Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I'm still new to the Steampunk sub-genre, but I am completely intrigued by it. It’s a blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and historical fiction, taking the technology of the 19th century (like the “steam” engine) and turning the past on its head (the “punk” portion): the aesthetic of Victorian England mixed with technology that wasn't. Confused? Think about The Time Machine by H.G. Wells or Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Steampunk wasn’t a genre yet, but these two classics are a perfect fit. Both of these stories reach into the fantastic with the use of science and machines. The trailer from an upcoming documentary titled “Vintage Tomorrows – What can playing with the past teach us about the future?” also tries to answer this question.

To make things more confusing, Steampunk doesn’t always follow its own rules. Science and machines make up a large part of the Steampunk world, but occasionally magic or paranormal elements sneak in (vampires and werewolves in Gail Carriger’s Soulless, fairies in Julie Kagawa’s teen novel The Iron King). At other times the stories don’t take place in the Victorian London (Scott Westerfeld’s WWI retelling in his teen novel Leviathan or the new Three Musketeers movie premiering this October), and they don’t always take place in the past (Jeanne DuPrau’s futuristic teen novel City of Ember or Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, set in 21st century Shanghai).

How to know if you're reading Steampunk:
  • There is an abundance of clock-work, gears, and/or goggles.
  • Ladies and gentlemen wear traditional Victorian garb, but more daringly (for example, ladies in trousers or steel corsets, gentlemen in leather waistcoats or the previously mentioned goggles).
  • Contraptions. Lots of contraptions. Often worn and operated on the go.
  • Robots (or automatons) take care of mundane tasks and the preferred mode of travel is via airship.
  • The technology seems familiar to today, but powered by steam and gears rather than electricity or oil.
This genre has something for everyone. There are books for all ages and crossovers into multiple genres; they range from adventurous to horror to dystopian to romantic. Grab a cuppa tea, your favorite monocle, and a copy of one of these books and give Steampunk a try!

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