Steampunk—a subculture-slash-style that is best known for adding Victorian-inspired flourishes to today’s tech and fashion—has lurked beneath the pop-culture surface long enough. Now, as cultural historian James H. Carrott and futurist Brian David Johnson argue in their new book Vintage Tomorrows, it’s breaking through.
The road from tiny movement to omnipresent aesthetic has been long, but they see indications everywhere that steampunk is about to cross over from subculture to culture at large. They identify the 1999 movie Wild Wild West as a key starting point for the mainstreaming of the steampunk look, and the word has received style-writer shout-outs for years. Then, this January, IBM announced that their metrics to measure online sentiment had picked out “steampunk” as the next big thing. If Carrott and Johnson are correct, we’re already on our way there. And it won’t just be top hats and gears: steampunk has already made its way into the world of entertainment.
The authors spoke to TIME about how to recognize steampunk entertainment, how steampunk allows us to understand today’s world, what will happen to the movement when once it’s totally mainstream—and what will come next.