What grew as an offshoot of the cyberpunk community, but with an aesthetic eye more backwards-looking rather than forwards-looking, the steampunks quickly took root and flourished on the open parking-lots of both comic and videogame conventions. Heavily inspired by Victorian fashion, and random bits of metal, the steampunks have been a staple in cosplay environments for decades. But, like the steam engines before them, the steampunks face extinction at the hands of a newer, more well-adapted punk: the internal-combustion punk.
"It's hard, you know?" Jeter says while absentmindedly polishing his brass goggles. "When they first showed up, we didn't know what they were. My girlfriend Violette was adjusting some straps on her outfit when one of them came up and just detonated." Jeter put his goggles back on his top hat and looked up at nothing in particular. "How are we supposed to compete with that kind of technology? I mean, for Verne's sake, we found pieces of her whale-bone corset nearly a block away."
Unfortunately, Jeter's story isn't unique. All across America, steampunks have been falling victim to this new, more powerful punk. In the past six months alone, the population of steampunks at conventions has declined by nearly 25%. And this drop-off has started to worry convention organisers like Marty Christopher. "It's sad to see this happening to them," he said. "I guess it's the march of progress, but still, I'll miss their patronage. That being said, these new internal-combustion punks are a bit better on the air quality at the convention. We rarely have to encourage folks to wear deodorant any more."
This isn't the first time a cosplay community has found itself in peril. In the late 90s, a shortage of loincloths, and fit men, forced the He-Man population into steep decline. But thanks, in part, to a culling of the furry population, the He-Man cosplayers were able to stabilize, and conference organizers expect them to survive, if not thrive in what is now a more Eternia-friendly environment. Similarly, the Naruto population was able to bounce back after ramen noodles were reintroduced to the conference canteens in the late 2010s.
Experts warn, however, that efforts such as these are unlikely to help steampunks. The prices of leather straps and copper couplings have never been lower, so it's not from a lack of resources that the steampunks are suffering. Without an environment safe from predators, the steampunks are likely to go extinct in our lifetime, not unlike how the cowboys and indians were wiped out by spacemen and collective shame in the second half of the last century.
"I try to be optimistic," Jeter says. "Violette would have wanted that." He repositions a seemingly pointless cogwheel on his jacket and smiles. "Some of the community members have started to work on a plan. It will require a slight change in how we do things, but so be it. Like the great Victorian naturalist Charles Darwin said, 'It's not the strongest who survives, but the one most adaptable.' Be on the lookout soon for the renewable-energy punk."