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What Makes A Novel 'Steampunk'? What Even IS Steampunk?

Updated on September 4, 2014

It's, like, steam and Cockney and guns and...stuff, right?

The attraction to nostalgic and archaic settings and to the futuristic elements of science fiction have always been popular in media. From fantasy novels featuring medieval politics, to science fiction videogames that discover and explore new worlds, to the language and costumes used in historical films: many are fascinated by time periods they can never experience. Over the past thirty years authors have been trying to combine the past with the present to create the 'modern' steampunk. This involves manipulating the Victorian industrial era with futuristic inventions largely run on steam. As a sub-genre that is still growing in popularity it is hard to know what elements are "necessary" for a story to be considered steampunk. Having written a novel I consider is steampunk and ploughed through the varying opinions of leading entrepreneurs of the genre (a not-so-surprisingly incestuous circle) of 'what makes something steampunk', I have decided to interrogate how a novel fits into the genre or if it is possible to say a novel is "not steampunk enough".

In investigating the similarities between stories considered to be steampunk, largely from Nick Gevers' anthology Extraordinary Engines (2008), the first question to ask is: what are the origins of steampunk? How did this movement arise?

Almost all the images on this page can be purchased within the art book Steampunk, the art of Victorian futurism by Jay Strongman. It's a beautiful read and explains in greater length the development of steampunk. The introductory picture is also my first choice for this lens (see above-left)!

After a few requests I'm saying now: you may of course quote my lens in any academic paper, presentation or casual blog that you are writing. That's what it's avilable for! Please just reference back to this page and its sources correctly (my name is Willow Wood). I've included a bibliography at the very bottom.

Needed By Every Steampunk Lover

Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism
Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism

This book is 174 pages of 'invention and wonder' printed on glossy paper. Not only does it feature a range of artwork and eccentric gadgets spilling off every page, but it provides an exploration into the rise of steampunk. For those seeking inspiration, you could flick through this book backwards and still come away feeling better for it - ready to write.


The Origins of Steampunk

Who on earth thought Victorian sky-pirates would be a good idea?

It is possible to argue that steampunk is a part of speculative fiction, a hybrid of adventure stories that have developed over the past hundred years into a sub-cult of science fiction. The distinguished tropes and unique elements of the genre, however, place it 'outside' of speculative fiction, and the origins and development of this sub-branch can loosely be traced so as to understand its current form. The first novels now considered to be 'steampunk' were the science fiction stories of the late 1800s. Writers like Jules Verne and H.G.Wells first appeared with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Verne, 1870) and The Time Machine (Wells, 1895). As Rod Bennett explains:

They were adventure stories, yes-but built almost entirely around elaborate prophecies of future technology. When those prophecies were fulfilled [...] Verne's novels didn't seem futuristic anymore, [...] Some of them languished in this condition for over 40 years [...] But by the mid-1920s these books were passing into a new phase, a state of being wherein the very datedness itself had acquired a fascination. (1965, n.p.)

This fascination with anachronistic history did not arise from nothing. Before it is possible to discuss the various Victorian works that have been re-imagined and adapted, it is important to mention 'cyberpunk', which was first coined by Bruce Bethke in 1983.

Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell


It did more than create the Matrix

As the 20th century loomed closer; promising computers, cybernetics, microchips and advanced electronics; writers took advantage of the growing 'technophobia' that predicted humans would bring about their own destruction the more technologically advanced our civilization became. Often set in the near-future earth, culture has fermented, technology is used in unanticipated ways and the characters live in post-industrial dystopias that atmospherically echo film noir. The movement was popularised by people like Gardner Dozois, the science-fiction editor who made cyberpunk acknowledged as a form of literature, and Bruce Sterling who created the fanzine Cheap Truth, initiating himself as the movement's chief ideologue. Writers for this genre grew and influential films such as Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) and the Matrix trilogy (Wachowski, 1999-2003) can be viewed as signifiers of the cyberpunk style and theme. It did not take long, then, for writers such as K.W.Jeter to reinterpret cyberpunk.

Jeter, a cyberpunk author, perhaps wrote Morlock Night (1979) as a reaction to the pessimistic stereotypes and repetitive settings seen within cyberpunk fiction. The dystopian, gritty life-style remained but the setting was re-imagined to be set 100 years in the past rather than 100 years in the future. Morlock Night features H.G.Wells' idea of a time machine but the characters travel to the 18th Century instead of 30 million years into the future. In a letter to Locus in 1987 Jeter said: "I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term [...] Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like 'steampunks,' perhaps..." And through this letter, Jeter coined the genre's name.

