Steampunk. Doubtless you’ve heard something about this genre of music, fashion, and literature in the past few months. It’s said by many to be the “up and coming” trend in books, and it’s already making headway in other areas of life (if you’ve ever seen someone checking a pocket watch or walking around with a parasol, likely they’re dressed steampunk). But though a lot of people have heard this word floating around, many people still want to know: what exactly is steampunk? So, I’m going to do my best to impart to you the knowledge I’ve accumulated both in reading and writing steampunk.
Most simply, steampunk is a genre of speculative fiction—it’s most commonly set in Victorian London, which means it has many historical elements, but it focuses on technology that doesn’t exist. Steam power is generally the driving force of this technology, which features things like (but not limited to) trains, airships, and automobiles. This is where science fiction enters into the equation. In many of these alternate histories, the technology also centers around engines, like difference engines or analytical engines—extending the technology farther than it ever went in real life.
However, steampunk doesn’t have to be historical, and it doesn’t have to be science fiction, either. Sometimes the world in which the book is set is made up—a fantasy world. Many times magic also comes into play in these stories, blending the science fiction aspect of steam-powered technology with mythological creatures, sorcery, and really excellent world-building. Like any genre, steampunk weaves in and out of other genres, and it doesn’t have to have every single one of these elements to make it steampunk. But the defining characteristic is the presence of steam power, and technology based on that power.
There are actually several examples of steampunk in pop-culture that people didn’t know were steampunk until recently. Most notably is THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. I recommend checking out both the Alan Moore comic, and the film. Also, if you’ve seen the Disney movie “Atlantis” that’s also an example of steampunk—and it’s just a really good movie in general :)
There are more and more steampunk books showing up—several people have told me they’ve seen a steampunk display at Barnes & Noble. But I’m going to recommend a few that I think really capture what the genre is. They aren’t the only ones out there, and I’m constantly looking for new ones (so if you find one I didn’t list, let me know!)
- THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling – Even though steampunk seems to be a new genre, given the amount of press it’s getting lately, it’s actually been around for several decades. THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE falls in the category of historical and science fiction steampunk, and it is one of the books that first defined the genre.
- PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Mieville – Many of Mieville’s books fall into the steampunk category, but this is probably his most popular. This one isn’t historical; it’s set in a fantasy steampunk world, and blends fantasy and science fiction together.
- WICKED GENTLEMEN by Ginn Hale – This example of steampunk is mostly fantasy. It’s also set in a fantasy world, but Hale’s world is based pretty directly on a Victorian city. This book (actually two novellas following the same characters) follows the relationships between the characters more closely than it does the speculative technology.
- LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld – I haven’t read this one yet, because it just came out a few weeks ago. This YA novel is historical, and it takes elements of fantasy and science fiction to create a very unique world. It’s set a little later in time than most Victorian steampunks; it happens on the eve of World War I. Also, it has illustrations. I’m really excited about the illustrations—I can’t wait to read it.
- CLOCKWORK HEART by Dru Pagliassotti – Another fantasy steampunk, with a really well-imagined world, and a really great romantic sub-plot. This one is especially cool, because the main character has metal wings that she uses to fly over the city.
Tor.com had “steampunk month” last month—and their blog was a wealth of information about anything and everything steampunk. It was really informative, interesting, and just fun. There was some really great stuff, including awesome pictures and videos. I definitely recommend checking it out.
I suppose now is the time that I tell you something about me, then. Well, I write fantasy, and the most recent novel I completed is a steampunk called MEMENTO MORI. It’s more on the fantasy side of steampunk than the science fiction side, though there is a lot of clockwork—clockwork taxis, clockwork mages, clockwork corpses… you get the idea ;) I really loved writing it, since steampunk has been one of my favorite genres for several years now, and I definitely plan to continue writing steampunk.
That’s it! Thank you Sara, for letting me guest blog—you’re awesome :) And I hope my post was informative, and made at least one person want to go out and buy a steampunk novel.
No, Alexandra - thank YOU!