Steampunk Friday - What is Steampunk?

| Friday, July 1, 2011 | |
What is Steampunk?

To any readers coming here from IABN, don't worry this is still a Warmachine blog! We're just trying something new.

On our About page, we mention that a secondary focus of this blog is the Steampunk subculture in general. I thought it might be fun to make Fridays about Steampunk. After all, that's one of the areas where Warmachine and Iron Kingdoms really first stood apart from the crowd with its look/feel/fluff.

I had written a much longer blog post... but then realized that all I was doing was paraphrasing the most excellent work of Ben Hamby (Captain Samuel Taineous of the Delirium of Grandeur) of Austin from his "Steampunk 101" panel at A-Kon in Dallas this year. So... since I have the full text from him directly, I shall simply present his work as he intended rather than do a poorer job simply restating the same things.

Steampunk 101

What is Steampunk?
A. Wearing lots of brown with goggles on your head?
B. Wearing your old Goth gear with goggles on your head?
C. Wearing goggles on your head?
D. Victorian science fiction, based in an alternate reality where steam remained the main source of power.

I hope everyone brought their goggles.

This panel is to talk about what exactly IS this steampunk thing, the different types of steampunk out there, a bit about the fashion, the multimedia that's getting it right (YAY CASTLE!) and wrong (BOO CSI!). The movement both as an aesthetic, cosplay, and fashion choice as well as the people who are embracing it as a lifestyle. The panel will cover a catagorical list of different types of steampunks that I made up, so it's not like it's canon. Then again, people are starting to call me grandpa steampunk since the Delirium has been around since 2006, which makes us about 1000 years old in Steampunk years.

Ok, I figured I'd first talk about the different types of steampunks I've observed, and we'll play a little game of 'how many of these catagories do YOU fit into?'

Tinkerers & Mad Scientists - (Mad scientist laugh) How many of you are the type who took apart the remote control when you were a kid? Played with erector sets because legos didn't have enough moving parts? Welcome home. You probably got sucked into steampunk because of the toys. The aesthetic of brass and flashing lights are just icing on the cake. You are the type of people who, when handed an awesome piece of hardware IMMEDIATELY try to figure out how they did that and start working up a 2.0 version of it by the time you hand it back.

Cosplayers - people who have either written a character (and you won't be able to get them to shut up about them), or who are dressing up as a character they've read or seen. Noticing who they are dressed up as will make you their bestest friend in the whole wide world; noticing something wrong with their outfit will make you their mortal enemy.

Lifestylers - Living Steamy as a lifestyle. Either you can't help yourselves from tinkering 24-7 so you might as well live it, you're in love with the concept of living in a more romantic time period but still want your LCD 3d TV and your Droid so you covered them in brass, copper and leather, or you're independently wealthy and living in some Victorian manor, so why not tart yourself up appropriately. However it happens, these people wear something steampunk daily and are a lot more dedicated to it as a lifestyle rather than just fashion.

Dark Steam - Got a closet full of bondage gear, black clothing and goth gear but reaaaaaaaaaaally love that whole steampunk thing? Trot it all out, strap on some goggles and a few interestingly Victorian accessories and you've got Dark Steam. A lot of our goth brethren and sisters have fallen in love with us, and that's awesome! The Victorians wore a LOT of black after Albert died, and if they're gearing up and joining in, we love them for it. I don't think of them as a separate part of steampunk, but more its shadow.

Renn Steam - Seeing a lot more of it these days. A blurring of the timelines even further, with music, clothing and accessories from the Renaissance festival world creeping into the gear, and with good reason. Most of that costuming is EXPENSIVE and very well made, and let's be honest, the Victorians didn't exactly wear their corsetry on the outside of their clothing, did they? Doesn't keep that from being part of the most pervasive and repeated imagery in our weird little world, does it? A lot of times, the basic skirt can be bustled, the bodice altered and a few accessories added and bingo! Steampunk! But these two lead to me mentioning the next group...

