An Attempt To Explain the Unexplainable
It seems I stand at the 4-way intersection of several different genres, and so end up trying to explain them in my everyday interactions, as people peruse my wares.
The most common mystery nowadays that I am expected to solve is the answer to the question “What is Steampunk?”
I usually start out my explanation with this:
“Imagine if 20,000 leagues under the sea were history, and not fiction.”
I love the look that comes into people’s eyes as they contemplate this. All of a sudden, they are transported from the modern craft fair to a submersible leagues beneath the ocean surface, battling creatures with technology that is both long-lost and nonexistent, except in the imagination of the author, and now transferred to ours.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So imagine this:
A culture stuck in the Victorian Era, where electricity never took over the world, and technology is still steam-driven. It’s not money or love that makes the world go round, but gears! Coal fires boil water, producing steam, which fuels the technology that motors your vehicles, on earth or water, or better yet, gliding through the air in the form of graceful dirigibles. This is represented through the usage of various machinery parts rescued from machinery and automata that no longer function, given new life in adornments.
The coal fires that fuel the world produce soot and smoke as well as steam, so for those who are on the move, a trusty pair of goggles protects the eyes, guaranteeing that our vision of these marvels will remain true and clear.
Accidents will happen with a world of moving parts, and mechanical replacement appendages can be developed, but with a stylish flair befitting the aesthetics of the era.
And why wait for a dirigible to take you from port to port when you can fashion your own set of mechanical wings?
Fashion at its heart has the Victorian lines, but as we have passed this era in our imaginations by decades, perhaps longer, the lines have blurred, standards of decency have altered slightly, and anachronistic elements will be noted.
And if Captain Nemo is not legend but fact, how so not H.G. Well’s The Time Traveler? Think of the unlimitless possibilities!
The draw of Steampunk, for me, is that the bounds of the genre are boundless. You are limited only by what you cannot imagine. There is a huge movement of repurposing, of turning the common uncommon, of finding creatively new purposes for the most mundane items, where a little ingenuity plus a coat of paint can turn a thrift-store find into a rare and wondrous artifact, and where a style of a bygone era is again brought to light.