Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Ahoy! If you've been listening for a while, you've probably heard me mention Steampunk at basically every opportunity. When discussing themes, designs, characters and powers, if given the slightest chance, I'm more than happy to go on a long rant about how I really hope that Joss incorporates elements of Steampunk into The Nevers.
However, that raises a rather important question that I've been asked a few times, over the last few months:
Just what IS Steampunk?
That's a great question! And one I'll be happy to answer now.
To put it simple, Steampunk is a Retrofuturistic subgenre of Science Fiction or Science Fantasy. Mostly, but not exculsively, based in the Victorian British or 'Wild West' American Eras.
What? That doesn't help at all, and you're now more confused than you were at the start? Well allow me to break it down for you, then!
It all began many moons ago, with the work of such visionaries as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley, amongst others.
The idea of a futuristic world, where such unimaginable feats as man-made flying machines, computers and even trips to space were within human grasp. What a world that would be! However, when these titans of the genre were creating their worlds, the cutting edge technology of the time was steam power. So, when they created their robots, and wonderful dream machines, that was the power source they worked with.
Thus, an aesthetic that would live for generations to come, was born.
The Steampunk style, such as it is, is typified through a blend of old-school materials, but blended with a futuristic look. Think long victorian era dresses, sharp suits all topped off with a fancy hat. Then, throw in some goggles, lots of brass and copper, and every so often a cog or two. Because cogs are cool.
It's this blending of the classic and the futuristic that defines the Steampunk look.
But of course, Steampunk is so much more than simply an excuse for fancy dress. There have been amazing movies, books and even video games set in Steampunk worlds, and the best way to explore the genre is to dive in and enjoy some of these pre-existing properties.
Many would say that Novels are where the genre of steampunk truly began. And thus, in this attempt to educate you all in the conventions of the genre, I sort of HAVE to start here. Below you'll find a couple of great examples of Steampunk novels to whet your (steam)whistle!
The Difference Engine:
by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
Not content with creating much of what we know of as Cyberpunk, in his legendary novel "Neuromancer". Gibson decided his next trick would be to team up with his good friend Bruce Sterline and write The Difference Engine. This book is held by many as one of the first, if not THE first Steampunk novel, and helped to lay down a lot of the conventions of the genre, that hold to this day.
Set in 1855, the novel explores a alternate history where Charles Babbage succesfully created the worlds first computer in 1824, and England has gone on to become a steam powered technological wonderland. The plot follows three characters as they attempt to track down and defend a set of powerful "Punch Cards" (stiff paper sheets, used to program early computers) rumoured to contain a program that would allow the user to place bets that consistently won.
The Difference Engine is available from all good bookshops, in a variety of formats. Sadly, it's not currently available on Punch Card.
Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay #1
By Chris Wooding.
Whedon fans should have no trouble slipping into this world. Wooding's Tales of the Ketty Jay series follows ship's captain and loveable rogue 'Frey' as he leads his small band of dysfunctional layabouts on their grand adventures: making a living on the wrong side of the law, they run contraband, rob airships and generally spend their time getting up to no good.
Sound familiar to anyone?
Retribution Falls find the crew of the Ketty Jay in hot water, when a heist goes wrong and they go from mild nuisance to public enemy #1. Can they stay alive long enough to prove their (relative) innocence? Only one way to find out!
The Tales of the Ketty Jay are available from all good bookshops, in a variety of formats.
While it may have been novels that got the ball rolling, steampunk is thriving in the world of cinema. A genre of ever growing popularity, there are some really great Steampunk movies out there to watch. Here are a couple I think you might enjoy:
I know, not what you were expecting, right? But here's the funny thing: Treasure Planet is actually a pretty perfect exampe of Steampunk. A retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic "Treasure Island", Treasure Planet takes that classic high seas adventure and thinks "Yeah, pirates are cool and all, but why can't it be in space?"
