Now that we’re in our third week of Steampunk month, here is a small glossary of terms you might find useful while writing your stories:

Aether – (or ether) can mean several things, but in the Steampunk genre, it usually refers either to (1) the ancient Greek personification of space and/or heaven or (2) the mythical fifth element that fills the universe above the terrestrial sphere. Either way, both definitions serve to create this otherworldly force that exists above the Earth. As a writer, you can use the aether to bring a supernatural element to your stories, or use it as an alternative label to the space in which airships and sky pirates roam.

Alternative history – when we’re talking about the chronology of the past in fiction, we may stumble upon “what if” scenarios. With time travel being such a prominent theme in Steampunk, you may want to consider adding a little bit of that “what if” yourself. A recent example of Alternative history in our media is Quentin Tarantino’s film, Inglorious Basterds. The film make take place during World War II, but the events described don’t necessarily follow along the same path as the events as we know them to be.

Trial model of a part of the Analytical Engine, built by Babbage, as displayed at the Science Museum (London) Source: Wikipedia

Analytical Engine – a proposed mechanical general-purpose computer designed by Charles Babbage in 1837. When you’re looking to bring an element of cyber technology into your Steampunk world, you may want to look to Charles Babbage for some inspiration.

Automaton – from the ancient Greek word, αὐτόματον, meaning “to act of one’s own will.” It was first used by Homer to describe automatic door opening. Seeing as Steampunk environments often lack electrical power, automatons are good alternative for any number of technological devices that you need to exist in your story’s setting.

Chrononaut – a time traveller, or one who travels through time.

Clockpunk – another sub-genre similar to Steampunk, utilizing clockwork as a replacement for steam power.

Consumption – an archaic way to refer to pulmonary tuberculosis.

Edwardian era – referring to the reign of King Edward VII (1901 to 1910). Essentially marks the end of the Victorian era.

Gaslamp Fantasy – not to be confused with Steampunk per se, as gaslamp fantasies usually have more to do with the supernatural and less with science fiction. A famous example of a gaslamp fantasy is Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Penny Dreadful – a type of fiction publication in the 19th century that usually featured lurid serial stories appearing in parts over a number of weeks. The term, however, soon came to encompass a variety of publications that featured cheap sensational fiction. The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap pulp paper and were aimed primarily at working class adolescents. In a lot of ways, the Penny Dreadful was the predecessor to the comic book.

Neo-Victorian – an aesthetic movement which amalgamates Victorian and Edwardian aesthetic sensibilities with modern principles and technologies.

Scientific Romance – the archaic term for the genre of fiction now commonly known as science fiction.

Speculative fiction – an umbrella term encompassing all of the fantastical fiction genres:  science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.

Regency Period – usually used to describe the transitionary period between the reign of King George III and Queen Victoria’s rule (1811 to 1820). This is the era of Jane Austen, William Blake and Mary Shelley.

Victorian – used to describe concepts created or associated with Queen Victoria’s reign (1837 – 1901).


Don’t forget that the deadline to submit for Visual Adjectives’ steampunk anthology, New Legends: Goggles and Gears, Airships and Aethersphere, is January 31, 2014.