Steampunk. No, Science Fiction. No, Fantasy! How to Tell the Difference.

Try to define steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, and other genres of fiction, and you’ll likely find yourself growling, “Arrrrgh.”

They can be tough to differentiate.

Here’s my definition:

  • Science Fiction – Works featuring worlds beyond our own as explained by technology and science.
  • Fantasy – Works featuring worlds beyond our own as explained by supernatural powers or conditions such as magic.
  • Steampunk – Works featuring worlds beyond our own, as explained by alternate development of technology or science, whether historical or future, particularly as applied to the Victorian period and aesthetic.

Hence, steampunk is considered more a sub-genre of science fiction than it is of fantasy, as it tends deals with contraptions, time travel, technologies arriving earlier or later than in reality. However, it is by no means restricted from fantastical creatures or powers, so you can see the trouble with compartmentalized definitions. They will hardly be contained!

But thinking of them this way is a nuance from which I like to work with these three conceptual genres.

Another sub-genre I’m interested in:

  • Alternate History – Works featuring worlds built on the premise of history going differently than it really did.

I love all this stuff and the many spinoff genres as well. Space opera, spy-fi, superhero, cyberpunk, biopunk, cli fi, apocalyptic, mundane, dying earth, legend, paranormal…

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