Steampunk Vs Clock Punk: Similarities And Differences

Steampunk and Clockpunk are two closely related retro-futurist subgenres of science fiction. Both are set in alternative histories inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery. While they have much in common aesthetically, there are some key differences between these two punk genres.

What is Steampunk?

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction set in an alternative Victorian era Britain where steam power remains dominant. Steampunk features retro-futuristic technology and design elements like clockwork mechanisms, gears, steam engines, airships, brass decorations, and goggles. The steampunk aesthetic combines a nostalgic view of the 19th century with fanciful inventions and advancements that did not exist in real history.

Some key aspects of steampunk include:

  • Victorian fashion, architecture, and culture
  • Steam-powered technology, airships, clocks, automatons
  • Speculative and futuristic inventions, weapons, and contraptions
  • Alternate history diverging from real 19th century events
  • Exploring the impact of technology on individuals and society

Famous steampunk works include books like The Difference Engine by William Gibson, films like Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese, and video games like Bioshock Infinite. The crowded steampunk clocks, goggles, and corsets have also made it a popular costume and fashion aesthetic.

What is Clockpunk?

Clockpunk is closely related to steampunk, but is set earlier in the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras stretching from the 14th to 18th centuries. It incorporates real world historical elements from these eras including clockwork machinery,experimental philosophy, alchemy, and early modern fashion.

Some key aspects of clockpunk include:

  • Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo aesthetics
  • Intricate clockwork mechanisms and automatons
  • Alchemy, early chemistry, electromagnetism
  • Speculative inventions inspired by Da Vinci, Tesla etc.
  • Alternate historical events and figures
  • Philosophical conflict between religion and early science

Unlike steampunk’s industrial Victorian setting, clockpunk uses an earlier backdrop incorporating da Vinci-style inventions, baroque fashion, and a world where magic and early modern science co-exist. Clockpunk stories may feature real figures like Galileo or Newton in imagined scenarios.

Popular clockpunk works include the novel The Castle in Cassiopeia by Mike Resnick, the game Thief: The Dark Project, and Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire movie.

Similarities Between Steampunk and Clockpunk

While steampunk and clockpunk have distinct aesthetics and settings, they share many common characteristics that make them similar retro-futurist genres:

  • Speculative retro-futurism and alternate histories
  • Exploration of the relationship between humans and technology
  • Incorporation of obsolete/anachronistic technologies
  • Social commentary and philosophical themes
  • Political, environmentalist, and progressive undertones
  • Strong emphasis on creativity and ingenuity blending science, magic, and machines

Both genres use historically inspired settings as a backdrop for imagining fantastical ‘what if’ scenarios featuring technologies that never existed. They incorporate a mix of real history with fictional innovations in a way that provokes thought about progress and reflecting on the past.

And importantly, steampunk and clockpunk both emerged from the 1980s as punk variants focused on a DIY ethos and progressive ideology. The ‘punk’ in their names reflects this background.

Differences Between Steampunk and Clockpunk

While steampunk and clockpunk overlap thematically, their different time periods, aesthetics, and technological foci create some key distinctions:

Victorian era setting (mid to late 1800s)Renaissance to Enlightenment eras (1300s – 1700s)
Industrial steam-powered machinesIntricate clockwork mechanisms
Gothic and Victorian architecture/fashionBaroque and Rococo architecture/fashion
Speculative technologies like airships, steam robots etc.Alchemy, proto-chemistry, early automatons

The Victorian vs earlier eras settings create contrasting aesthetics despite their shared retro-futurist roots. Steampunk’s industrial trappings give it a grittier “punk” edge compared to Clockpunk’s intricate early modern style.

Their technologies also diverge – steampunk extrapolates fantastical inventions from 19th century steam power, while clockpunk integrates mystical alchemy and real-world proto-science from its era.

So in summary, steampunk utilizes an advanced steam-powered technology based in the industrial revolution, while clockpunk incorporates more mystical clockwork tech from an earlier era. Both explore similar themes of progress and humanity’s relationship with technology using retro-futuristic fantasy, but the divergent time periods create distinctive flavors.

Notable Comparisons

To highlight their similarities and differences, here are some notable comparisons between iconic steampunk and clockpunk works:


  • The film Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese features a young orphan living in a 1930s Paris train station who maintains the clocks. This demonstrates steampunk’s merging of fanciful technology with a historical Victorian setting.
  • Bioshock Infinite is a video game set in 1912 aboard floating city of Columbia. It integrates technologies like anti-gravity, airships, and automatons powered by quantum physics, contrasting 19th century aesthetics with speculative advances.


  • Disney’s animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire follows an alternate 1914 expedition to the ancient sunken city powered by mystic crystals. This demonstrates clockpunk’s integration of magic and early modern science.
  • Novelist Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams features airships, robots, and electricity-based tech in an alternate timeline where Queen Elizabeth I rules for decades, blending science, magic, and history.

While overlapping thematically, the distinctive aesthetics and technologies of these works highlight the steampunk vs clockpunk differences.

Wrapping Up: Steampunk vs Clockpunk

In summary, steampunk and clockpunk have many similarities as speculative retro-futurist genres exploring humanity’s relationship with technology through imaginative alternate histories.

But their divergent time period influences, applied technologies, and aesthetics create a distinctive alchemical vs industrial contrast between magic & mysticism and gritty steam-powered machinery.

Yet at their cores, both genres utilize fantastical revisionist history blended with antiquated technologies to provoke thoughtful perspectives on progress and society’s complex relationship with advancing technology throughout history.

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