Steampunk: A subculture that blends elements of Victorian-era design and technology with elements of science fiction and fantasy; Jules Verne and William Gibson. The movement was born sometime in the late 1980s and named by science fiction author K.W Jeter in imitation of cyberpunk. About a decade later, Paul Di Filippo published The Steampunk Trilogy, a work of fiction whose dramatis personae include Queen Victoria, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman.
Steampunk encompasses fashion and invention as well as fiction. For example, the Dihemispheric Chronaether Agitator, a steam-powered kinetic sculpture by Alan Rorie, is a steampunk creation that has been making the rounds of alt-festivals such as last weekend's Maker Faire in San Mateo. Its name mirrors the earnest descriptiveness of Victorian nomenclature.
For an article about steampunk in last week's Thursday Styles, New York Times reporter Ruth La Ferla interviewed Giovanni James, lead singer of a neo-vaudevillian performance troupe called the James Gang:
Yes, he owns a flat-screen television, but he has modified it with a burlap frame. He uses an iPhone, but it is encased in burnished brass. Even his clothing — an unlikely fusion of current and neo-Edwardian pieces (polo shirt, gentleman’s waistcoat, paisley bow tie), not unlike those he plans to sell this summer at his own Manhattan haberdashery — is an expression of his keenly romantic worldview.
Anthropologist and cultural observer Grant McCracken comments:
Victorians appeal to us in several ways, not only out of a faux nostalgia. These were people who were profoundly crafty, inclined to working on combustion engines in the tool shed at the end of the garden. It was a place where rank amateurs could make a contribution to knowledge in their spare time, a motive that is a great motivating hope here at This Blog. Several institutions of the Victorian period, including the Oxford English Dictionary, and great swathes [sic] of the periods of natural history came from amateurs working together in a thoroughly distributed way.
[W]ho would have guessed how syncretic and cooperative punk was going to be. This look was designed to be uncompromising, hostile to every other form of social life. But it turns out that punk plays well with others. We have had gothpunks, skater punks, almost as cooperative as hip hop. True, still no hippie punks, or luncheon punks, or preppie punks.
On that last point, several of McCracken's commenters beg to differ.