SF/F Genre Glossary

What is Steampunk?

This is the first of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts! Wow that’s a mouthful. For the complete genre index click here.

steampunk bike
Tutorial by Crabfu: How to draw steampunk machines

What is Steampunk?

A genre where stories are set in a Victorian, or Edwardian, inspired alternate reality where steam power is still widely used. Steampunk stories can also be set in a fantasy world that features 19th century inspired technology. The genre combines elements of fantasy and science fiction.

The Aesthetic

It’s more than just a genre.

Contrary to science fiction where the mechanics are obscured from view, the steampunk aesthetic frequently showcases the inner workings of machines. Moving gears such as clockwork are often exposed. Functionality is evident in design. There is also an emphasis on craftsmanship and the handmade.

Common materials include polished brass, iron, wood, and leather.

Clothing also draws from the do-it-yourself, handmade, movement. Historical elements such as corsets, parasols, and top hats are borrowed then mixed with more modern elements.

steampunk fashion
via outsapop.com

So that’s a quick guide to steampunk. Feel free to add and append this definition in the comments!


  1. If you’re interested in Steampunk, I imagine you’re alredy familiar with Scott Westerfield’s new book, Leviathan. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s definitely on my To Read list. I think it’s supposedly YA, but I suspect that will be no commentary on the quality of the work. And the art plates I’ve seen from the book’s interior are gorgeous examples of the Steampunk aesthetic.

    1. I’ve heard of the book (mostly admired the covers) but haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet. Thanks for the recommendation!

      I’ve also checked out your genre-definition project. I think that’s a lot more ambitious than mine!

      1. Ambition I have in spades. Mainly, I’m doing it because, as far as I could find on the internet, it hadn’t been done (and I was really in want of one).

        But different projects for different purposes. Yours, I anticipate, looks to be a very user-friendly introduction to the genres of speculative fiction; something I could imagine pointing people new to the concepts toward to learn just a taste more without overwhelming them.

        Plus, pretty pictures.

  2. Also, I applaud your genre-definition project. I’ve a similar project going on over on my blog, in which I am trying to collect and then define all the terms related to magic and the practice thereof as understood in mythology and folklore (and expanding out to what’s been done in fantasy literature).

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