Steampunk October: What the Heck is Steampunk Anyway?

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction involving a reimagining of the late Victorian era as a time of innovation powered by extant technology, such as steam, clockworks, repurposed mechanical items, and is at times also infused with either time travel or “scientific romance” in the style of H.G. Wells or Mary Shelley or even the trajectory of romantic horror moving from Poe to Lovecraft into the early twentieth century pulp fiction auteurs. There are also variations on these ideas that set the action in either other dimensions, universes, or the future, though there is usually still a strong Victorian aesthetic at work. Steampunk visual style has much in common with the gothic subculture of the 1970s-1990s, though there is a sense of optimism and whimsy that was often lacking at the height of popular culture goth ideology (and I say this as a recovered goth). Cosplay, music, and art are huge components of the steampunk movement, though the heart and soul of steampunk remains the literature, television, and film.

Authors with multiple works on lists of “best of steampunk” include K.W. Jeter, Michael Moorcock, James Blaylock, China Miéville, Toby Frost, Chris Wooding, and Gail Carriger. Carriger is notable for being one of the only women on such lists, because despite the aesthetic of the movement being very popular with female fans, there is a distinct lack of female voices on the literary side of things. This is a shame, because many female-centric media properties with strong steampunk influences exist outside of the hard-SF realm (Alias, Firefly, and Doctor Who come to mind, all of which feature incredibly strong female characters and had many women on the writing staffs) but don’t seem to have fully proliferated the literature.

Later this month, I’ll give some more steampunk literature recommendations and discuss my steampunk series The Curiosity Killers.

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3 thoughts on “Steampunk October: What the Heck is Steampunk Anyway?

  1. Rachel Bee says:

    What would you say is a good steampunk starting place for a novel? I’d like to check the genre out a bit more….

  2. K.W. Taylor says:

    The first even remotely steampunk-esque novel I personally read was China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. It’s of the “other worlds” idea and as such is not as quasi Victorian as other pieces. But it’s really, really good, and does an amazing job of worldbuilding.

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