skybox for building. It was kept above 500m, so I felt that I was fairly free to build what I liked, as long as I kept to the theme. The covenant said that builds must at least follow a mad-scientist view towards physics, so I used steam jets as its propulsion. Apparently, one busy-body (who will remain nameless as she is a persona non grata in my books) felt that this was completely inappropriate. I sent a notice to the sim owner for clarification and even offered to use balloons to float the building. The sim owner decided that balloons and steam jets were simply not possible during the Victorian era and decided that the skybox had to go.

First, the covenant said at least a mad-scientist view of physics, but NOT that it must have been done during the Victorian era. So, is cavorite banned too? Second, with enough balloons, anything can float. That would have been possible. Apparently, simply being possible is not enough. I had offended the sensibility of a long-time resident by making something that was not available during a particular period in time, irregardless of the fact that the sim is a Victorian Steampunk-themed sim. The build was architected as a building appropriate to the genre with technology that is appropriate to the genre.

What really annoyed me the most was when I said to the sim owner that it would have been nice to know the rules prior to purchasing my land rights, considering that they contradicted the covenant of the sim. He told me that I should have asked and that I should have read the rules. The covenant was very clear and I followed that to the letter. He even said that steam jets were exactly the sort of idea he had envisioned when the covenant was created. He just didn’t feel they would have had enough energy to support the structure. That is an interpretation that was NOT made clear prior. He has since changed the covenant to clarify his interpretation so that this sort of misunderstanding does not occur in future.

So, it was very clear that we had very different ideas as to what Steampunk is about. His is based on what is realistic and mine is based on what is conceivable. Both are valid, just different. The end result in this case was to make me feel like I could never be a part of his community; that I would never be accepted. Sad, that, but that doesn’t bother me too much. I’ve been accepted by the best community: my friends.

And that brings me back to the beginning: What is Steampunk to you? I really would like to hear your views, as I am certainly NOT an expert nor authority on the genre.


9 thoughts on “What is Steampunk to you?

  1. I think Steampunk, especially Victorian Steampunk is a ‘what could have happened’ if Mr. Babbage was successful in his difference engine and if the information age had started before the industrial revolution. Steam power would have held sway at the height of the late 19th century and it would have caused a change of events that would have altered our world drastically.
    What if Nikola Tesla had met Anne Morgan, the daughter of J P Morgan on a good day? Our world would be dominated by steampunk. Broadcast power, The League of Nations controlling the world, poverty could have been eliminated and World Wars would no longer be possible. Zeppelins and flying cars, steam powered rockets, moving sidewalks, and steam powered robots.

    Not only is Steampunk where Science runs the world but that people are cordial to one another. They dress in creative and mad scientist looks. Gears are common. The individual is unique and more importantly, can contribute to society easily. The focus on success is what you can accomplish, not how much money you make. The quality of life is better. The science though is a bit more important than anything else and you run the risk of loosing your humanity in it.

    You are correct sir in saying that everyone’s Steampunk is different. For me its a blend between the Victorian and the Diesel. It’s ‘what could have been’. Technology going along those lines could have been very different, not defying the laws of physics but there could have been black and white televisions in 1920 that are wall sized with vacuum tubes.

    Why can’t a building be supported with balloons and steam-powered jets? “The Laws of Steampunk” hasn’t been written and if it ever is, it would contradict itself and the genre would no longer be fun or unique.

  2. Perhaps you should have used giant propellers and pointed the sim owner to Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror. But yes the debate over what is steampunk is one that will never be fully answered. I’ve seen comments on the Wikipedia Steampunk entry stating that the PBM Steam Trek is not steampunk. I’ve heard complaints from certain people saying Caledon is not steampunk enough, from others saying it is not Victorian enough.

    For me steampunk doesn’t necessarily require steam and “putting the punk back in steampunk” to me is an misnomer as it was never there to start with. Steampunk works on a starting point, not necessarily of what might have happened if the computer revolution had have happened side by side with the Industrial but starts from a mindset where science is still something revered rather than feared. Yes there will be setbacks but all experiments will ultimately serve the greater good. The Victorian age was rife with bizarre concepts and humanitarian societies. The cynicism of the modern age had not yet dawned. Science was still pushing out the boundaries of knowledge showing us more and more wonderful things.

    The Victorian resurgence in the Legends of King Arthur lead to a reintroduction of a code of behaviour and chivalry that was to end with the Great War. One pointed comment I remember was that in Wells’ novel of The Time Machine, the traveller returned from his battle with the Morlocks and went upstairs and dressed for dinner before joining his guests.

    So for me it’s a combination of good manners and the wonder of science. I’m happy to add a little fantasy to my science (like Castle Falkenstein) but that lack of cynicism is one of the focal points I think.

  3. I am very glad for your interpretations! I have spoken with several people in-world about what steampunk is to them and no-one there can come up with a single definition. I’m glad for that! I agree with you, Mr Tairov, that to create a “Laws of Steampunk” would be detrimental to the genre. Steampunk is, of itself, a literary genre that is not well defined. To force a set of rules upon a genre would make it uninteresting to me as a writer.

    With every genre, there are unwritten rules that writers tend to follow. Science fiction often tries to seem plausible with respect to the current state of physics speculation. As something is written which defies the current state, a new hypothesis is presented. Steampunk, to me, is even more loose. It almost falls into the realm of fantasy. I find that fun, both as a reader and a writer.

    And, Mr Pearse, your last paragraph sums up the genre to me very well without placing constraints! Very well worded!

  4. Greetings Newbe!

    The late 1800s had something in common with the late 1900s – they were both times of significant technological advancement and (therefore) possessed an intense optimism and Grand Vision of what the future would bring.

    SteamPunk, to me, represents the Victorian Grand Vision of the future – involving high-tech imagined by folks who had never heard of a microchip or computer. 🙂 This strikes a personal cord with me, as I am one of the late 1990’s (and current) futurists – who also spends his time envisioning a future that, thanks to events and technologies as yet unimagined, almost certainly won’t come to exist. 😉


  5. I have added you as a trackback to my blog, although I am not sure if it will show up on your end. I am not as eloquent as the other commenters here are about steampunk, but I suppose I wrote what I did to essentially say “yeah, me too!”

  6. Thank you, Dr. Nunn! I am always thrilled when someone finds value in my humble, little blog!

    As for eloquence. . . I have read your blog and I must insist that you are well written and eloquence exudes aplomb. Years ago (oh, it is sad to look back at just how many have passed), I took a college class. The instructor, upon being asked for the required word count for an essay replied with “As many as necessary, but no more.” One quality that marks eloquence is the ability to convey one’s intended thought in a clear and concise manner. That you do! I, on the other hand, often babble on.

  7. To me steampunk is based around Edwardian times, I find the Edwardians have more panache and were more humane than the Victorians.
    I would add steam power can be arrived at by petrol, diesel, coal, wood, gas or electricity. All of which the Edwardians had.
    Add that to a bit of sci fi and fantasy, and you can have space going steamships which would switch to aetheral power with sails outside of earth’s atmosphere.
    I also wonder what other periods of history could be steampunked for an alternative history.
    In Second Life I have a steampunk flying platform for my Gallery, yet my art is contemporary abstract. My av is a copper clockwork gentleman, complete with working clockwork brain.
    The final word would be steampunk is what YOU want, other people opinions just get in the way of your enjoyment.

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