Steampunk refers to a modern sub-genre of SF and fantasy that takes place against a 19th-century background, usually involving steam-powered machinery. However, it has expanded into an almost mainstream fringe fandom that encompasses art, costumes and even home decor, and now has its own specialty conventions.
Detractors are prone to jeer, “Glue a gear on it and call it ‘steampunk.’”
The term, coined by analogy to cyberpunk, first appeared in a letter by K. W. Jeter in the April 1987 issue of Locus:
Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of that era; like ‘steampunks,’ perhaps....
Writers who have written steampunk stories include Jeter, Tim Powers, James P. Blaylock, Howard Waldrop, Steven Utley, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. (The last two writers are also closely identified with cyberpunk SF.) More recent steampunk works include Rudy Rucker's The Hollow Earth, Paul Di Filippo's The Steampunk Trilogy and Bec McMaster’s “London Steampunk” and “Blueblood Conspiracy” series.
Victorian London is often the setting for steampunk stories, and they may include elements of alternate history.
Well before the name was invented, there were precursors in early science fiction, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Doings of Raffles Haw” (1891), as well as The Wild, Wild West TV show (1965–1969).
Entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
See also: Steam Engine Time, Steam.
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