Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described as what the past would look life if the future had happened sooner.

What is known today as steampunk has its beginnings in the early days of Victorian penny dreadfuls and the encyclopedic novels of Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires. An increasingly literate public took advantage of the opportunities for adventure and high romance offered them by Verne, H.G. Wells, H. Rider Haggard, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burrougs, as well as the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and others. Steampunk is in part a nostalgic reclamation of Victorian and Edwardian Scientific Romances, imperialist adventures, Edisonades and Voyages Extraordinaires, reminiscing about a more elegant age of adventure that never really existed.

The Victorian Era of the United Kingdom is considered the height of British industrial revolution and the apex of the British Empire. It is usually defined as the years from 1837 to 1901, corresponding with the reign of Queen Victoria of England. The period is beloved for its attention to high morals, modesty and proper decorum, as inspired by the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert. The Victorian era was also an optimistic time in which scientific and industrial invention thrived. Developments in printing produced a proliferation of Victorian scrap art, cards, and magazines.

Much of the attention of Britain was focussed abroad during the early- to mid-Victorian era. In 1876 Victoria was declared Empress of India and the Empire was constantly being expanded. Two of England's most influential Prime Ministers during the Victorian era were William Edwart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone, a liberal, humanitarian, and devout was known by his supporters as the "Grand Old Man", whilst he was famously at odds with Queen Victoria for much of his career. Disraeli, on the other hand, was imperialistic, nationalistic, and charming. The queen enjoyed his company, for he could make her laugh.


Disraeli became Prime Minister in 1868, but the contest between Disraeli's Conservatives and Gladstone's Liberals was to last into the 1880s. Then in the general election of April 1st, 1880, Disraeli was crushingly defeated by the Liberals under Gladstone.

London of the Victorian era was a city of starling contrasts. New building and affluent development went hand in hand with horribly overcrowded slums where people lived in the worst conditions imaginable. The population surged during the 19th century, from one million in 1800 to over six million a century later. This growth far exceeded London's ability to look after the basic needs of its citizens.

A combination of coal-fired stoves and poor sanitation made the air heavy and foul-smelling. Immense ammounts of raw sewage was dumped straight into the Thames river. Upon this scene entered an unlikely hero, an engineer named Joseph Bazalgette. Bazalgette was responsible for the building of over 2100 kilometres of tunnels and pipes to divert sewage outside the city. This made a drastic impact on the death rate, and outbreaks of cholera dropped dramatically after Bazlgette's work was finished.

Before the engineering triumphs of Bazalgette came the architectural triumphs of George IV's favourite designer, John Nash. Nash designed the broad avenues of Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Carlton House Terrace, and Oxford Circus, as well as the ongoing creation of Buckingham transformation of Buckingham House into a palace worthy a monarch.

Just behind Buckingham Palace the Grosvenor family developed the aristocratic Belgrave Square. In 1830 land just east of the palace was cleared of the royal stables to create Trafalgar Square, and the new National Gallery sprang up there just two years later.

The early part of the 19th century was the golden age of steam. The first railway in London was built from London Bridge to Greenwich in 1836, and a great railway boom followed. Major stations were built at Euston (1837), Paddington (1838), Fenchurch Street (1841), Waterloo (1848), and King's Cross (1850).

In 1834 the Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace burned down. They were gradually replaced by the triumphant mock-Gothic Houses of Parliament designed by Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin. The clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, known erroneously as Big Ben, was built in 1859.

The year 1863 saw the completion of the very first underground railway in London, from Paddington to Farringdon Road. The project was so successful that other lines soon followed. But the expansion of transport was not limited to dry land. As the hub of the British Empire, the Thames was clogged with ships from all over the world, and London had more shipyards than anyplace on the globe.