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Gail Carriger | A Question And Answer About Steampunk

When I knew I'd be writing a little something about steampunk, I thought I'd try to figure out what people still wanted to know on the subject. Steampunk has been around for a while now, and certainly the internet has taken notice. So I took my request, as I do with most things these days, to the web. Here's what I was asked:

1. What's the best way to explain steampunk to someone totally unfamiliar with the genre?

One can simply say that steampunk is the future as the Victorians imagined it, where steam power never died, and electricity never dominated. Think hot air balloons flying to the moon. If they still seem interested at that point, one can prattle on about Jules Verne and the birth of science fiction; the current aesthetic overtones (which I describe as the love child of a BBC costume drama and Hot Topic); and the importance of creativity, found object art, and the maker mentality in spearheading the movement. If they still seem interested I suggest pointing them to this brilliant overview article by Jeff VanderMeer, which pretty much covers everything. Steampunk, An_Overview

2. So that explains the "steam," what's with the "punk?"

The term steampunk came out of the mouth of gentlemen author Mr. K.W. Jeter (Locus Magazine #315, April 1987). I;m under the impression he was using the word "punk" to encompass the idea of an alternative culture, rather than piercings and purple Mohawks.

3. So then when did steampunk become more subculture than fiction genre?

This is where things get messy. The fact is, I don't know the precise answer to that question, because over the past ten years or so steampunk as a subculture seems to simply have flowered into existence as a cultural meme. (I mean that in the original sense of the word "meme" not those horrible little quiz thingies. If you know what I meme.) It is difficult to pinpoint when and how that initially occurred. I've been into steampunk now for about five years, and for me it's like drinking tea, or buying too many pairs of impossibly uncomfortable high heals: just part of my life. Strangely enough, given that I'm an archaeologist by training, I never bothered to figure out where it came from. I don't even remember where or when I first heard the term.

4. What is steampunk turning into?

I don't want to turn this into one of those uncomfortable, indelicate, and often impolite instances that happen on the internet where people argue over a concept. I have my ideas, and while it is clear that the steampunk movement is still evolving, as these things are wont to do, I believe that it is meant to be enjoyed with civility. Take what you will from steampunk, and live whatever aspects you see fit, there is plenty to go around. I, for one, am going respect steampunk's right to privacy and not attempt to define where I believe it is going by anything more than I hope it takes me along with it on the journey.

5. Is steampunk less fattening than frypunk?

Sigh. Yes, yes it is.

Gail Carriger is the author of Soulless a comedy of manners set in a steampunk universe with vampires. Changeless, the second book in the series is due out spring of 2010. She has a page about steampunk on her website with additional resources.

Gail's Virtual Home Alternatively: pick your poison: Friend or follow Gail on Twitter, facebook, Livejournal, or Blogspot. Options options! Or join The Parasol Protectorate facebook group and take over the world one sip of tea at a time. You can also play the Alexia paper-doll dress up game.

Soulless hit shelves Oct 1, 2009.




8 comments posted.

Re: Gail Carriger | A Question And Answer About Steampunk

I have never heard the term "steampunk". You say it's been around a while, wow I feel like I lived in a cave. I guess the saying is true "you're never to old to learn something new". Informative blog, thanks
(Theresa Buckholtz 12:57pm October 13, 2009)

I have never heard this term either, I have certainly learned something today.
(Vikki Parman 4:21pm October 13, 2009)

Steampunk makes me think of tatooed teen riding around in a Stanley Steamer. This was the first time I ever heard the word but my thoughts were fairly close.
(Sandra Dickey 8:25pm October 13, 2009)

Steam punk makes me think of THE TIME MACHINE and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, if my understanding of the genre is correct. Have heard about it a bit lately, but not read it.
(Patricia Barraclough 8:36pm October 13, 2009)

Steampunk is new to me. It sounds interesting. Thanks for the introduction.
(Robin McKay 9:04pm October 13, 2009)

I've never heard of steampunk at all but then I'm still not sure what "meme" means.
(Brenda Rupp 4:08pm October 15, 2009)

Can it be? An authorphoto with *gasp* nose and lips visible? Not ensconsed behind a tome or teacup?

Should have happened sooner. That's a flattering shade of lipstick.
(Maya Missani 10:07pm October 16, 2009)

a girlfriend of mine recently turned me on both your books and the genre and I love them both. I cant wait to read Timeless now. :^)

Gail, I live in a small southern town that is the equivalent of a modern day Mayberry. There isn't a lot of opportunity to express my new found steampunk self without being considered more odd and eccentric then already am. could you give me any ideas how I could integrate it into my mundane life? Thanks Gail. please keep writing.
(Heidi Durham 3:45am September 26, 2011)

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