Ask the Grumpies: Steampunk

Rumpus writes:

What are your thoughts on trends in the steampunk genre? The Parasol Protectorate is one of many exploring steampunk (Behemoth, Earthshaker, etc)…which from what I can tell has been somewhat hiding in the wings since…Jules Verne?…no, probably not punk-y. Anyway, it seems like there are a lot of steampunk books out these days (I’m ignoring vampire books because I’m not really looking for romance-novels-in-disguise). And yet my understanding is that steampunk is a look backwards combined with some spunky protagonists fighting the establishment. Is that close to the right definition? If so are current offerings following in that vein or are they really just adventure novels in a different setting?

#1 responds:

Steampunk is totes a publishing trend in the past few years — the next big thing (vampires became zombies became angels).  And yet, it is also a cultural thing that is awesome: the steam part, which is looking back/forward to a past/future that never was, but you can pick the parts you like (keep the polite manners; hold the slavery); and the punk part, which has to do with a culture of making your own things and having bespoke items instead of mass-produced crap.

#2 notes:

I’ve been reading steampunk for seemingly decades (Martha Wells’ Death of a Necromancer being a personal favorite), but only recently does it seem to have hit the big-time.  My guess is with the resurgence of all things vampiric people got into all things Victorian, and if you’re doing all things Victorian… well it’s a hop skip and a jump to steampunk.  Also now a lot of big name best-sellers seem to have gotten in on the trend, like Scott Westerfield.  And, of course, the Gail Carriager books would be best-sellers even if they weren’t steam-punk because they’re so delightful.  But their success has probably helped the genre.

Btw, wikipedia has a really interesting article on the evolution of steampunk… yes, the origins are in Wells and Verne (though for them it was just contemporary science fiction!), but it really seems to have started as a new genre in the 1970s and 1980s.

As to your deeper questions, I defer to #1, and of course our insightful readers!


9 Responses to “Ask the Grumpies: Steampunk”

  1. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I blame the two of you for introducing me to the genre and while I haven’t dived in completely, I’ve had a great time with the Parasol Proctetorate and the Iron Duke. I’d actually like more recommendations on the genre. Do you guys have a post for that already?

    As far as the aesthetic goes, I’ve always been a fan of the Victorian so it’s a no-brainer for me too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hmm, recommendations?

      Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
      some of China Mieville
      The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (classic)
      The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
      Phoenix Rising (ministry of Peculiar Occurrences) by Tee Morris and P. J. Ballantine
      the Girl Genius webcomic ( )
      Mainspring by Jay Lake
      Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
      Havemercy by Jaida Jones

      That oughta get you started.

      • Rumpus Says:

        Boneshaker was excellent as an audiobook…the setting really came through vividly.

        Really? Diamond Age? Am I thinking of the wrong book or is that the excessively pretentious one with the boring fairy tale princess parts and the inane side-story between various magistrates, engineers, etc?

        Also, is there a connection between Steampunk and the sort of Three-Musketeers-meets-magic stories I stumble across occasionally?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 agrees– Diamond Age wasn’t good enough for the amount of pretentiousness one had to wade through.

  2. Ink Says:

    Chiming in nothing of literary value here, but: I LOVE steampunk fashion’s blend of the Victorian and the imaginative mechanical/technical. Corset? Check. Top hat? Check. Fantastical invention as whimsical but thought-provoking accessory? Check.

    Happy sigh.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      (we also have a steampunk tag where we occasionally go squee)

    • anandi Says:

      Fashion was where I had first heard of steampunk in 2007, when I started my Etsy shop and met up with a bunch of fellow Etsy handcrafters in Seattle. A few of them were into that look, and making steampunk-y jewelry. I had no idea until recently (this week!) it was also a genre in literature. Interesting!

  3. Liz Says:

    I’d never heard on the genre until I saw it on your blog, but I then noticed a featured table of Steampunk books at the local bookstore before Christmas (with a mother and daughter looking at it and asking each other what Steampunk was).

    It is not something I’ve checked out yet but am somewhat intrigued. What is your suggestion for a first read from the genre?

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