Monday, June 21, 2010



My children and my agent both frequently accuse me of living under a rock. So it’s probably no surprise that when my long-suffering agent, Helen, recently commented that the cover for Where Shadows Dance has a “steampunk look to it,” I went, “Huh?”

In my defense, I had heard of books that are in this genre, I just hadn’t heard of the genre itself. (Does that make it better, or worse?) At any rate, those of you familiar with the genre can now go away snickering. Those of you who live under a rock, too, might be interested in hearing what I discovered from Le Google.

Picture a world where steam drives not only trains but also all sorts of other anachronistic inventions like computers and airships; where women wear corsets and red satin, and life has a distinctive Victorian flavor and aesthetic. Throw in lots of brass and clock gears, perhaps a dragon or maybe even a vampire, and you have steampunk.

Steampunk existed even before someone slapped a label on it (the labeler was K.W. Jeter, back in the early 80s, although the genre has really taken off in recent years). Basically it’s a subgenre of sci-fi and speculative fiction, with the occasional fantasy elements. Some steampunk novels are alternative histories; some self-consciously adopt the style of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and Mary Shelley (all of whom are obvious sources for the movement).

There are even subgenres of this subgenre. “Flintlock fantasies” are set in the Regency or Napoleonic eras, when steam power was still in its infancy. “Western steampunk” channels the old Wild Wild West TV show (and movie remake) and melds with other subgenres, such as “weird west” and “science fiction westerns.” There is “steamgoth,” which is supposed to be even darker, although I get the impression steampunk is already pretty dark. And I’ve no doubt that someone out there is writing a steampunk romance or steampunk erotica.


The enthusiasm for this re-imagined Victorian world has become so great that the genre is no longer confined simply to books. There are steampunk computer role-playing games (“Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura”), steampunk music, steampunk-influenced interior decorating and design; there are even annual steampunk convention in both the States and the UK.

My own personal reading tastes have never run to science fiction or fantasy, so I didn't see any fiction that caught my fancy. But I do admire the spirit of invention and the renewed interest in craftsmanship and traditional materials the movement is inspiring, and it all looks like a lot of fun.


This old stove has been retrofitted with a hi-end electric Miele halogen cooktop and two electric ovens; the copper bowl at the base of the fancy water filter is for the owner's dogs. If you're interested in seeing more of a steampunked house, take a look at this.


liz fenwick said...

Heard the term but didn't know what it was about - I am know enlightened :-)


Lainey said...

Thanks for the info Candy!
I didn't know how/where steampunk originated. Steampunk-labeled Photoshop images suddenly started appearing in my iMac Inbox in the last few weeks. Wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with them but saved them anyway. Ya nevah know. :-)

Steve Malley said...

Me, I'm all about the steampunk. Of course, I do shave with a 170 year old razor and write with a 110 year old pen.

I always figured 'steampunk' was a play on 'cyberpunk', coined after William Gibson and Bruce Sterling wrote The Difference Engine. Which is pretty cool-- I think you might even like it, Candy!

Any of you interested in more on the genre:

All right, I'm off to do a little Sky Pirate business in my zeppelin! :-D

Steve Malley said...

Oh, and

a steampunk FAQ

cs harris said...

LIz, now that I know about it, I'm seeing references all over the place. I wonder if there's a term for that?

Lainey, that's interesting; I wonder why the sudden upsurge?

Steve, I figured you'd be one of those snickering at my cluelessness. And yes, I saw references to razors in my research. According to Wiki, the name is indeed inspired by "cyberpunk." I'll have to look into The Different Engine. And now I'm off to look at theclockworkcentury. Thanks.

orannia said...

Thank you Candy. I'v heard of it but I've yet to pick up a steampunk novel, although I do have one on my TBR list :)

Barbara Martin said...

Love the transformation of the cast iron stove, though I would prefer using the original model.

Barbara said...

I confess, I'd seen some items but had no idea there was a special term for the 'genre.' Love the links, especially the one with 'Lyra's Lamp' as the aesthetic really seems to call up Philip Pullman's 'Dark Materials' trilogy. Cool! Your posts are always great fun. Thanks.

Sphinx Ink said...

Thanks for the summary. I'd heard of steampunk and knew it was in the vein of H.G. Welles and Jules Verne. I'm not sure I've read any, but I'm into urban fantasy fiction and I like the whole steampunk ethos. I'll definitely try out a few steampunk novels. Seems like Gibson's THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE is a good place to start.

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

It's a subgenre, that like paranormal, is starting to reach across and cross-pollinate (and yes, it's hit romance and YA as well. *g*) Like you, my reading habits don't tend towards sci-fi or fantasy, but in the most recent bookstore haul, I did pick up one book, George Mann's Victorian-set, The Affinity Bridge, which is a steampunk mystery, sounds like the first in a new series. He also has another book, Ghosts of Manhattan, which is more pulp-fiction in feel, that uses steampunk elements but is set in the 1920s.

It'll be interesting to see if I like it or not.

Bernita said...

SF writer L.E. Modesitt, Jr.also has an interesting alternate history trilogy involving ghosts, steam, dirigibles and Difference engines, though I don't think it is marketed as stempunk.

cs harris said...

Orannia, I'll be interested to hear what you think of the genre when you make it down there in your TBR pile.

Barbara M, I once cooked on an old stove like that on an archaeological dig in Australia. Not as hard as I had at first imagined, but temperature control is definitely an art.

Barbara, I frittered away half a day following those links! Fascinating stuff.

Sphinx, since you enjoy urban fantasy, it does sound like something you'd like.

Barbara CF, I'll be interested to hear what you think of Mann's book. It's one of the ones I had heard about before I learned that it was part of a genre.

Bernita, interesting, although I suspect that it appeals to the same audience.

And has everyone heard of this genre except me?!

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

I'll definitely let you know, Candy.

I'm also giggling because I've never seen so many Barbaras congregated in such a small place. Growing up, I was always the only one in any given class. :)

Firefly said...

Now that is a stove to die for!!!!!!!

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