Subgenre of the Week: Steampunk

04 Oct

Genre of the Week:  Steampunk

Personally, I’m a big fan of steampunk.  It’s a great genre with possibilities.  Despite the fact that it’s been around for 30 years, there just isn’t that much available in the area of steampunk novels.  Wikipedia lists 21 works of fiction that fall into this category. (See link below)  Of course, there is a lot of material in other mediums.  Anime, manga, video games, comics, graphic novels, films.  But the whole of steampunk material is just not that big.  Even thought there are many aspiring authors working in the genre.  Will they get published?  I don’t know, that’s up to their own effort and the decisions of publishers.  But I would like to see more steampunk on my shelves.  I don’t care if it crosses genres, or has “elements”, or what.  I just want more.  And it doesn’t seem like it will be hard to find original and creative material…  After all the genre isn’t as played out as UF or High Fantasy.  There’s still lots of room to grow and develop.

Which brings me to the next cool thing about steampunk.  It crosses genres like crazy.  There is historical steampunk, AU steampunk, steampunk fantasy, and even steampunk romance.  Nothing is out of bounds.  I’m just waiting for that steampunk mystery….  Steampunk, despite it’s façade as a very specific category of fiction, is one of the most open genres out there.  It even has a sub-genre, “clock-punk”, that deals with non-steam mechanical technology, usually set in the Renaissance.  That’s pretty good for a genre with a catalogue of 21 works.

Now, even though steampunk isn’t as “dystopic” as cyber-punk, it isn’t all bubbles and sugar either.  Common issues are class struggle, the dangers of time travel, magical conspiracies and war.  Even nuclear war.  Another common theme is creation of life, playing god.  And honestly, who doesn’t prefer a sexy steam-bot over some clone grown in agar gel?  Gross…

Forecast:  As for me, I think steampunk will only increase in popularity as time goes on.  I see so many new writers working in the genre, and the fact that it has a dedicated _lifestyle_ implies a similarly dedicated audience, even if it may be a small one.  My favorite new writer in steampunk is Alan Campbell, who wrote Scar Night, Iron Angel and God of Clocks, in his trilogy, the Deepgate Codex.  See?  The genre is alive and well.  So keep on the lookout.


1. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

2. Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld

3. The Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest

4. Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters

5. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

6. Mainspring by Jay Lake

7. Age of Steam series by Devon Monk

8. Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter

9. Anime: Last Exile

10. Anime: Fullmetal Alchemist

Description: Steampunk is a sub-genre of speculative fiction generally set in a time period similar to our 19th century, and that may even be our 19th century, depending on whether or not the author wants to ground their work in real-world history.  The most common Earthly setting is Victorian England.  But as the genre has grown, settings in many countries on all continents have been portrayed.  The most visible trait of the genre is the use of steam-power, thus the title.  Over time, several other branches of technology have become popular and occasionally even ubiquitous: mechanical computers, dirigibles(blimps for the uninitiated), and basically anything that we would do with electricity but these societies do with mechanical means, such as robots or replacement body parts.

Themes: Although the term “punk” implies a certain dystopic, counter-culture atmosphere, much as was present in cyber-punk, many steam-punk works downplay or lack these elements entirely, preferring to focus instead on the sense of discovery and wonder inherent in the improbable and baroque creations they describe.

History:  The term “steam-punk” originated as a play on the name of the “cyber-punk” sub-genre.  K.W. Jeter originated the term in a letter to the sci-fi mag Locus where he suggested it as a catchy name for what he believed to be “the next big thing”: ‘Victorian fantasies.’

Influences:  Steam-punk was greatly influenced by the scientific romances of the 19th century.  Writers in this area included H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Mark Twain and Mary Shelley.  Important precursors in terms of books include: Titus Alone, Queen Victoria’s Bomb, A Nomad of the Time Streams, and Worlds of the Imperium.  Technically, Jeter’s Morlock Night is considered the first true work in the steampunk genre, as he coined the term.

Next time: Urban Fantasy

Complete List of Works: See here


Posted by on October 4, 2009 in Fantasy/Sci-fi, genre, Genre of the Week


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “Subgenre of the Week: Steampunk

  1. Beth

    October 5, 2009 at 1:13 AM

    I’m a newbie to the steampunk genre, but I really like the aesthetic.
    I enjoyed your write up about it! I think I may have read a steampunk mystery…can’t recall what it was called, though!

    Keep it up! I’ll be back to read more.


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