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Steampunk explained in pictures

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Our annual Steampunk event BresSteam will be chugging into action next weekend so to get everyone into the mood for anachronistic-technologies and/or retro-futuristicinventions (wikipedia’s words, not ours!) we’ve scoured the interweb and put together a quick visual tour of Steampunk past and present.

An introduction to Steampunk and it’s popularisation

Today Steampunk has become a widely recognised sub-genre of science fiction which, even if consumer don’t recognise the name, they would recognise the visual cues and design hallmarks.

Quite why Steampunk in particular, the fanciful mix of victoriana and science fiction, should have proved so much more popular than the others is unclear.

There have been other mixtures of periods and sci-fi - StarGate for instance, or even the long forgotten 80’s cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold, which imagined ancient Egyptians and Aztecs respectively with futuristic, high technology.  I also recall a very odd Science Fiction cartoon of Ulysses which incorporated swords and sorcery with space opera shenanigans.

However none of these other experiments took off like Steampunk.

Maybe it’s because the Victorian world is more tangible to us - we can all still see and touch remnants of that world, and it’s industrial legacy provides plenty of “what if” possibilities.

There is also a massive wealth of material to play with - the victorian period saw mass production really take off, the birth of the novel, penny dreadfuls, Jack the Ripper - you see? Lots of material.

Steampunk of Literature, Film & TV in pictures

Steampunk -novels

The books of Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, 1983); James Blaylock (Homunculus, 1986); and himself (Morlock Night, 1979, and Infernal Devices, 1987) have all been instigated as the origin of the term “Steampunk” - coined by K. W. Jeter in 1987 as a rather tounge in cheek variant of Cyberpunk when trying to describe the type of fiction he, Powers and Blaylock were writing.

Steampunk may sound a bit underground and alternative, so it’s surprising that many of it’s visual conventions come from a couple of Disney films: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and The Time Machine(1960).

Someone has even proposed a Lego Kit of The Nautilus, the submarine featured in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - although it hasn’t been fully realised yet!

Another much later film that is also often cited as a major influence on the Steampunk aesthetic is Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil with it retro-futuristic imagining of a dystopian, Orwellian world.

Probably the medium where you will find the most prolific output of Steampunk imagery are comics (possibly due to their ability to allow amazing, fantastical worlds to be realised on a relatively low budget).

British comics legend Alan Moore (writer of Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell) is no stranger to Steampunk - his seminal reimagining of Victorian heroes and villians, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, incorporates all the tropes we’ve come to recognise (and a few new ones!)

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

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By Alastair Baker at 27 May 2016, 00:00 AM