Who killed steampunk?

In my latest story for Never Was, I argue it’s getting harder to maintain that steampunk is just resting. It may not be dead, but it certainly isn’t as alive as it used to be.

What happened?

My view is that an arrogant attempt to politicize steampunk drove people away. Imagine you came to the scene because you were drawn to the stories and the style — and told you weren’t doing it right if you didn’t share the radical, anti-capitalist ideology of a loud minority that tried to mix steampunk and politics.

I left steampunk myself for a few years because of this mentality. Now that many of the punks have left — disappointed that they could not remake steampunk in their image — is it too late to revive it?

Click here to read the whole thing, and please let me know what you think!


  • edited April 2020
    I got a lot of responses to the story, both at the website and on social media.

    I've written a follow-up to respond to the three most common criticisms I received:

    1. You’re ignoring the convention and music scene.
    2. You’re trying to force your view of steampunk on others.
    3. You’re blaming “social justice warriors” and providing a refuge to misogynists and racists.

    Click here to read.
  • edited April 2020
    We have two more follow-ups to the "Who Killed Steampunk?" article:

    1. Writing Steampunk by author Gail B. Williams.
    2. The Gatekeeper's Scythe by Eric Renderking Fisk of The Fedora Chronicles.
  • I would actually agree with you.

    I'm sure some crews have fallen apart for the same reason as Artifakt (my crew) has: people stop having time to meet up due to work, having started a family, having moved abroad, are too busy with school, you know: life gets in the way or they simply loose interest. But the majority seems to split up due to all the reasons you've mentioned.

    I for one AM involved in the convention scene (as in: I go to nearly every convention held in the Flemish part of Belgium, and occassionally one in the French part as well), and even though I often address steampunks with the question if I may please take their photo, only the members of SteamNation have gone out of their way to talk to me and try to stay in touch. I can legit count meaningful conversations I've had with steampunks I encountered at cons that I wasn't already aquainted or friends with before on one hand, with fingers to spare (again: SteamNation excluded, they really do go out of their way to welcome every steampunk in sight, kudos to them!).

    It can be really intimidating to connect to other steampunks if you are under the impression you're being deemed "not good enough" for whatever reason. Be it online or at an event.

    If you're in Belgium and want to legit connect to other steampunks: go to Elftopia and wander into SteamNation's camp. Wouldn't recommend trying at a convention, I know I've given up.

    Also: I feel that a political debate should definitely be possible, I do feel that steampunk shouldn't be a poitical statement. I don't vote right wing, but that doesn't mean I will go and wear a patch proclaiming my political affinity (yes, yes this IS a thing amongst some crews, I kid you not, and to each their own, but I'm not doing it).

    *fails at coherence as usual*

  • There's only one thing I hate more than politics, and that's mayonnaise. Dixi.

  • I think things are getting better.

    A year ago, after I published my "Who Killed Steampunk?" article, Professor Elemental wrote for The Steampunk Explorer that I was exaggerating and everything was fine. Now he too argues we shouldn't exclude people just because they hold different political opinions and that we should instead make an effort to bring people together.

    Needless to say, he wasn't called all the things I was for essentially making the same point. Which is mildly frustrating on a personal level, but a good sign for steampunk.

  • When I first found out about steampunk was when I found "The Court of the Air" by Stephen Hunt at Walmart and it was like the book I was looking for all my life.

    For a long time I tried to read every steampunk book ever written but so many are the same. They have the same female character who doesn't fit in the Victorian world and wants to be a modern women.

    I don't think steampunk is dead because the great steampunk books aren't going anywhere.

  • @Ottens that's always the thing isn't it: popular people get away with far more than the others. I think it's good that people like Professor Elemental are saying the same thing, maybe, HOPEFULLY, then it catches on.

  • Since we never had a steampunk scene in Norway, I have watched the whole concept from outside, focusing on the aesthetics and not the politics. From that point of view, I would not call steampunk dead, but rather having transformed into a new form. Some steam-era houses here have been restored lately to their original appearance and there's renewed focus on cultural heritage from 1850 to 1900. That's steampunk enough for me!

  • Is steampunk dead? Not out here in the antipodean colonies, although as a solitary practitioner I’m not in a position to give a diagnosis on its state of health. It’s alive, but how much? Nor do I know how much political opinion circulates in the various steampunk communities.

    I know that when I wrote my first (and so far only) steampunk novel, I wanted to set it in Australia in the convict era with a female protagonist. And airships; there had to be airships.

    Now, if one sets a novel in colonial Australia at that time (1838) one is immediately immersed in a milieu of class, race, religion, colonialism and gendered behaviour. In this environment these issues can’t be ignored and I touch on all of them to a greater or lesser degree but they’re not the axis of the story.

    The novel has personal freedom as its central theme as symbolised by flight. And I think that’s what retro-speculative fiction gives us room to do: explore the freedom of our imaginations; in our case within a steampunk setting. Freedom includes allowing a free expression of thoughts and ideas, even the ones we don’t like.

  • I suspect how politicized steampunk is in one's country has more to do with one's country than steampunk generally.

    Steampunk isn't politicized here in Spain nor back home in the Netherlands. In the UK and the US, by contrast, it very much is. (Or was for a while, I also see signs things are changing.) That's probably because the politics of the UK and the US are so polarized. That could condition people to think about every issue in black-and-white terms.

    I don't know what it's like in Australia?

  • I have seen "Steampunks gegen Rechts" patches from German steampunks, so I guess in Germany it's pretty politicized as well. (No shade on those that wear them, to each their own).

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