Thus, the movie keeps all the trappings of a classic pirate tale: There are beautiful ships to sail on, dashing sea captains, dastardly pirates... but transports the whole thing into a distant future. Sure, we're on a classic sailing ship, but it's sailing through the depths of space, instead of across an ocean. And yes, there's an evil pirate with a hook hand... that's also a veritable steampunk swiss-army knife, with an attachment for just about any situation. Including mutiny...
It's this blending of classic pirate style and futurisitic Sci Fi that so perfectly captures the essence of Steampunk, and makes Treasure Planet a LOT of peoples gateway into the genre.
Treasure planet is available on Dvd and blu-ray, and is streamable on Disney +
Wild Wild West:
From the sublime, to the ridiculous. Wild Wild West is a 1999 Steam Punk Western Action Comedy. Because when in doubt, add more genre. The late 90s were a crazy time.
Wild Wild West tells the story of Jim West, played by Will Smith, riding high on the success of Men in Black.
It's safe to say, that Wild Wild West is not what you'd call classic cinema. However, what it IS, is a perfect example of the other side of Steampunk. When people think of Steampunk, they naturally gravitate towards the more Victorian stylings. But there is another side to the genre, a more American side. Based loosely on tales of the American 'Wild West' era, but with an eye to the future. Wild Wild West is a near perfect example of this, with it's steam powered giant robot spiders, guns on springs and more crazy inventions than you can shake a stick at. It may not be as well loved as Treasure Planet, but if you think you might prefer your steampunk in a stetson not a bowler hat, then it might be worth giving this film a second look!
Wild Wild West is currently available on Dvd, Blu-Ray and for some reason VHS, which seems oddly appropriate.
Because there's no better media for exploring the future, than video games! Naturally, Steampunk lovers would eventually come to realise the potential in Steampunk gaming. So, for all you rabid gamers out there, I figured I'd give you a few choices in how to add more Steampunk to your Steam Library.
released in 2013, Bioshock Infinite is the third installement in the "Bioshock" First-person Shooter series.
Set in 1912, Bioshock Infinite follows the somewhat generic protagonist "Brunette white guy with a lantern jaw #12398" as he attempts to save a young lady from her evil captors. While I'm not a huge fan of the game, it's use of the Steampunk aesthetic is incredibly well done, and thus it makes the list.
The game is based in the floating metropolis "Columbia" initially concieved as a symbol of american exceptionalism, it is later revealed to be a giant floating, heavily armed battleship. Which, while wrong, is also 100000% steampunk. So I'll give them a pass, for now. The game tackles some wieghty themes, and takes an unflinching look at the darker side of humanity. Set against the bright, sometimes overcheerful backdrops, blending early 1900's style designs, with cutting edge futuristic technology. A perfect example of Steampunk in action!
If you want to give Bioshock a shot, you can play it on Windows, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, or Nintendo Switch.
The first full length game from Amanita design, Machinarium is a 'point and click adventure game' for those that want their gaming time a little less violent, but still epicly Steampunk.
Released in 2009, Machinarium follows a robot name Josef as he navigates the eponymous city, and along the way, attempts to free his girlfriend, restore his friend's sanity and deal with the evil Black Cap Brotherhood.
Totally devoid of any dialog, Machinarium is driven entirely by it's artwork. Which just so happens to be about as steampunk as it gets. Everyone in the game is a robot, of one kind or another. The game is set in the grand city of "Machinarium", a colossal mass of towers, vents and chains, that is as fun to just sit and stare at as it is to play around in.
If you want to explore this charming world, check out Machinarium on Windows, iPad, Android, Ps3/4, Nintendo Switch or Xbox One.
So there's a few options, for all your Steampunk Novices to explore, if you want broaden your horizons a little! Hopefully there's something there for everyone.
Of course, one more question remains: What does all this mean, for The Nevers?
Well, that is an excellent question! And I just so happen to have an excellent answer:
If you want to know how all of this will apply to the show... You'll have to tune in soon, To the Nevers Podcast, when we'll be answering that very question. Along with a very special guest!
So see you then, Neverites!