What's the appeal of Steampunk?

It's not the tea and fine china

It seemed the romance of the Victorian era was difficult to escape. The concept of futuristic fantasies set within a mid-Victorian world, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, spread between authors of the 1980s. Antecedent authors of note are Ronald Clark, Christopher Priest and Philip Jose Farmer. The politics, society and language of steampunk can feel as other-worldly as visiting a distant planet but, for those with western heritage, the past-and-present pastiche can create a much more personal, nostalgic experience, which is a possible reason for its increasing recognition.

The most popular novel to inadvertently legitimise steampunk was co-written by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling with, The Difference Engine (1990). By incorporating cyberpunk tropes they themselves helped create, the technology of the twentieth century met the Steam Age. Peter Nicholls described the appeal authors found in steampunk-London over cyberpunk as this: "It was a city of industry, science and technology where the modern world was being born, and a claustrophobic city of nightmare where the cost of this growth was registered in filth and squalor." (Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 1979, n.p.) All of these things reflect the tones of cyberpunk.

Compared to the works of aforementioned science fiction and cyberpunk authors, steampunk is not often considered to be serious literature, despite its historical references and attempts at science.

We might look at steampunk as speculative fiction's revenge against such arguments, [that popular culture represents the past incorrectly] because steampunk is a fiction that places a premium on minutely accurate historical detail, within flamboyantly wrong imagined pasts, in order to explore the ways in which the conventional historical sensibility sometimes gets it wrong. (Margret Rose, 2010, p.1)

Of course, the growth of steampunk - which has also developed into a lifestyle (see image on the right) - can be credited to many other authors who revived the works of Verne, Wells, Jeter and more, but that is for the discussion of another lens. The History of Steampunk by Cory Gross details these pioneers further. With brief insight we can see that from 18th Century science fiction (now classed as Victorian literature), through to 20th Century science fiction and cyberpunk, the birth of 'steampunk' has arisen. It encapsulates the quirks of the former three genres and has evolved into its own category of literature. This leads us to the question: what constitutes as necessary tropes for a story to be steampunk?

Necessary Tropes

What, what? Pip, pip.

One of the most recent anthologies considered by Margret Rose to be "a reasonably good sample of steampunk fiction," (2010, p.2) is Nick Gevers Extraordinary Engines, which is a book of twelve short stories he feels "explore steampunk in wonderful, innovative ways." (2008, p.11) After reading all twelve stories, one can draw attention to at least three plot devices and/or aesthetics that each author utilises.

I would personally recommend this anthology to anyone who wants to experience a range of tastes within the genre as each story is enjoyable and has a unique interpretation of steampunk. I think my favourite short stories were Machine Maid by Margo Lanagan and Steampunch by James Lovegrove, but every tale has lingered in my mind and I'll go on to explain how in the next three modules...

Amazon: Extraordinary Engines

The List Price is $7.99, not the crazy $83 shown here on Squidoo! It's lying.

Trope: Language

Penny for a Guy, mister?

Within each story, except Machine Maid by Margo Lanagan (2008, p.183-216) and Petrolpunk by Adam Roberts (2008, p.281-337), either all the characters speak Cockney or at least one character knows how to imitate the dialect. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, Lanagan and Roberts' characters use the 'Queen's English' - an accent that is recognised as an upper-class way of speaking but is rarer today than it was during the Victorian era.

From the stories seen in Extraordinary Engines it seems that language can be the easiest and surest way to create a feel for a desired time period. Cockney slang is especially unique to Olde London and, when used, creates subconscious links to writers such as Charles Dickens and, in turn, to the smoggy, stereotypical city that breads squalor and chimney sweeps. In James Lovegrove's story, Steampunch (2008, p.15-42), the entire narrative is written in Cockney slang and can be hard to understand if the reader has no knowledge of the dialect beforehand. "No, don't look like that. I'm not some poncey mandrake, though there's a fair few of them around here, I warn you. I won't be trying to stick my Nebuchadnezzer up your jacksie. Strictly a Lady Laycock fellow, me, always have been." (Lovegrove, p.15) Only at the end does the reader discover that the characters are not in England but on Mars, despite the feeling that they have been deported to a small British port.

