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The Steampunk Aesthetic: Technofantasies in a Neo-Victorian Retrofuture Open Access


Other title
New Woman
Science Fiction
Fan Culture
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Perschon, Mike D
Supervisor and department
Sywenky, Irene (Office of Interdisciplinary Studies, Comparative Literature)
Examining committee member and department
Wharton, Thomas (English and Film Studies)
Tschofen, Monique (Communication and Culture, Ryerson)
Hart, Jonathan (Comparative Literature, English and Film Studies)
Verdiccio, Massimo (Comparative Literature)
Sinnema, Peter (English and Film Studies)
Office of Interdisciplinary Studies
Comparative Literature

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Despite its growing popularity in books, film, games, fashion, and décor, a suitable definition for steampunk remains elusive. Debates in online forums seek to arrive at a cogent definition, ranging from narrowly restricting and exclusionary definitions, to uselessly inclusive indefinitions. The difficulty in defining steampunk stems from the evolution of the term as a literary sub-genre of science fiction (SF) to a sub-culture of Goth fashion, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) arts and crafts movements, and more recently, as ideological counter-culture. Accordingly, defining steampunk unilaterally is challenged by what aspect of steampunk culture is being defined. Even the seminal steampunk texts of K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock lack strong affinities. In his review of Tachyon’s Steampunk anthology, Rob Latham observes a “wide range of tonal and ideological possibilities” in the book’s twelve short stories and novellas originally published between 1985 and 2007 (347). Steampunk works share a fantastic aesthetic that separates steampunk from neo-Victorian writing or just alternate history. Instead of viewing steampunk as a genre, steampunk might be considered an expression of features, which when combined, constitute a style or aesthetic surface. An understanding of steampunk as an aesthetic permits the requisite flexibility to discuss its diverse expressions. Employing an evidence-based, exploratory approach, this study identifies three components of the steampunk aesthetic: neo-Victorianism, technofantasy, and retrofuturism. Unlike attempts to list ostensibly common themes or archetypes of steampunk, or simply catalogue recurring motifs or settings, this study will argue that these three components are found in the majority of steampunk works. For the purposes of concision, this study restricts the exploration to literary works, demonstrating how the components of neo-victorianism, technofantasy and retrofuturism are best suited for defining steampunk, inclusively accommodating a variety of steampunk narratives while exclusively drawing boundaries to avoid rendering the term meaningless.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
“Steampunk: Technofantasies in a neo-Victorian Retrofuture.” Postmodern Reinterpretations of Fairy Tales: How Applying New Methods Generates New Meanings. Ed. Anna Kérchy. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2011. 83-106. Print.“Steam Wars.” Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. 3:1 (2010): 127-166.“Finding Nemo: Verne’s anti-hero as original Steampunk.” Verniana. North American Jules Verne Society. 2010. (16 pages)

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