What Exactly is Steampunk, and Where to Start?

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What Exactly is Steampunk, and Where to Start?

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1joririchardson
Jun 11, 2011, 3:38am

Hello everyone, I'm new to this group and to the genre of Steampunk itself. I have always loved Historical Fiction, and Victorian England is always a great time period. The other day, I read a book in which a clockmaker constructs beautiful, mechanical dolls. They are so lifelike, one becomes a famous high-end prostitute (well, sort of).
This wasn't at all a steampunk book, and it was set in 1700's Paris anyways, but it reminded me vaguely of that sort of thing...

So my question is, what is your definition or summary of the genre, and where should I begin?

Quintessential, "typical" steampunk books are where I would like to start with my new interest in the genre.

Thanks in advance!

2majkia
Jun 11, 2011, 7:13am

If you like young adult fiction, I'd suggest beginning reading steampunk with Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, which does a pretty good job of giving you a feel for the genre and is a rousing good story to boot.

The genre is pretty wide open, so it is hard to come up with 'typical' books. Look under the tag 'steampunk' and you'll see what I mean.

3quartzite
Jun 11, 2011, 9:58am

Also read the other threads and see any books mentioned sound interesting to you.

4AHS-Wolfy
Edited: Jun 11, 2011, 10:03am

The definition of steampunk seems to vary quite a bit. There's the classic Victorian era with steam powered machines to where just about anywhere machines are anachronistic to the time or place for the setting of the book. I see you've read Mortal Engines and rated it quite highly and that would fit the bill for steampunk.

Although I've not read them myself (yet!), the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger usually get praised quite a bit. Starts with Soulless.

5AlanPoulter
Jun 11, 2011, 1:05pm


Books I have recently read, enjoyed, reviewed and tagged as steampunk are, in decreasing order of recommendation:

The first thee parts of the five-part Virga series from Karl Schroeder, Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce and Pirate sun, which are all set inside a solar system-sized air-filled balloon in space, allowing politicking and low-g 'space combat' between rival communities living on free-floating platform 'towns' or 'gardens'.

The first two parts of a trilogy by Jay Lake, Escapement and Mainspring, set on an Earth which is part of a 'clockwork' solar system, having a giant gear at the equator. Victorian Britain and dynastic China fight to control the Northern hemisphere and wonder what lurks on the Southern side...

The first of two books from Lavie Tidhar, The Bookman,which is set in the Victorian era where alien Lizards and the Bookman and his nemesis the Binder plot with governments, talking machines can play chess etc.

Last but not least is Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, set in an alternate reality Seattle during the Civil War. Fun but the zombies do not fit.

6brianjungwi
Jun 11, 2011, 5:57pm

My first steampunk was The Difference Engine which had some high points though others time felt long

i enjoyed Boneshaker as well

7Khem_Caigan
Jun 27, 2011, 11:32am

My initial introduction to Steampunk came by way of Keith Robert's
Pavane, back in the late '60s.

You might also enjoy K.W. Jeter's Morlock Night and Infernal Devices,
James Blaylock's Homunculus and Lord Kelvin's Machine, and Tim Powers'
The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides.

8Pollifax
Jun 27, 2011, 11:39am

have you seen the steampunk jewelry ? it is really cool!!

10johnnyapollo
Jun 29, 2011, 7:46am

My intro came with Moorcock's Oswald Bastable books (start with Warlord of the Air, then read the next two) - the protagonist wanders through an alternate history full of zeppelins, dragoons and Gurkha. By current definition the books may be borderline but then again, they were written before the label "Steampunk" existed. Moorcock's fantasy Runestaff series also has many Steampunk elements (ornithopters, sword-fighting, mechanical horses and carriages, etc) but is really a post-apocalyptic tale.

I rather liked Cherie Priest's Boneshaker - the zombie angle provided an interesting twist...

And sorry, my touchstones still refuse to work...