Purists - You'll find some in every genre of fandom, and steampunk is no exception. These are the people who have a very specific view of what steampunk is and what it is not. Generally, purists want only real brass, leather and wood gear. Clothing period to the time-frame that they are portraying. Wouldn't carry a Nerf weapon if their lives depended upon it. I have no problem with purists, as I can get awfully persnickety myself about a lot of things, but it is a dangerously slippery slope. After my next category I will come back to this to talk about a very important point for me personally.

Oooo Shiny! - Our fledglings, noobs, chitlins, whatever. It's where we all started, and where we'll all start again if we move on to something new. Bright eyed and bushy tailed and extremely excited about everything, Oooo Shiny! You'll see Oooo Shinys walking around in street clothes and a newly painted Maverick, or wearing a pair of goggles. And, this is the very important part... that's AWESOME! We are rightfully proud of our costumes, our accuracy, our gear or whatever, but guess what? We all started out as Ooo Shinys, and they love the same things we love. Sometimes our persnickitynessnessness... it can get in the way of that. People can get a little sneery and snarky. Don't let it. Talk to the Ooo shinys, let them ask questions, go out of your way to bring them into the fold.

This moves us onto another thing. Accuracy? With what, exactly? Our world is wide open! There are very important images and accepted tenets to our Steampunk universe, but nothing is set in stone. Most of the clothing basics come from the Victorian era, with most of those tending towards Victorian England and Europe, but there were other countries, ya know. We happen to be sitting in one right now. The old West? Exact same time frame, with steam trains chugging across this nation of ours... why not dress up as Cowboys and Engines? The Orient was certainly different and amazing and chock full of clothing and accessory ideas. Great Britain was still colonizing India at the time, which allows for another amazing culture for us to steal!

I am not saying to absorb all of this into your own personal characters, concepts or ideas. But I am saying to respect it. We have friends who are amazing tinkerers and mad scientists AND lifestylers AND Dark Steam AND Cosplayers AND OOOO Shinys, and they have incorporated time travel into their Steampunk world. H.G. Wells, anyone? Our own group all have characters and back stories to explain how we got where we are, with a fully realized version of Victorian England and the Americas behind it. Babbage created his difference engine in the early 1800s but never built it... in our world he did, starting the Information Age in the 1850s instead of the 1950s. Very different versions of our alternate histories, resulting in different character concepts, clothing and gadgets. But they're both completely valid, and in my humble opinion, completely awesome.

SO, there you have it in a nutshell... a very, very large nutshell. But a nutshell nonetheless. I suppose the entire Delirium is a nutshell really, ah, right... you may all let the tangent dragons go free. I hope that was entertaining, or educational, or, at the very least, helped you get to sleep.

Cheers, Tally Ho, Toodle Pip, etc. etc. etc.

With love,
Captains Samuel Taineous and Helena Gaskit

Finally, in closing I wanted to touch on the terms "Renn Steam" (above) and "Dieselpunk" real quick.

Based on the artwork I've seen, many of the miniatures, the terrain used in publications, and the general feel of the fluff - I believe "Renn Steam" to be the "default" mode for Warmachine (obviously, much like any other Steampunk... it blends several).

I like to paraphrase Renn Steam this way... it draws more heavily from the Era of Queen Elizabeth than the Era of Queen Victoria.

"Dieselpunk" tends to draw from a literary and artistic source in a dystopian future. Rather than bringing the steam era forward, it's as if the world has decayed back to steam (apocalypse, disease, etc.).

I like to paraphrase the style difference this way. If Steampunk is brass, wood, patina, and brown leather... Dieselpunk is steel, rubber, rust, and black leather.

"Dieselpunk" and "Dark Steam" go together really well which is why I believe Captain Taineous only mentions "Dark Steam." Because they go together so well, Dieselpunks often come out to play with Steampunks! So, though it is its own own distinct beast, it warrants at minimum a brief mention of what it's about.

Thus concludes my first Electrocypherscriptoaetherlog broadcast upon the aetherweb about Steampunk. I make no attempt to convince nor coerce your own views on Steampunk, there's plenty of room on the airship after all. These are simply my thoughts on the matter, direct from my lab to your personal omnifunction visoscopic difference engine.

Next week, we shall direct our spectroscopes towards Steampunk MUSIC!


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