Select one hundred Steampunk enthusiasts at random from various corners of the globe, place them in a parlour with sufficient supplies of tea, cake (and of course a little La Fee Verte) and ask them to come up with a definitive answer to the universal quandary: ‘What Is Steampunk?’ and you will likely still find them in a state of cordial dispute when the final trumpet sounds and the apocalyptic horsemen clear their throats and ask politely if anyone would care to open the parlour door and take note that the world had, in fact, come to an end and could they all please be so kind as to step outside and commence panicking?
Of course apocalyptic prophesies have not yet taken account of the evolution of Steampunks.
At this point every Lady and Gentleman in the room will swiftly tip their last shot of absinthe into their cup of chai, drain it in a gulp, whip out their pith helmet, top hat, goggles, aether-ray-blunderbuss, rapid-shot-fire-parasol, automated energy detecting vambrace dowser, tool belt, specially adapted crochet hook and steel wool, acid-repelling lace or leather gloves, pet octopus, portable cartography set, smelling salts, picnic-hamper-of-holding, magnifying monocular device, favourite poetry book, breathing mask, radiation detecting wrist bands, aethertronic encyclopaedia, calling cards and pack of emergency biscuits and provide a perfectly practical demonstration of exactly what Steampunk is and precisely who is a Steampunk.
If however you do not have all the time in the universe to conduct such an experiment, let me direct you to some excellent articles which give a pretty first class account of the Steampunk phenomenon:
Lastly, if you really are in desperate, immediate need of clarification and haven’t a moment to spare before your airship departs, threatening to catapult you into a world of which you have absolutely no comprehension, I can only offer you my own, humble, completely un-definitive and obviously non-comprehensive definition.
And here it is:
In my own humble experience, Steampunks are a community who differ from most other fan-bases in the world because we are not fans of a single book, film, author, character, soft drink, band, designer or artist.
We are fans of an idea.
We are fans of asking: “What If…?”
You remember that annoying kid from school who always sat at the back and gave the teacher hives every time he stuck his hand in the air?
“But, Sir! What if Churchill and Hitler had fallen in love and run away to join the circus together?”
“But, Sir! What if cave men had built time machines?”
“But, Sir! What if Guy Fawkes had blown up parliament?”
“What if we’d all evolved with fish heads?”
“What if Bach had invented electro-house music?”
I am willing to bet that delightfully curious child is now a Steampunk.
As Steampunks we might be particularly interested in fashion, literature, music, technology, science, art or tea and cake.
Our preferred settings might be Victorian England or Post-Apocalyptic Mars, futuristic underwater cities or dense uncharted rainforests and lost temples on high mountain peaks.
But the underlying principle – in my experience – which seems to unite us all is this incurable, unbounded sense of curiosity and creativity and the perpetual propensity to ask ‘what if…?’ not only of our past but also of our present and future.
More about this incurable ‘what-if-itis’ another day, but for now I must go and appease my persistent clockwork companion who’s maniacal mantra haunts my waking dreams
… ‘one cup more… just one cup more’…