Sunday, September 2, 2012

Steampunk or Not?

Yesterday, I wandered into the vast garage sale that is Ebay searching for a pink lace Victorian blouse for the Steampunk Society of Nebraska's upcoming Military Ball. With just a few moments' of perusal, it because appallingly clear that many of the denizens of Ebay are either a trifle confused about the genre of steampunk or are hoping that affixing the label "steampunk" to whatever they are hawking will increase its sale potential. Some of the items I encountered which proudly bore the name "steampunk" in the posting title were this...

And this......

And this....

Now, to be fair to the lightly-informed, steampunk is a quite broad genre with a multitude of possibilities open to the creative and descriptive. The website Nazi Dieselpunk has an excellent article on the different types of punk that may be found  One of the charms of steampunk is its inherent fluidity. Some steampunks are more rigid about their classification of the genre than while others are more forgiving of less-than-period elements such as open-toed boots or metallic-painted plastic weapons.

There are others who have a far more developed understanding of the steampunk genre than I do, and there is much helpful wisdom to be found on websites and in the Steampunk Bible book. However, for the purpose of this blog post, here are some simple guidelines that I like to pass along:

1) Make a decent attempt to stay in period. You should make a concerted effort to choose items that look passably Victorian, hence why the hot pink, drop-waist blouse posted above is not anywhere near steampunk-worthy.  

2) Think function over form. If you have not watched "Just Glue Some Gears On It", get thee to YouTube straightaways. As the title implies, there is a regrettable tendency in steampunk to randomly attach gears wherever they look snappy without any thought whatsoever about what practical function the gears serve. Just the other day, someone commented on the lace gloves I just constructed and asked me what the gears were for - my reply was that they were to tighten the ribbon in case I wanted a snugger fit. Now, one of my friends also pointed out that having some extra gears around one's person is a smart idea in case a mechanical breakdown happens, so a few random gears here and there are certainly no crime. However, as one is constructing steampunk, a consideration of function should play a role somewhere.

3) Go easy on the glue. This is a personal pet peeve of mine and it somewhat goes along with #2, but do make sure that if you glue gears on, you don't make it obvious you did so. Yesterday I almost purchased this neat, gear-laden ring at Nobbies, but a second glance reveled that most of its components were sitting in obvious puddles of glue. Keep your gluing, soldering, or other adhesives discreet to not ruin what you are making.

4) Keep it somewhat real. This is more for writing than anything else, but a decent attempt at practical reality should be attempted. Fantasy is certainly part and parcel of steampunk, but good fantasy does have some consideration for the limits of gravity, physics, and other elements. As I have harangued on before, one of the most pressing concerns of an airship would be weight. One steampunk story I was reading had an airship land and out of its belly came an onslaught of elephants with cannons on their backs. Bear in mind that this would represent a significant amount of weight, not to mention that heavy animals moving around an airship could easily throw it off course. Good steampunk should have some grounding in the probable!   

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