In stories such as Petrolpunk and Elementals (MacLeod, 2008), the plot revolves around men from an upper-middle-class society, which is also shown through dialogue for the first half of Petrolpunk: "I will not listen to treason, [...] I close my ears to you, sir!" (Roberts, p.294)

Trope: Industrialisation

Man the airships! Fire up the trains! Pulp out that pea-soup!

It almost goes without saying that steampunk should include machinery that either experiments with the uses of steam, or involves industry on some scale; whether it is feasible or not. Every tale I have encountered goes by this rule and sometimes overlaps into the realms of fantasy. To some, such as a contributor to (this used to link to the source, but Squidoo can't tell spam from it's arse) message boards, this is a disgrace to science fiction literature:

I think Steampunk denigrates cyberpunk merely by it's[sic] association with it. Cyberpunk is at the hard end of science fiction, realistic depictions and intense focus on future technology. Steampunk is so much at the soft end it's falling out of the science fiction genre altogether [and] leaking into fantasy. (sfam, 2009)

Regardless of whether some steampunk inventions are "soft" or "altogether fantasy," the concept that Victorian ideas can be adapted with hindsight is a distinctive genre element. More often than not steampunk inventions do not try to create something feasible but bring to life the dreams and false hypothesizes of 19th Century thinkers. What would the world be like if their first assumptions were correct?

In the two short stories Steampunch (Lovegrove, p.15-42) and Machine Maid (Lanagan, p.183-216) androids are powered by unlikely means or are described in bits-and-pieces to uphold the suspension of disbelief that its design is conceivable. "...and within his chest burned a furnace that would've shamed a volcano and the pounds per square inch inside his pipework would've blown the mercury out of any barometer." (Lovegrove, p.23) A lot of these mechanical devices are not made to be efficient so much as they are aesthetic; as mentioned beforehand by Margret Rose. While some (like the contributors to CyberpunkReview) view steampunk's unconcern with scientific theory as 'denigrating' others such as Jake von Slatt; a well-recognised American steampunk artist and role-player; understand that the fantastical appearance of his inventions are a large part of the genre's appeal:

The Victorian era was the great age of the amateur, where nonprofessionals could contribute to the advancement of science, and because these amateurs were most often well-heeled gentlemen, great emphasis was placed on ornamental beauty in their equipment. (2007, n.p.)

[See also his video on Steampunk in America]

In an email I wrote to Lanagan I asked what she personally felt makes Machine Maid a steampunk story. She simply replied: "Historical setting + anachronistic technology" (2011) [see question 2 in My Interview With Lanagan], which leads me onto my next heading:

Trope: Historicism

What if Queen Victoria was immortal?

As steampunk is a genre that plays with historical setting it is fitting that it should try to question the 'authority of history'; that is to say, it offers interrogations of famous figures, historical events, how developed or undeveloped our society has become and experiments with ever-lasting-imperialism in alternate time-streams.

Such deliberate breaks with the realism of historical representation draw attention to the fictional (and fantastic) status of the story, and by extension, to the narrative-making process at work in any representation of history. (Rose, p.5)

History is fictional, a representation, because we were not present to the event. Deliberately breaking the realism of historical representation reminds the reader they are engaging with a narrative text and not a historically accurate setting. It can express that even historical fiction from the literary canon is not set in stone and is someone's subjective interpretation of events.

This is similar to postmodern explorations that try to ask "do we even know what 'historical knowledge' is?" Linda Hutcheon argues that historiographic metafictions, like steampunk, "juxtapose what we think we know of the past [...] with an alternate representation that foregrounds the postmodern epistemological questioning of the nature of historical knowledge" (Politics p.71) This recognition of steampunk's ability to force a reader to problematise the received truth about the past shows that, while it may not be scientific, it is politically aware. As Rose nicely summarises:

Regardless of whether or not it [steampunk] adopts the alternate history format, steampunk is capable of articulating just such a critique [of historical truth], [...] the flamboyance with which these stories depart from factuality is in fact a celebration of the imaginative engagement with the past that is at the heart of all history. (2010, p.5)

