Monday, July 18, 2011


This last week I've spent a lot of time diving into the genre of Steampunk. For those who don't know what that is, it is a sub-genre of speculative fiction set during the Victorian or a Pseudo-Victorian era. It's everything we know and love about traditional science fiction: spaceships, time travel, monsters, evil empires, daring duels, romance, adventure, ingenuity, etc but all done harnessing the power of steam, gears, and good old fashioned human brain-power.

Early templates for what steampunk would become include Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. So far modern film examples have been pretty lacking and not received strong critical responses, but they include Wild, Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing, and some even argue the new Sherlock Holmes film can be included because it uses technology far ahead of its time, explained with older methods.

The neat thing about Steampunk is the fact that it has become so popular in the last few years. For various reasons it has become not only a genre of fiction (of which the written examples have been far better received than their film counterparts) but fashion, household 'modding', and even (to some) a lifestyle choice. Many former 'Goths' who have left the movement (some have simply gotten bored, others have begun to resist their association with the Vampire subculture of Twilight) have moved on to the retro-futurism of Steampunk. But strangely, unlike their previous incarnation this one is not repelling people, but bringing them together in strange ways. It's a way to be different by being strangely conservative.

So, I guess it just shows that there's something to the idea of longing for simpler times. In Christian fiction we've had Amish Romance for decades, but what we're starting to see on the horizon something coming out of the mainstream market: a form of fiction that longs to turn back the clock, find a time when things were slower, more beautifully crafted, and better made. And, just like Amish fiction, it's an attempt to very obviously reconcile the perceived peace of the past with the technology of the present.

So, maybe the women reading romance and the boys playing with ray guns have more in common than we thought.


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to get into steampunk for ages. Suggestions on where to start reading?

M.A.H. said...


D.M. Cornish's "Foundling's Tale" is a brilliant trilogy. The books are 'Foundling,' 'Lamplighter,' and 'Factotum.' The story takes place on the "Half-Continent," which resembles a Musketeer-era France, though the oceans are made of vinegar, monsters are real, and alchemy is taken to the next level.

Cherie Priest's "Boneshaker" is a very good adventure and has won some very prestigious awards. Airships, air pirates, zombies, steam-engines, steam powered gadgets, and all sorts of other steampunky goodness.

Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan" trilogy ('Leviathan,' 'Behemoth,' 'Goliath') is a little more simple and geared toward a young-adult audience, but is still a great Steampunk story (it is an alternate history of WW1, featuring fantastic mechanical creations of the Germans and Austrians vs. genetically modified natural creatures of the U.K.)

I have tons of other suggestions, but these are all excellent steampunk stories that I know you will enjoy.

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar said...

Wow, Conlan...I wouldn't mind trying my hand at Steampunk. I could really give my imagination free-reign. (I wonder if our editor is reading this.) LOL
Great post!

Lena Nelson Dooley said...


Someone left a comment on my cover of MAGGIE'S JOURNEY on Facebook and said it was very steampunk. I had no idea what she was talking about.

Thanks for enlightening me. I'm afraid she might be disappointed if she reads the book, because it wouldn't be steampunk, even though she thinks the cover looks like that genre to her.

Jillian Kent said...

"So, maybe the women reading romance and the boys playing with ray guns have more in common than we thought."

I think we do! Love the post, Conlan. I'm wondering if the movie Kate and Leopold fits this category? Don't know if you saw it, but it's a time travel romance, with Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan and OTIS:) and the invention of the elevator all packed together.

I loved Van Helsing and Sherlock is my favorite.
Story idea coming on, gotta run! :)

Anonymous said...

Another book to add to the list is THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It's the seminal book in the genre, much the way Bev Lewis's THE SHUNNING was the seminal book for the Amish genre.

The Steampunk Scholar ( is a popular site to learn more, as is Steamed! (

I love steampunk. I love its sense of wonder in its technology, and the endless possibilities for adventure. And in my steampunk YA novel, Lady of Devices (available on amazon and B&N), it's the girls who wield the rayguns :)

Shelley Adina

PatriciaW said...

Still not sure I totally get steampunk but I'm intrigued to read it. I just got Shelley Adina's novel, Lady of Devices--thanks Shelley!--and I'm really looking forward to it.