Steampunk is dead, who told steampunk?

Nick Ottens, of The Gatehouse and Gatehouse Gazette, contends that steampunk is dead. My response follows.


OK, so we've both gotten to use inflammatory titles now. Nick with "who killed steampunk?" which in the first paragraph reveals he just thinks it's not as alive as it used to be; and me accusing Nick of stating that steampunk is dead when I obviously read the first paragraph and acknowledge that he doesn't.

With that out of the way, I wanted to look into some of the assertions in the article and check some of the out. For SCIENCE.

Assertion 1: Many dead/ dieing forums and blogs

Google Trends Google Trends

I used Google Trends to compare Steampunk to Cyberpunk to Goth. Steampunk looks fairly safe. Amusingly the spikes in cyberpunk were all around the Cyberpunk 2077 game, so heh.1

I jumped onto DeviantArt, as suggested, changed the filters to last month.

Looks lively.

Assertion 2: Punk or no punk, there is no middle ground.

But that assumes steampunk was more “punk” than “steam” to begin with. That’s not how I remember it.

That exactly mirrors my recollections.

If anything, it was this activism that drove people away. They were drawn to steampunk because of the stories and the style — and told they weren’t doing it right if they didn’t share the radical, anti-capitalist ideology of a loud minority that tried to mix steampunk and politics.

This does not. In fact, this was part of my learning through the cited works of Jaymee Goh (mostly via Silver Goggles) and Diana M. Pho. Confessional - I bought a pith helmet. To me it embodied adventure into the unknown, discovery, grit, adventure and various other Pulp accoutrements. Then I read Silver Goggles and realised that the Victorian age covers a world; but Victorian England does not, and some objects have a history and baggage you may not have experienced as a straight, cis-male, white person. Spoiler: I don't have a pith helmet anymore.

Cory Gross, who ran one of the first steampunk websites, Victorian Adventures in a Past That Wasn’t, and who now blogs at Voyages Extraordinaires, blamed both the tinkerers and the punks, writing in 2010 (in a blog post that is no longer online) that an influx of enthusiasts from “countercultural movements, such as Punk, Goth-Industrial and DIY hobby groups,” marginalized, “consciously and unconsciously,” the science-fiction and role-playing background of steampunk.

You know what? Lots of cultural groups get influxes from other areas that have their own ideas on what a subculture 'really is' and arguments occur. Not to mention throwing the word blame around. But I remember around this time people declaring what steampunk really is, according to their own wants and desires. As a good steampunk exemplar, Emmett Davenport states: "Don't tell me how to play make believe."

Assertion 3: Anti-Colonialism

It’s not that the critics of steampunk’s imperialist nostalgia were wrong per se; it’s that they had no patience for ignorance and cried “racism!” whenever somebody donned a pith helmet. That’s not how you change minds. It’s how you turn people away.

Um. Yes, there were people pointing out, loudly and directly, the racism inherent in Victorian Britain. Britain was built on it, the colonies provided it, and the monarchy perpetuated it. Some did it emotionally, which you'd expect, others like the mentioned authors pointed it out in piecemeal, well-written articles. Some people took it on board, others delved into it deeply to make their own decisions, and other just as vocally rejected it and railed against it. So... people reacted like people on both sides. As per the quotes below, a lot of that initial reaction against the inclusion and anti-colonialism was in bad faith, continued in bad faith, and actually drove people away. Not away from steampunk, maybe, but certainly away from shouting about it, revelling in it, contributing to it and all around making it better.

It has grown more inclusive.

It damn well should. But the bad actors above continue railing against the inclusive side and continue to drive people away from publicly proclaiming their love of the genre. Boo.

You don’t need to be into everything to call yourself steampunk.

Oh so yes.

So please, start blogging, drawing, sowing or playing. Don’t be discouraged by the purists and the pretentious. Don’t pay too much attention to self-proclaimed steampunk experts (including me). Don’t be afraid to invent something new. Steampunk didn’t happen because K.W. Jeter wrote down the rules in 1987 or when SteamPunk Magazine tried to reform it in 2007. It’s what we all make of it. Steampunk belongs to you as much as it belongs to me. If it dies, it will be because we let it.

The tone of the article doesn't support this statement in its depiction of the critics - against pointing out problems, against growth - but this paragraph sums up what I think steampunk is. I think what we need here is an action call as we've seen people driven from Steampunk by purists, and we've seen the racists and the *ists use the platform to attack wonderful people. We can't stand aside and say "steampunk's inclusive, we've got all this space, but it's up to you to get here and stay here." We need to target the exclusionists, we need to point out the racists and we plain need to be a group that helps and supports and "the standard you walk past is the standard you accept"s. Inclusivity requires action and effort. Listen.

To quote Dr2 Frankenstien: "IT'S ALIVE!"

Smarter people.

Smarter people than me have had their say in this and I recommend you read what they're saying.

Phenderson Djèlí Clark

Steampunk Dollhouse‏

Jaymee Goh

Suna Dasi

Charlie Jane Anders


  1. Side note, I've seen a lot more Steampunk games than Cyberpunk games. Maybe that's a thing? ↩︎

  2. He never got his doctorate, did he? He's a charlatan! ↩︎