Despite the anachronistic quirks within its historical settings, "...steampunk fiction puts tremendous value on the practice of engaging with the factual past," (Rose, 2010, p.7) Incorporated into the twelve stories of Extraordinary Engines are Victorian thinkers. Charles Babbage, for instance, whose surname is used as the word for an androids' brain in American Cheetah (Reed, 2008, p.337-376). In Petrolpunk (Roberts, 2008, p.281-336) an "alternate twenty-first-century reality is ruled by an immortal Queen Victoria" (Rose, 2010, p.3) who celebrates her Titanium Jubilee modelled after the Golden Jubilee of 1887. For every story in Extraordinary Engines and other works of the genre "historical details are scattered ... like the "easter eggs" of video games, which invite and reward a deeper engagement from a dedicated player." (Rose, 2010, p.6)

Writing Steampunk

The real nuts and bolts of this exploration

We can use these elements to write or challenge the conformities of the genre, but in constructing my own steampunk narrative I wrote the first draft in the same way as Margo Lanagan: "I had a stab in the dark at steampunk. I knew Phillip Pullman's trilogy, and had a vague idea of what steampunk was about, but I was not, shall we say, well-read or well-informed about the genre." (2011) [see question 1 in My Interview With Lanagan]

As an annual participant of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), created by Chris Baty in 1999, I am one of many authors who feel free to experiment against our "writing modus operandi"; in this case genre; without the self-imposed pressure of 'I must get it right'. For, despite steampunk's growing popularity, it is still a niche category. Its main buyers are well-versed readers each with their own opinion of what makes a good steampunk novel. When writing my first draft however, I was unconcerned with the 'necessary elements' and assumed I knew the very basics.

My first encounter with steampunk was through photographs and artwork. Images have always been a point of inspiration for me and there is a wealth of steampunk art available on the internet. From images I envisioned my own London, the stereotypical traits of steampunk characters - such as the strong, overbearing feminist as used in Lady Witherspoon's Solution (Morrow, 2008, p.217-260) - and the style of their clothing depending on social class. I knew that Cockney was a typical steampunk trope and endeavoured to teach myself as much slang as appropriate. The more I have learnt the more I have improved the characters' dialogue and created a feel for the environment as Lovegrove does in Steampunch (2008, p.15-42).

As I continued to search for pictures throughout the writing process I stumbled upon art that blurred between science fiction and steampunk. I have always had a fascination for science fiction, which might explain why my novel progressively blurs between genres towards the last ten chapters. Upon revision, I do not think this pastiche makes my novel any less steampunk. The more it becomes science fiction, the stronger Victorian values are implemented and vice versa at the beginning of the novel; the usual science fiction attitudes that embrace all culture and freedom are used in a steampunk world. I think it shows that attitudes are not tied to technology.

While the advanced city within my novel is ahead of its time, its conceptions on freedom and equality are not as fair as it implies. Various right-wing and left-wing choices appear within the novel but the characters do not tend to outwardly justify their decisions. This is left for the reader to question rather than feel dictated to about politics. When writing steampunk I think I agree with Reed who says, "These are stories that understand "that the smartest, surest voices were often wrong, and it was foolish to believe that even the simplest question had an easy, eternal answer" (Reed 338)." (Rose, 2010, p.12) This is your chance to reflect the world we live in and start discussions - to ignite political questions many of us might feel uncomfortable asking.

In researching for this dossier - as this steampunk lens was originally my first university major project - I have noticed that historical references seem to be the most crucial part of a steampunk narrative. This used to be something my novel lacked. It has stylistic features that create a feel for steampunk, such as the floating market in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere (1996) but this does not make his novel steampunk. It appears that for stories to be classed as 'steampunk' there needs to be historical details or parodies. This, to be honest, is half the fun as Rose goes on to say that "..."getting it wrong" becomes a major theme of steampunk fiction, whether it's the mistaken interpretation of a historian, the erroneous conclusion of a scientist, or the failure to trust a partner." (Rose, 2010, p.12)

I have decided to disregard incorporating gratuitous parallels to historical facts (although I do believe historicism is what makes steampunk stand out above the other 'punk' movements). I would say that my novel feels steampunk. The environment, the characters, the language, the inventions and the mix of past and present politics generates a fictional world that embraces one of the main ideals of the genre: "Steampunk is much more interested in the minor players in history, especially in recovering histories of anachronistic people and things." (Rose, 2010, p.7) Would you disagree with me? Tell me what you think makes a novel steampunk. There's more beneath the discussion section though! Keep reading!

