Neither, though both can be part of the genre.
In general, I'd say steampunk tends to refer to a 19th-cnetury feel but with technological advances that are appropriate more to the 20th (and very rarely beyond), usually with those advances handwaved as being somehow achievable with the actual technology of the time (steam, gas, maybe early electricity) rather than involving semiconductors or computer chips or anything of the kind.
Ultimately, though, I'm not sure the lable matters, other than that if enough people call it steampunk, it's steampnk, and iif nobody calls it steampunk, it isn't.
I'm not an expert on streampunk, even though I would love to write a streampunk story, but I think tchernabyelo is correct from what little experience I have reading them, his definition seems to fit which means that stream powered devices would be included.
Posts: 5283 | Registered: Jun 2010
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Generally SteamPunk is where technology is accomplished in a different way than how it was historically. The main core of it is as Tchern said 19th century with 20th century tech. Although that tech is accomplished in a different way, using 19th century tech in a 20th century way, so you have steam powered jumbo jets, or a telegraph based internet. But it has many branches, like lasers in the wild west. Firefly was considered by many to be SteamPunk, if only in the style of their clothing, but also in the way the engine of the ship worked.
The webcomic Girl Genius is a pretty good display of steampunk.
The fantasy I'm writing has medieval-era technology, but the protagonist's father is an inventor. I haven't utilized steam power for anything (nor would I group it with the steam punk genre). One invention he devised is mechanical wings that strap to a person's back (just like in all the failed attempts from those black and white movies).
Mechanical gadgets or whatever your heart desires can certainly be capitalized on. Whether or not it's steam punk -- who cares? Just write a great story -- unless you are writing for an anthology, of which sticking to the Victorian age may be your best bet.
The way to think of steam pumk in a fantasy is simply make a small change in ther rules.
There is no gasoline or oil for power, but there is magic that will create steam or air pressure in some way, possibly by creating heat, or cause some form of replusion that can be turned into motion. All else comes from there.
Incidentally, as far as steam power goes - it was demonstrated in Alexandria in the first century AD, and mentioned by Vitruvius a century before that. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Ptolemaic Graeco-Egyptians could have invented the steam train - they had, basically, all the necessary technology and components to be able to do it. The industrial revolution could have happened 1500 years before it actually did... ripe for parallel world stories!
Anyone interested in the roots of technology should check out the book "Ancient Inventions", by Peter James and Nick Thorpe. I'd put it as a must for just about any fantasy writer.
Another possibility for steampunk is when the story is set in an earlier century (such as the 19th) and the "science" is based on what they believed was true then. For example, space isn't a vacuum, but is full of "ether" so you travel to other planets in vessels that can "swim" or "sail" through the ether (however that would work).
If you go back in time from there, though, the more like fantasy your story might become, because what was believed in the past to be "science" could be more like magic the further back you go.
In my mind, it's victorian setting filled with anachronisms structured as if they were invented in the period. Another element is that fantasy can exist in that setting, i.e. magic, dragons, etc.
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Kathleen has pointed out something important I forgot. Thank you. The science based on their belief at the time, I've encountered quite a lot of alchemy steampunk. (As it fits with the Victorian theme.)
Fantasy is totally compatible with steampunk. Go read The Seige of Mt. Nevermind by Furgus Ryan, it is set in the steampunk part of the DragonLance world, that is to say the gnomes.
In Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy, you can find magic as well as something mundane as a bus. While people walk around with swords, some carry guns.
The most immersive steampunk setting I ever experienced was the game Thief 3 (I didn't play the previous installments). There's magic with glyphs, magic with wands, black magic of the Pagans, while the Hammerites have steam powered machinery. Some people walk around with torches, the richer city districts have electric lights. The protagonist uses a bow and a dagger yet he has a mechanical eye with night-vision and zooming ability.
Quite a few RPGs are steampunk. Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Warcraft, etc. I think it's one of the coolest things about them, seeing how they mesh sword and sorcery with unique technology.
I especially love how many Animes and games feature airships. I realize airships are impractical compared to airplanes, but there's just something so neat about a giant flying fortress, especially when there's nothing else in the sky to challenge it.
Hmm, the streampunk I have seen seems to be set in-between the wild west and WWI. Or just at the start of the industrial age. Which may have been the very end of the wild west.
Come to think of it there were a couple of series set in that time period. One may have been that series with Tim Conroy that lasted one ep.. And the one I referenced before whose name I still can't think of.
Oh..finally... Ernest(?) Pratt was the name of the writer the show was about.