So, writer Juanita McConnachie (alias Writer’s Block NZ) sent me an interesting question last week:
I was wondering if I could pick your brains on steampunk… Do you know if a ‘steampunk’ society would have any particular values?
Frankly, I was intrigued by the question. I’m not really sure I’ve seen something like this addressed anywhere before. On the contrary, I’ve seen some work out there that has refuted the idea that steampunk can inherrently be tied to any specific values or themes at all. But, I thought a full and fair answer to that question requires a little bit of thinking about the history and development of the steampunk genre, and an identification of what it is.
First of all, Steampunk has been described by people smarter than I in the subject not as a genre but as an “aesthetic” (see: “Steampunk Scholar“). I’ve even seen the steampunk aesthetic described as “goth discovers brown“. The idea behind defining it thus is that you can skin the steampunk look on something from virtually any other genre – fantasy or sci fi and beyond – and describe the result as “steampunk”. This is a half-truth, though, because you can skin the components of advanced technology and space exploration over anything and call it sci-fi or of magic and pointy-eared humans over anything and call it fantasy. But the thrust of this argument is that a proper “genre” of fiction touches on certain consistent and discernable thematic elements. Continue reading