What makes a story Steampunk?

Does it have to 'feel steampunk' or must it include stead-fast tropes?

I agree, it should at least feel like a warped Victorian era. Tropes are guidelines and sometimes signifiers, not rules.

I agree, it should at least feel like a warped Victorian era. Tropes are guidelines and sometimes signifiers, not rules.

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    • anonymous 4 years ago

      It must simply feel it. Like with any other genera, yes there are tropes and such but if it's not scary it's not truly horror, now is it? The same applies here

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I feel like the definition of steampunk varies from person to person that the whole subject can only generalize in order to fit the beliefs/opinions of others. I'm new to steampunk as well, and I'm trying to write a novel in the genre, and there have been so many clashing articles. I think that one just needs to figure out how steampunk works for them and hopes the audience finds it as fun as you do.

    • colgrym 4 years ago

      The feeling would seem more important to me, both as reader and as a writer. Having decided to take the plunge and sign up for NaNoWriMo this time round, I'd have to say it's the flavour of a warped Victorian Age that I'll be going for. Tropes as guidelines only.

    • June Parker 5 years ago from New York

      I agree that the tropes are not written in stone and should just be considered as guidelines, but to be considered a "Steampunk" novel it seems to me that steam machinery must be included along with the flavor of the Victorian times.

    • cstrouse lm 5 years ago

      As long as the storyline is exciting and moves fast enough to keep me interested I'm not so concerned with tropes.

    • Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      I'm not (as far as I know) into reading steampunk stories, but if you watch the Sherlock Holmes movies (w. Rober Downey Jr.) I'd say they have a touch of it in there, if they fully are not) to me if there's (as far as sceery goes) lots of brass (looking) gears, and machinery then its steampunk (enough) for me. For me it doesn't even have to have the victorian era styling to it. Steampunk is what you make of it.

    • kindoak 5 years ago

      As long as it contains over-designed and decorated huffing and puffing engines, I am satisfied :)

    • alexbricker 5 years ago

      Since it is a novel, it should allow for fluidity of tropes, allowing the author of the genre to experiment with even more creative styles and content.

    • echizen01 5 years ago

      I also argue there tends to be a whiff of nostalgia for the days of the British Empire. S M Stirling's 'The Peshawar Lancers' is an excellent case in point. Whether it is Steam Locomotives, Airships or the telegraph they all wax lyrical about that bygone age

    • Lori Green 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      I think a little of both

    • Marc 5 years ago from Edinburgh

      I'm really unsure - I'm just learning all about it now. I thought Steampunk was about wearing aviator goggles and smart clothes that have a rustic twist!

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      A little bit of both, I'd say. I love the Victorian era, and I think if the book can capture the feeling of that time period with the tropes usually found, it doesn't have to be so heavy in that genre.

    • MitchAllan 5 years ago

      I think any genre is really a fluid definition. If we pumped out the same tropes all the time things would get boring. They have to be guidelines more than anything - otherwise we'd never get hybrid novels and mash-up fiction. It's all borrowing elements from other stuff. But I do like all these odd sub-genres like steampunk, dieselpunk etc., because of their eccentricity and niche-ness.

      Imagine if science fiction never evolved since the 70s and 80s. We can't stick to the same formulas forever.

    I disagree, it should include stead-fast tropes, and I'll tell you which ones...

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      • anonymous 3 years ago

        Writing is invention and reinvention. You have to start somewhere, with something as a basis if you want to write steampunk. Even if it's simply an emphasis on industry and invention. Besides, sometimes the most fun is finding ways to include as many tropes as possible without making a mockery of your narrative.

      • Rose Jones 5 years ago

        How about the trope that good writing is rewarded - even if niche rules are broken?

      My 'Interview' With Lanagan

      A voice from the published side

      As often mentioned in the modules above, Margo Lanagan wrote Machine Maid for Gevers Extraordinary Engines. I'm very lucky that Margo found me on Twitter and has since been willing to answer my questions and humour my antics. I put these questions to her in March 2011, and I think Margo's answers provide an interesting look into what people think steampunk is and how genre is a flexible thing that people shouldn't be afraid of experimenting with.

      Hi Willow,

      Here are the answers - sorry, they sound a bit dimwitted! This is because I just plunge irresponsibly into other people's genres without proper research and reading.

      Best of luck with your dossier!


