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Steampunk: The new Goth

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Mr. von Slatt, who came of age in the era of punk rock, new wave, and Goth, has always been a tinkerer. Steampunk lets him "revisit youthful enthusiasms," he says. Now he creates intricately crafted anachronistic objects: for example, computer keyboards taken apart and rebuilt with brass, felt, and keys from antique manual typewriters. He's transformed a 1989 school bus into a wood-paneled "Victorian RV," which he uses to travel to steampunk conventions.

Currently, he's "steampunking" a fiberglass, 1954-style Mercedes kit car, tricking it out with salvaged gauges and lights from other cars and gold filigree trim. Drawn to steampunk's "do-it-yourself, making something from nothing" mantra, von Slatt scavenges most of his components from the dump.

Roots in a 1960s TV series

Steampunk was first introduced as a literary subgenre. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's 1990 novel "The Difference Engine" popularized the idea of an alternate history where the Industrial Revolution-level technology of pistons and turbines, not electricity, powers modern gadgets, as Victorians might have designed them. But even way back in 1960s, the television series "The Wild Wild West" helped define the genre. The sci-fi western featured a train outfitted with a laboratory and featured protagonists who were gadgeteers.

Today, steampunk's reach has exploded, from Boston to San Francisco's Bay Area, to Britain, New Zealand, Japan, and beyond.

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