Pub Guru: What is Steampunk, and can it iron my trousers?

Katherine Hannaford Pub Guru

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Pub Guru is a new weekly feature which will give you enough knowledge about a particular techie subject, allowing you to bamboozle your mates down at your local boozer with. Hey, better than talking about pork scratchings…

No doubt you’ve heard the word being bandied around of late, either here, or on Steampunk-crazy sites such as Boing Boing or Gizmodo, who seem to cover everything that’s churned out of enthusiasts’ workshops these days.

Coined in the 1980s, ‘steampunk’ can be used to describe forms of fantasy fiction from writers such as H.G. Wells, William Gibson, art from people like Alan Moore or Hayao Miyazaki, or how we techies know it best, as souped-up pieces of technology which have been kitted out to resemble something from Victorian era England. Ever see that anime film from the makers of Akira, Steamboy? Now we’re on the same polished brass page…

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Incorporating huge dosages of science fiction or fantasy, these pieces of electronic equipment can be widely abstract and fictional pieces of ‘art’, or actual working pieces of technology, such as the steampunk monitor we showed you recently.

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As with most crazes, many sub-sections have been created, with Cyberpunk, Clockpunk, Dieselpunk, Neo-Victoriana, and even Victorian Science Fiction being major categories. Steampunk is the word which tends to encompass all the strands, and can be applied to anything which is vaguely science fiction-related in a Victorian era.

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Adapting modern products, such as computer monitors, guitars, watches, or even robots, and modding them up, with new covers or details, usually made from polished or dirty brass, or “over-sized rivets, aero shaped fins and elaborate exposed plumbing fixtures all covered with that ‘comfortably worn’ patina” as Paul Loughridge from Lock Washer Design claims, is the signature look to steampunk technology. Anything vaguely-industrial that harks back to Victorian times, and makes you think of steam trains, goggles and top hats sounds like it could well be a steampunk attempt, and as the genre is forever-growing, more and more formats are being swallowed up by the mighty brass mouth of Steampunk.

If you’re interested in reading more about Steampunk, check out the Steampunk Magazine, Steampunk Workshop, Flickr’s Steampunk group, and my personal favourite, Brass Goggles.

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By Katherine Hannaford | July 18th, 2007