      1) When you wrote Machine Maid did you write it trying to be conscious of steampunk conventions, or, did you write what you feel is steampunk?

      I had a stab in the dark at steampunk. I knew Phillip Pullman's trilogy, and had a vague idea of what steampunk was about, but I was not, shall we say, well-read or well-informed about the genre.

      2) What would you personally say makes Machine Maid a steampunk story?

      Historical setting + anachronistic technology

      3) What inspired you to dabble with the genre? What attracted you to it?

      I was invited to contribute to Nick Gevers' steampunk anthology - that kind of invitation is usually enough inspiration. I thought I knew enough to have a go, and if I failed, the worst that could happen was Nick saying no.

      I also had an idea - my stories aren't really about playing with genres, or at least, that's not at the forefront of my mind when I'm writing them. The story's germ was an old, half-worn-away sign on a building I passed on the train to work every day, an old General Electric sign advertising 'Electric Servants'. It was such an odd phrase, and it climbed into my brain and grew there. When Nick's anthology came along, I had an excuse to create my electric servant.

      4) What would you say are important steampunk tropes?

      Oh gee, I think you'd better ask someone more genre-savvy than me about that one. :D

      Also (just to be distracting), have you heard the joke, 'Steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown'?

      [SPOILER for Machine Maid coming up!]

      And purely out of my own curiosity: Did the robot kill Mr. Goverman or must I forever ponder? ;D

      No, the Aboriginal maid killed him. The robot was innocent. (But the heroine was not.)

      Conclusion - Feel free to disagree or discuss with me!

      This research into only a few of the numerous works of steampunk fiction and opinions has developed my appreciation for the genre. It has revived the works of classic authors such as Jules Verne in a way that often critiques the "...ostensible distance between the two times [periods] [...] in order to call the very notion of culture change into question." (Rose, 2010, p.9) The expectation that historical fiction is accurate or serious can be subverted into works that iconoclast the past; dissolving the notion that society has substantially developed since the Victorian era. As a still developing genre, it is hard to declare that each of the elements I have mentioned must be incorporated for a novel to be steampunk, for it embraces nearly all elements of science fiction and cyberpunk. Overall, if there must be two things that can certify a story as steampunk, it should probably be the language and sense of historical placement. If a reader can be made to believe they are in an alternate Victorian world powered by steam, then the author has done their job.

      Beneath the guest book is my bibliography of secondary sources. I hope you found this interesting!

      Reading Recommendations

      The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (A Burton & Swinburne Adventure)
      The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (A Burton & Swinburne Adventure)

      This is a hilarious, gripping, entertaining story. It features historical figures who are easy to identify and features fantastic contraptions to ensnare the imagination. The two main characters are witty and strange in their own way as they uncover the bizarre mystery surrounding London's phantom spectre: Spring Heeled Jack.

      Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded
      Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded

      This is another anthology and is a much better collection of short stories than VanderMeer's first book in the series. I prefer Extraordinary Engines but, again, reading this is a good way to dive into the varied world of steampunk.

      The Difference Engine
      The Difference Engine

      This is difficult to get into and I would recommend that you don't start with this book. The plot is fascinating and rife with historical parallels, famous figures and fancy gentlemen, but it's also written in a convolutely and obnoxious manner. I suppose this is intentional, but this makes it a struggle to care for the characters. It often waffles on about nothing and it doesn't do a great job of immitating 'posh English' in narrative. All that aside, it IS a clever plot and it is considered to be one of the founding stories of the genre.


      Further Reading and Bibliography

      Primary Sources

      GAIMAN, N., 1996. Neverwhere. London: BBC Books.

      GEVERS, N., ed. 2008. Extraordinary Engines. Nottingham: Black Library.

      LANAGAN, M., 2008. "Machine Maid" In: Extraordinary Engines. Nottingham: Black Library.

      LOVEGROVE, J., 2008. "Steampunch" In: Extraordinary Engines. Nottingham: Black Library.

      MACLEOD, I., R., 2008. "Elementals" In: Extraordinary Engines. Nottingham: Black Library.

      MORROW, J., 2008. "Lady Witherspoon's Solution" In: Extraordinary Engines. Nottingham: Black Library.

      REED, R., 2008. "American Cheetah" In: Extraordinary Engines. Nottingham: Black Library.

