What's Steampunk? I've heard the term tossed around but I'm not sure what it means.

I've seen some Steampunk websites and pictures of costumes at SF conventions but I don't get what the movement is about. Can someone explain what it is and which books/movies/shows are Steampunk?

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    Leather, brass, steam, dark-finished wood, and corsets.
    – Stewbob
    Commented Jan 18, 2011 at 19:04
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    -1 because this is easily found on Wikipedia. Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 19:43
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    @Wikis At Area 51: except that the definition of steampunk is still a debated, evolving thing.
    – Martha
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 22:48
  • This feels very opinion-based, as evidenced by the multiplicity of unreferenced answers below.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 17:23

6 Answers 6


Steampunk is pretty much about extrapolating a future from a victorian point of view. So, you'll see lots of steam (obviously) powered devices, often the social structure of victorian Britain is preserved in one way or another.

Wikipedia explain it rather well ;)


Steampunk, the term jokingly coined in 1987 by science fiction writer K. W. Jeter to describe the brand of “Victorian fantasies” written by himself and his contemporaries has since blossomed not only into a literary subgenre but into a whole subculture. While originally a sly nod to the cyberpunk subgenre in vogue at the time, steampunk has taken on its own lease of life and as such has aroused many a debate as to what steampunk actually is.


Steampunk is widely called "Victorian science-fiction." Basially, it is a sub-genre of sci-fi that has morphed over the years and now takes many forms. The basic idea is a Victorian-esque (Steampunk has also been modernised and Steampunk stories have taken place either in the present day or in the future, but the aesthtic and feel of the Steampunk world is always Victorian/Edwardian) world, before the likes of Einstein gave us science on an atomic level. The world is powered by steam and gears, cogs and clocks. Devices are clunky and, by today's standards, pretty rudimentary. Think of the scientific advances in the industrial revolution in Queen Vic's days, and now imagine science didn't really much evolve from there.

Aviation is a big deal in Steampunk: air ballons and Zeppelins are an absolute must in practically any Steampunk story. Time travel is also an important theme, especially in the works of H. G. Wells. Robots and other inventions are pretty big too.

Steampunk extends into fashion as well; elaborate headgears with attached monocles, goggles, clunky prosthetics all made up of gears and cogs, and twisted Victorian fashion are all part of the general look.

The most common misconception is that one can simply "stick cogs on something" and make it Steampunk. Take a compuuter and stick some cogs on it voila... not Steampunk. Make an actual, clockwork powered computer with a giant pendulum swinging on the bottom and steam coming from a little pipe at the top, and voila... Steampunk.

So yeah, the basic definition is "Victorian science fiction."


As mentioned, steampunk tales take place in the Victorian era, predominantly but not limited to England. It is the age of invention and that is the primary key to steampunk, inventiveness in the age of steam technology, before electricity was widely used. The works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are good role-models for steampunk, though written well before the genre was created.


Steam Punk is a noun.

Here’s something from the dictionary:

a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology. "if you like steampunk, this is a great book for you"

And here’s another definition from the dictionary:

a style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction. "the essence of steampunk is homage to vintage fashion with a modern, sassy twist"

  • Which dictionary did you get these definitions from?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 16:44
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    Could you edit this to include the links for where these definitions are from? You can include a link in a post like [link text](link). You can also denote what is and isn't a quote by adding > at the start of a paragraph. Please do so here per the help page on referencing.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 16:45

Steampunk is many things, but my favorite way to understand it is this;

Steampunk is the expression of the sort of culture that might have arisen had H.G.Wells 'The War of The Worlds' actually happened, and the subsequent integration of Martian technology in the Victorian era....

at least that is how I describe it to any friends who ask me....I could be totally wrong :)

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