The New World of Steampunk

Steampunk is a world where everything is possible. From fantastical technology to elves, goblins and talking dinosaurs, everything can happen in a steampunk universe. Whether it reinvents a 19th century far away from the dreariness and oppression of the actual historical era, or imagines a future so far away that technology has mutated into zeppelins and giant moving cities, it is a genre that is surprisingly unconstrained in spite of its apparently specific definition (science fiction meets Victoriana).

Some scholars have argued that by definition, steampunk is revolutionary, counter-hegemonic and resistant. This could explain why is occasionally seems to resist its very own definition. My hypothesis is slightly different: as far as I’m concerned, steampunk is not so much a revolutionary genre, but rather a fundamentally anarchist one. That is, not in the sense of its politics, but in the sense of its construction. There is no real ‘government’ in steampunk, in the sense that no one gets to decide what steampunk is. There are steampunk authors, of course, but no one so far has reached a position where they could be considered as the ultimate steampunk-maker. Therefore, what steampunk is and will become is entirely up to anyone who can create a bit of steampunk: that is, the entire steampunk community.

Before having a look at the steampunk community in general (which promises to be a handful, between conventions, DIY, writing, gaming… even steampunk knitting might be enough for a whole article), we’ve decided to have a look at steampunk in  virtual world. Specifically, what does steampunk look like when people are entirely free to build their own zeppelins, brass bacta tanks and mechanical brains? The results have been released this week in Computers in Human Behavior. Interestingly enough, steampunk in the virtual world of Second Life seems to have closer ties to science fiction than to actual Victorian re-enactments. But remarkably for such a diverse community, Second Life steampunk remains highly consistent and recognisable. Head over here to read more about it! The article will be publicly accessible until December 27th.

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