Steampunks mix history, technology and science fiction

Written by Ced Kurtz on .

TechMan has always had a soft spot for eccentrics, maybe because his interests tend toward the eccentric.


One of those interests is science fiction and the various subcultures it has spawned. There are the Trekkies and the Star Warsians and the cyberpunks.

One of the most unusual and inventive subcultures is the Steampunk movement. Steampunk mixes technology with history and manifests itself in literature, fashion and even music. Steampunk says, "I want to go back to the good old days, but I want to take my laptop with me."

The most popular Steampunk theme is imagining what Victorian times, particularly Victorian England, might have looked like had it had modern technology. Or the other way around, what technology would look like had it existed in Victorian times. So these folks build computers with typewriter keyboards and monitors trimmed in brass.

Steampunk grew out of science fiction of the 1980s and 1990s. The works of Frenchman Jules Verne and Englishman H.G. Wells have been grandfathered in. The time machine as depicted in the 1960 movie of the same name was a very Steampunkian creation.

In the late 1970s, modern works of Steampunk science fiction began to appear. This was coincident with the rise of the cyberpunk genre, one of TechMan's interests, with its view of a dystopian future. Although influenced by cyberpunk and appealing to some of the same audience, Steampunk looks to the past instead of the future for its inspiration and is often less dark than cyberpunk.

Credit for coining the name Steampunk is given to science fiction author J.K Jeter, who was looking for a general term for a type of fiction that included his own 1979 work, "Morlock Night," and works by Tim Powers ("The Anubis Gates," 1983) and James Blaylock ("Homunculus," 1986).

With the 1990 publication of "The Difference Engine" by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, in which they imagined that Charles Babbage had succeeded in building a mechanical computer in 19th century England and what that would mean, Steampunk moved more into the mainstream.

There had been other mainstream works with a Steampunk outlook, most notably the 1965-1969 "The Wild Wild West" TV series, a favorite of TechMan in his youth.

Every good movement must have a convention and Steampunk is no exception. The California Steampunk Convention 2008 (www.steampunk will be held in Sunnyvale, Calif., Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. What better     way to celebrate Halloween?

The convention will feature a performance by leading Steampunk band Abney Park, named after a graveyard in London. Members of the Seattle-based band have adopted the persona of sky pirates aboard the airship Ophelia. There will be vendors selling custom-made goggles (antique-look aviator goggles are a big item in Steampunk couture), Victorian-era men's and women's clothing, beaded ribbon chokers, corsets, airship registry documents (dirigibles are also big) and other period items.

You can waltz and polka the night away at the Steampunk Ball to the music of The Brassworks Band and the whole weekend promises to have a "Vernian atmosphere."

If you can't make the convention, and apparently it sells out, you can go to and search on "steampunk" for a selection of thousands of pieces of handmade jewelry, goggles, corsets and other period pieces for sale.

TechMan is seriously considering getting a pair of those goggles.

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