The Steampunk Aesthetic: Technofantasies in a Neo-Victorian Retrofuture

  • Author / Creator
    Perschon, Mike D
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2012
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.