      ROBERTS, A., 2008. "Petrolpunk" In: Extraordinary Engines. Nottingham: Black Library.

      Secondary Sources

      BENNETT, R., 2004. "VOYAGES EXTRAORDINAIRES ON FILM: A Survey of Fireside Science Fiction, Part One - to 1965.". Cornerstone Magazine [online], n.p. Available: HERE [accessed 24 March 2011].

      CLUTE, J., and NICHOLLS, P., 1999. Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Orbit.

      ROSE, M., 2010. "Extraordinary pasts: steampunk as a mode of historical representation." In: Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 20.3, pp.319-333. Available: Academic OneFile. [Accessed 22 March 2011].

      SFAM., 2009. "Steampunk?". CyberpunkReview [online], n.p. Available: REMOVE SPACES AND BRACKETS FROM THIS LINK FOR IT TO WORK: cyberpunkreview[.] com /forums/ viewtopic[.] [php?t=21&] highlight= steampunk. [Accessed 22 March 2011].

      Steampunk on BBC America, 2011[online video]. Directed by Andy GALLACHER. [viewed 28 March 2011]. Available from: HERE

      BROWNLEE, J., 2007. Meet Mr. Steampunk: Jack von Slatt. In: weird sections [online]. 29 June 2007 [viewed 27 March 2011]. Available from: HERE

      Further Reading

      BRODERICK, D., 1995. Reading by Starlight, Postmodern Science Fiction. London: Routledge.

      GROSS, C., 2010. A History of Steampunk, by Cory Gross. In: Steampunk Scholar [online]. 27 August 2007 [viewed 24 March 2011]. Available from: HERE

      What are your thoughts, dear chap? - Share with me your steampunk opinions!

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          MitchAllan 5 years ago

          Heya - great lens and introduction to the topic from a non-fan of steampunk. It was really interesting to see how this genre developed and what it does and doesn't include (or if we should be in the business of excluding anything). If anything, this has inspired me to give steampunk another go and try to fight through the Victorian slang.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @MitchAllan: Oh wow! I'm super grateful to hear you found this interesting. You should definitely give it another go and, for the most part, Victorian slang is easy to look up on the internet. If you have an iPhone there is even an app called VictorianSlang, if in need of quick reference. I would suggest starting with THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING-HEELED JACK as it leans more towards the sci-fi and has very little slang. :)

          Thank you for reading and commenting.

        • auronlu profile image

          auronlu 5 years ago from Spira

          Oh, wonderful article! A lot of my friends are steampunk aficionados; I really need to dive in and stop dabbling my toes at the edges thinking, "that looks fun." MYST, one of my favorite old games, certainly has a touch of it.

          I appreciate your period language; it's lovely to run across a real writer here who enjoys playing with words.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @auronlu: Thank you very much for reading. Ah, you should send some of your steampunk friends here, then! I would love to hear their opinions. I've heard of MYST, I believe it's one of my cousin's favourite games. I hadn't realised it has touches of steam-power.

          I hadn't occurred to me that I use period language; it's just my natural essay-voice! But your own use of language is one of the reasons I enjoy all of your lenses. I'm excited to meet you.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @JoolsObsidian LM: Thank you for reading. I'm thrilled to hear you found this informative.

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          Great article. I feel like I'm a couple years behind this whole steampunk thing, but I realized I quite liked it before someone genre-defined it (Howl's Moving Castle, His Dark Materials trilogy).

          I'd also point to a non-literary story arc that had a huge effect on my own writing. It's a story almost ALL of my male buddies that had a Playstation circa 1999 (a lot) are familiar with - Final Fantasy 7. It's one of the best-selling video games of all times. Everyone was obsessed with the characters, but I was obsessed with the main city. Just google Midgar and you'll see exactly what fascinated me.

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          @anonymous: Aaaaaand I just took a gander at your youtube. I think you're familiar with Midgar :P

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @anonymous: Howl's Moving Castle is a great film (also a great book by Diana Wynne Jones). I think people have been trying to define steampunk for years but it's only recently, with the explosion of interest, that it's been necessary to have formal debates about it.

          Yeah, I'm a little bit familiar with Midgar. ;D It's great to meet someone else who is also likes FF7. I can't deny that it doesn't impact my writing, too. It's taken me years to break away from my Final Fantasy fascination and develop my own ideas, but with every game I'm captivated by the cities and mega-constructions - like you!

