Day: January 1, 2010

A Steampunk New Year!

Hi all, Happy New Year!

Spent last night ringing in 2010 with the local Steampunk crowd at the Clockwork Ball Masquerade.  Thus it is fitting that my article on Steampunk, in my friend Travis Atria’s Thriller Magazine, was published today.  Do yourself a New Years favor and check it out!

The present meets the past meets the FUTURE.  Enjoy!

And here is the FULL article as it appeared in Thriller Mag, a bit late, but I wanted it on the blog…


If you pilot a steam-powered airship, own a pair of aviator goggles and wear jewelry with gear motifs, then you don’t need to read this article.  You understand Steampunk well enough to have your botanist-explorer/runaway aristocrat/airship navigator character fully drafted, costumed, and ready to unveil at next year’s Steam Con.  Go reread “The Call of Cthulu.”

If you have no idea what I am talking about, read on: your world is about to be expanded.

steampunk watchSteampunk is a literary and aesthetic genre of alternative history that assumes a science that never existed.  G.D. Falksen, a leading writer of Steampunk theory (yes, it exists) and a history masters student in New York City, writes that the most concise definition of Steampunk is Victorian science fiction.  Here, “Victorian” references the period of industrialization in the nineteenth century, rather than the British culture, though many costumers use the fashions of Victorian England simply as a starting point.   In the Steampunk world, science and technology have not progressed beyond Newtonian physics: no internet, no lasers, no spaceships.  The atom has not been split, and Nikola Tesla holds more credence than Thomas Edison. Steampunk, however, is not without technology; it embraces steam-powered flying machines, guns whose mechanisms can be explained, and almost any object with visible gears.

I first learned about Steampunk while reading a 2008 article in the New York Times Style Section (Steampunk bands!  Steampunk meet-ups and photo shoots in Central Park!  An early photo of G.D. Falksen before I actually knew who he was!).  However, I had my true introduction this past summer at Dragon Con, an annual convention held in Atlanta.  Dragon Con 2009 was the first Dragon Con with a track devoted entirely to Steampunk, and attendees dressed in neo-Victorian garb, myself included, lined up to attend panels on costume making  and resin casting, packed the performance of the well-known Steampunk band Abney Park, and waited more than an hour to get into the overcrowded Steampunk fashion show and Time Traveler’s Ball.

Steampunk is an aesthetic that can be applied to most any source.  I saw Steampunk western costumes, a Steampunk samurai costume, several Steampunk Star Wars groups, and an amazing Steampunk X-Men group complete with a Professor X in a tricked out Steampunk wheelchair.   I also observed gothic Steampunk, in blacks and reds, and sepia-toned Steampunk in photographic browns (color palettes are an intense debate within the Steampunk costume community, one of many arguments including the importance of goggles and the prevalence of gears; the Steampunk community is a passionate bunch).  I met a woman who had created a Steampunk arm brace which was a functional morse code transmitter.  I saw people with Steampunk cell phone and iPod cases in leather and brass.  I bought a resin-cast, gear-filled necklace from a Steampunk jeweler and photographer in the vendor hall.


High-end Steampunk creations have garnered so much attention that recently the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University opened the first Steampunk exhibition.  The exhibition is mounted beside actual scientific artifacts as relics of a science that never was.  Featured are major Steampunk artists such as the team behind Brute Force, who created a mechanical jointed spider, and the artist Datamancer, who is renowned for creating a functional Steampunk laptop, complete with brass wind-up key.datamancer-steampunk-laptop-open Many makers of high end Steampunk objects have training in costume making and set design, though some have minimal artistic background.   I spoke with Thomas Willeford, one half of the Brute Force team, at Dragon Con; his interest in Steampunk objects stems from his background in physics.  He attempts to create objects that make functional sense in terms of how they are manufactured: the pistons in his mechnical jointed spider are meant to work, and you could easily imagine a massive-sized version of the small model wreaking havoc on the human population.

You’ve probably unknowingly encountered Steampunk.  You may have read some proto-Steampunk in Jules Verne’s  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.  Maybe you’ve noticed the rise of Victorian style charms and little watch parts at craft stores such as Michaels, or noticed jewelry bearing these characteristics on Etsy.  The Way Station, a Steampunk bar, recently opened in Prospect Heights.   New York Times head restaurant critic Sam Sifton referenced Steampunk in his recent review of the Brooklyn restaurant Prime Meats (you know Steampunk is mainstreaming when the Times restaurant critic name-drops it).  The day after that review was released, the Times style section published an article about the resurgence of 1890s styles in men’s fashion. To know Steampunk is to love it.

Below is a list of Steampunk Web sites, writers, and photo albums.  Have a look, I guarantee you will share my amazement.  Now, off to work on my bustle. : A fairly well written explanation of Steampunk and its various branches.  You bet BoingBoing is all over Steampunk!  The Steampunk fashion livejournal community, offering numerous tips and pictures on where to acquire the best steamy styles and how to create your own.  Brute Force, high-end Steampunk clothing, accessories, and furnishings.  The website for the Steampunk exhibit at the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford.  G.D. Falksen’s excellent Steampunk 101 post on The livejournal community for Dragon Con’s Alternate History Track  Flickr album for Steampunk costumes seen at Dragon Con.  The website for The Way Station, Brooklyn’s first Steampunk bar.  2008 NYTimes article on Steampunk., the extremely new Steampunk web series!  I told you it was mainstreaming…