11WadeGarret
Nov 1, 2013, 7:59pm

From my interview with sherrierbooks.com about why I write my own batch of SP:
"The fact it’s being refurbished with vigor is very intriguing to me and central to many of Steampunk’s deepest themes. I like how you can pick’n’choose what’s possible via the lens of a particular world’s technological achievement—branches not always in lockstep with ours. Through such a unique framework, you can create a blend that doesn’t seem out of place. As an example: You can have a wireless computer being used by a gentleman dressed for dinner, aboard a transatlantic ship on its maiden-voyage to the Far East…and guess what, it’s OK. Why? The wireless computer doesn’t look like a MacBook, more like a clunky suitcase made from clock parts *perhaps bits of magic* and the battery, twice the size of the computer, has to be cranked by hand every time it's used. With Steampunk, much of it revolves around visuals, setting, textures. It’s not Hard Science Fiction. You don’t necessarily need to explain every bit of technology and the fans are OK with it."

12Booksloth
Edited: Feb 26, 2014, 9:16am

I don't see a thread here for introductions so I hope it's okay to use this one to say hello. I'm willing to bet I'm the oldest member of the group (let's say 'in her fifties') and I feel a little as if I should make my excuses. I hit upon the whole steampunk thing through my amateur jewellery-making and I'm blown away by it all even though the literature isn't really my cup of tea (I do love Neal Stephenson though I'm not sure if he really qualifies as steampunk and I've been a fan of Victoriana and the Victorians for as long as I can remember).

What gets me excited is the whole genre as an art movement. The costumes, jewellery and various gizmos are stunningly beautiful and I just bought The Steampunk Bible in an attempt to learn more about the genre. Okay, I don't see me ever attending the events or wearing the outfits but I do hope it's all right to follow the group as an admirning outsider. You guys are doing a gorgeous thing.

13staffordcastle
Mar 1, 2014, 9:37pm

Hi, Booksloth, I fear you would lose your bet!

I am in my sixties, and a confirmed fan of F&SF. My most recent steampunk reads are the Etiquette and Espionage series - lots of very silly fun, and in my opinion, better than the Parasol Protectorate books, to which they are prequels.

14Booksloth
Mar 2, 2014, 6:43am

Thank you staffordcastle, it's good to know I'm, in fact, a comparative babe-in-arms. D'you thinnk we're an embarrassment to our kids?

15John5918
Mar 2, 2014, 9:31am

I've only just joined this group having seen this thread, although I have glanced at it from time to time in the past. I'm sixty this year, so I'm of the generation of Booksloth and staffordcastle.

A long time ago I read both The Difference Engine and Pavane. I liked both of them and looked for similar books, but it was much later that I discovered there was actually a genre called Steampunk. My hobby (some would say passion) is real life steam locomotives - I drive them, fire them, renovate them, repair them, maintain them, study them - and I think that is part of the attraction of Steampunk for me. I know how a steam engine works from one end to the other.

Since then I have dipped in and out of Steampunk and I can't remember the titles. I've found some I like, but I've also found quite a few (especially short stories) with a narrative style that I don't like, sort of too offhand, hardened and cynical, if that makes sense. Now that I've joined this group I will try to read some of the books which are recommended in this and other threads. Thanks!

16Keeline
Mar 2, 2014, 7:46pm

The steampunk costuming community in San Diego has the full range of ages. At one recent notorious event we had people from their 20s through their 70s.

Only a portion of the costumers are also readers of the subgenre called steampunk. Some of the recent literature is designed to appeal to the costuming community, it appears.

James

17Booksloth
Mar 3, 2014, 7:58am

Thank you all for making me feel a bit less like an old woman trying to keep up with 'the kids'. It's usually books that get me into everything but in this case I've never been much of a sci-fi or fantasy fan (with one or two notable exceptions) so it feels a little strange to be so excited by this genre without that including the literature.

18Keeline
Mar 8, 2014, 8:26pm

We were brought to Steampunk by our work on steam locomotives too. I've been dipping into the literature and will have to try some of the ones recommended here. Thanks,
-Kim (engineer on a 1907 Baldwin)

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