Steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporatestechnology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-poweredmachinery. Although its literary origins are sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian eraor American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. It may, therefore, be described as neo-Victorian. Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistictechnologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wellsand Jules Verne, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt andChina Miéville. Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analogue computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine.
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Steampunk may also incorporate additional elements from the genres of fantasy, horror, historical fiction, alternate history, or other branches of speculative fiction, making it often a hybrid genre. The term steampunk's first known appearance was in 1987, though it now retroactively refers to many works of fiction created even as far back as the 1950s or 1960s.
Steampunk also refers to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions, or subcultures, that have developed from the aesthetics of steampunk fiction, Victorian-era fiction, art nouveau design, and films from the mid-20th century. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described
Steampunk is influenced by and often adopts the style of the 19th-century scientific romancesof Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. Several works of art and fiction significant to the development of the genre were produced before the genre had a name. Perhaps the first steampunk short story is "The Aerial Burglar" (1844) by Percival Leigh. The oldest precursor of this genre in film, Fritz Lang's masterpiece, Metropolis (1927), may be the single most important early film to represent steampunk as an emerging stylistic genre. Titus Alone (1959), by Mervyn Peake, anticipated many of the tropes of steampunk, and the filmBrazil (1985) was an important early cinematic influence toward creating the genre.
In fine art, Remedios Varo's paintings combine elements of Victorian dress, fantasy, and technofantasy imagery. In television, one of the earliest mainstream manifestations of the steampunk ethos was the original CBS television series The Wild Wild West (1965–69), which inspired the film Wild Wild West (1999). In print, the A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy by Michael Moorcock, which began in 1971 with The Warlord of the Air, was also an influential precursor.
Origin of the term
Although many works now considered seminal to the genre were published in the 1960s and 1970s, the term steampunk originated in the late 1980s as a tongue-in-cheek variant of cyberpunk. It was coined by science fiction author K. W. Jeter, who was trying to find a general term for works by Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, 1983); James Blaylock (Homunculus, 1986); and himself (Morlock Night, 1979, andInfernal Devices, 1987)—all of which took place in a 19th-century (usually Victorian) setting and imitated conventions of such actual Victorian speculative fiction as H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. In a letter to science fiction magazine Locus, printed in the April 1987 issue, Jeter wrote:
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