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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

What is Steampunk

There comes a time in every non-fiction steampunk book where the author has to define Steampunk for the reader. We call it Chapter One. I’ve been researching Victorian etiquette and such for my steampunk fiction, and writing blog articles on my findings. You can bet that’s going to turn into a non-fiction book someday. Thus, I have to write the obligatory Chapter One, or at least prepare some words that might one day make it there.

The Gist of Steampunk

My working definition of steampunk for myself is anything associated with the Victorian era crossed with fantasy or science fiction as if it were that era. For costuming, when I go to Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, all the attendees are there in period-correct clothing are not Steampunk. They came to be Dickensfolk. The ones who showed up with goggles on their hat, and strange old-timey gadgets are steampunk. In contrast, if you go to work in your Victorian garb, you are being a Steampunk. Even without the gadgets. In the latter case, you are bringing the bit of Victorian forward into the modern world. In the former case, those Dickensfolk are just there to be Victorian in a Victorian themed event.

Steampunk can be expressed in many forms. Movies, television, books, costumes, art, jewelry, props, music, etc. As a rule of thumb, it tends to look as if it is from the Victorian era, the 1860’s to 1910. It could be alternate history worlds, or completely different. It’s not always based on Britain, there’s Japanese Steampunk. But the sense of that era remains, even if transposed.

What Isn’t Steampunk

My iPhone is not steampunk. It’s minimalistic design is the antithesis of Victorian style. H.G. Wells fiction is contemporary science fiction. Now if I wrote a story like his, that might be steampunk. Technically, dieselpunk isn’t steampunk. In my mind, if another category and time frame fits it better, then it’s not steampunk, so things that look WWI or newer tend fit dieselpunk.

What’s It Made Of

If you look at steampunk props or costumes, they are either old and repurposed or made to look old. Brass, copper, wrought iron or wood with ornate carving. Victorians did not do plain and an expanse of unadorned surface was a sin. Items that have been steampunked, will have things added to them, to hint at that Victorian nature. The joke of gluing some gears on it, comes up often, yet you will find some cool things that are just that.

It’s all Good

Ultimately, most steampunks are a welcoming lot. If you show up with a neon costume with Lego gears glued on it, they’ll welcome you with open arms. Effort counts, even if it misses the theme or offers a new twist.


That was a bit wordy. Defining Steampunk is a tetchy subject among some and the most ridiculed guy in Steampunk became that way because he defined steampunk. No pressure. Pun intended.

Read more of my Steampunk Gentleman series at



Isn’t it frustrating that I didn’t include a single picture as an example of steampunk? If you follow those links in the references section, I think you’ll see some. I am a writey guy, and pictures have to be owned or licensed. If this ever turns into a book, or a revised article, I’ll add pictures. Besides, half the fun of steampunk is looking at things and wondering if they are steampunk or could be steampunked.

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