Tea & Automatons

Diana Vick's corner of the interweb

Steampunk Needs…

My ensemble from 2008

Back in 2008, on the way to a steampunk costumed gathering I was musing on how to phrase a concept that seemed to be misunderstood. Steampunk has a varying degree of anachronism if it is successful. A very basic tenant of science fiction is the introduction of things that are ahead of their time and it is even more important to steampunk as I see it.

It can be a delicate line to find. The anachronistic elements should be from the future not the past, rayguns not flintlocks, but also need to look integral to the time period. The gorgeous computer mods that Datamancer makes are a great example, essentially a computer from the future built to look like it was designed by someone in the Victorian era. Iphone skins seem to me, to miss the mark entirely as they just don’t look like something that a Victorian would have created. Steampunk inspired but not strictly steampunk per se, so I would classify them as steampunk; the subculture, not the genre.

My design for Steamporium, my little shop

Part of my musing that day was brought up by a friend’s rant about the length of a particular gentleman’s coat. “It’s the WRONG length” he moaned and I asked him what it was the wrong length for. If we are talking about steampunk, and we are altering history, then it makes perfect sense that fashion might also be altered. A great example is flight helmets. They have been used commonly since the invention of flight, but if we introduce flight via airships and ornithopters to our Victorian era stories, then a flight helmet would be a handy accessory for any aviator or aviatrix. So paying careful attention to what we bring back to the past and how we re-design it can make all the difference in the world.

Another design I did in fairness to goldfish

I finally settled on “Steampunk needs historical accuracy like a dirigible needs a goldfish” riffing off of Gloria Steinem’s famous quote “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” While a dirigible can certainly have a goldfish or even be a goldfish, no one expects it have a goldfish. It does not need one to run.  In the same respect a steampunk story can be very historically accurate, with just a tiny bit of anachronism and be perfectly wonderful, Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett’s Boilerplate for example. Or it can be completely made up of things that never happened or at least hadn’t yet happened and be equally as engrossing. Steampunk is a genre of fiction and should be treated as such. The fashion, weaponry, technology and events are entirely at the whims and devices of the author/creator. I don’t mean that we must be lazy or lax, but if accurate history isn’t your cup of tea, that is quite acceptable.

I guess my quote must resonate with folks, at least somewhat as I was asked if they could quote me in Locus magazine’s Steampunk issue.  I have had it quoted back to me on occasion and I can’t tell you how much it tickles me.

Having said that, I still define steampunk (just my personal definition mind you) as being in roughly the Victorian/Edwardian era. I have occasionally had my quote thrown back at me as an excuse for many unfortunate things to be labeled steampunk. All I can say is that accuracy is meant as a measure of how close not how wildly far you are off the mark. The fact that people seem to think a gown can be both Renaissance AND Victorian is proof that we need to learn more about history, but that is a rant for another time.

If you like my quote, I have done my artistic duty and added it to my steampunk store; Steamporium. It makes a cute t-shirt, so go and have a look.  I don’t make huge amount on the royalties so it’s mostly for fun.


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About The Author

Diana Vick

I am an illustrator, writer, costumer and steampunk enthusiast.
I have done illustration for comic books, animation and collectible card games such as Magic the Gathering and Legend of the Five Rings. Currently, I do art for my own line of cards and gifts in my Zazzle shop.