The Steampunk Genre

I just read a mystery called The Osiris Ritual by George Mann, Tor Books, 2010. I picked it up because of the title and the enticing cover illustration. I didn’t read the jacket blurbs until after I’d read the book, so I was a bit bewildered as I made my way through a story set in Victorian England that featured gas-powered Hansom cabs.

Queen Victoria in a mechanized chair fitted with medical devices keeping her alive by artificial means really boggled my mind. I soldiered on to the end when I finally got around to reading the book jacket. This comment set me on the road to understanding:

So begins a thrilling steampunk mystery, the second in the series of Newbury & Hobbes investigations, and a grand adventure quite unlike any other.

I puzzled over the the word steampunk. I’ve written several articles on genre, but I’d never heard of this one. For a moment I suspected that the word was a typo. But no, steampunk is a new fiction genre. I’ll let Wikipedia explain it:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology includes such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the contemporary authors Philip Pullman and China Mieville.

The television series The Wild Wild West (1965-1969) and its movie spin-off (1999) are examples of steampunk. Apparently the genre isn’t all that new.

For anyone interested in exploring this genre, here are some titles from a site called goodreads.com:

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville
His Dark Materials (trilogy) by Philip Pullman (I would call this plain fantasy. It is a great read.)
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Anybody out there in Arkansas writing steampunk?

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Categorized as Meetings

By Maeve Maddox

Maeve Maddox writes about popular culture, English usage, and education. Her most recent books are WORD RAGE, a guide to peaceful coexistence as American English-speakers, and THE FABERGE FLUTE, a cozy mystery set in 1980s London.

2 comments

  1. Love this genre. Soulless by Gail Carriger is another one. I am already looking for more options to read and you have got me wondering why I am not writing it.

  2. At the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. (OWFI) conference next May 3-5 we have an agent, Loiuse Fury, who is looking to represent Steampunk Romance novels. I had never heard of it either until I read what she was looking for.

    So if you write Romance Steampunk, make an appointment with her!

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