Tesla and “Sparkpunk”

Nikola Tesla

By Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Someone recently said to me that Tesla was Steampunk. Maybe he looks that way because he began his work during the Victorian era and originally had all those gorgeous brass machines and wonderful dials and levers.

But here’s the thing: Tesla wasn’t a part of the steam era, his life’s work was to cause the end of it.

Maybe I’m being too persnickety. Steampunk isn’t based on a particular technology (heck, some Steampunk stories uses crystals or mental rays instead of steam). Still, somehow it seems insulting to label Tesla as steam-powered when he was the man who catapulted us out of the Victorian era and into the electrical age.

Sure, Ford’s mass-production principles changed the way goods were made and how they appeared, but we don’t call the previous era “Hand-crafted Punk” or “Wrought-Iron Punk.” And, sure, Steampunk is heavily related to the fashions, with dapper gentlemen in bowler hats and women in corsets and sweeping dresses, and goggles all around. But we don’t call it “Fashion-punk,” either. It’s that “steam” part that bugs me, because I think it would bug the heck out of Tesla, too.

I call for a new kind of punk. Let’s call it Sparkpunk. (I also thought of Teslapunk, but that seems like it would be Tesla in a Mohawk with an electric guitar. I’d pay to see that, too, but I think the term would still be too misleading.)

I’m sure you’ll tell me that I’m over-thinking this whole business about Sparkpunk, but it still seems to me that we need a new punk for a different era. Steampunk, after all, is usually set between 1850 and 1900 (or in an equivalent time in an alternative history). The Pulp era is usually considered to cover the time period between the wars. So what about those formative years between 1900 and WWI?

There’s a lot to cover in this era. The fashions were sleeker, the equipment was a little less ornate, the cities a little more crowded, but the world was forging ahead and science was just beginning to make good on its promises. Tesla was gearing up for his greatest accomplishments and greatest disappointments, governments were scheming against each other, and people everywhere were not just entering a new century, they were entering a new world. That’s Sparkpunk.


Okay, what do you think—am I just crazy, or do we actually need a new ___punk for Tesla and his contemporaries? And what other ___punk things should be named?

About Sechin Tower

Sechin Tower is a teacher, game developer, and author of MAD SCIENCE INSTITUTE, a novel of creatures, calamities, and college matriculation. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tesla and “Sparkpunk”

  1. Nestor says:

    Funny. For me, it’s usually the “-punk” part that annoys me. Its original reference was to an anti-establishment, counter-cultural style or mode of thought.

    I suppose Tesla’s out-of-the-box (and certainly non-mainstream) attitudes could be considerd “punk”, but it still seems a somewhat inaccurate monicker.

Leave a Reply