          Thank you for reading. Again, it's nice to meet you. :)

        • belinda342 profile image

          belinda342 5 years ago

          It's great to see another Wrimo on Squidoo. One of the writers in my local Nanowrimo group writes Steam Punk. I have to admit, though, that I never really got it til now. Thanks!

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @belinda342: Why hello, fellow WriMo! I'm happy to hear this gave you better idea of what steampunk is all about - it's always a pleasant surprise.

          Have a great day!

        • betta addict profile image

          betta addict 5 years ago

          A very unique lens you got here. I got intrigued and read everything. Keep up the good work!

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @betta addict: Wow, that's great to hear, thank you!

        • m massie profile image

          m massie 5 years ago

          So... the league of extraordinary gentlemen? Steampunk? I like the word.. steampunk.. makes me interested just because of that!

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @m massie: TLoEG is indeed a steampunk film and 'steampunk' is definitely a good word. It satisfies the tongue. I hope this means you'll be diving further into the world of Victorians, engines and historical wackiness!

        • PBJasen profile image

          PBJasen 5 years ago

          Love good SF, and your lens too.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @PBJasen: Thanks for reading!

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @kimberlynapper: So sorry for the late reply! I missed your comment and haven't had time to hang out on Squidoo lately.

          I've heard of Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura but never played it. Would you recommend it?

          Thanks so much for reading and I hope you found a book here you'd like to try. I definitely recommend Extraordinary Engines or The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack.

        • SheGetsCreative profile image

          Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

          Excellent lens. *blesses* and adding to my Steampunk Attire lens

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @SheGetsCreative: Aaah (happy yell)! Thank you so much!

        • CameronPoe profile image

          CameronPoe 5 years ago

          Great lens. One of the movies I enjoy is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and it is largely steampunk. I wish a lot more movies are made along those lines.

        • Gypzeerose profile image

          Rose Jones 5 years ago

          I have been interested in publishing in this niche: I realize I have a lot to learn first. These readers are strict! Extremely well-researched lens - pinned to my board "books worth reading" tweeted and angel blessed.

        • Fcuk Hub profile image

          Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

          I think that Jules Verne was a founder of steampunk :)

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @CameronPoe: I enjoyed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the first time I watched it. You're right though, it is steampunk and features a lot of anachronistic technology. I mention it's steampunkness in another one my lenses, if you're interested: Analysing the Steampunkness of Steamboy.

          You might be surprised to hear that there are actually quite a lot of films, especially within the past five years, that have been drawing upon 'steampunkness'. English and Japanese TV series in particular are looking more and more to steampunk for inspiration, like Doctor Who and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

          Thank you so much for reading!

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @Gypzeerose: Yes, I'd say it's a niche you'll definitely need to experiment writing about. The easiest way to learn is to read as many steampunk books as you can find. Some of the readers can be strict but I don't think that's something to worry about. No matter what I write I always think, "there will be somebody who detests this just because it doesn't fulfill their check list."

          Thank you so much for blessing, tweeting and reading. It's wonderful to hear you found this helpful. Come back and let me know if you discover something you think I should know.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @Fcuk Hub: As do many others :) I don't actually like his books though... I find his writing style painfully dull but I can definitely see how Verne's ideas, for his time period, have inspired steampunk writers (don't forget, Verne was writing science fiction for the Victorian era. It was only after his time that his books were considered steampunk. Does that technically make him a founder?).

        • Nanciajohnson profile image

          Nancy Johnson 5 years ago from Mesa, Arizona

          I am very intrigued by this movement "steampunk". I love the costumes, artwork, jewelry and stories. Thank you for such a thorough lens. I think you covered it all.

        • intermarks profile image

          intermarks 5 years ago

          I love fantasy and sci-fi story. I can always find something that I can never imagine in the story.

        • profile image

          vBizeso 5 years ago

          Nice lens

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @Nanciajohnson: Me too! I can't get enough of it (for now, anyway). The costumes, artwork and jewelry can be mind blowing. If only they weren't so expensive! Thank you for reading. Let me know if you discover something you think I should mention.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @intermarks: Aye, I especially love science fiction for that. Some sci-fi authors; I can only imagine what it's like inside their head!

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @vBizeso: Thank you for reading :)

        • bwet profile image

          bwet 5 years ago

          wow very interesting lens. I've heard of steampunk many times but never actually explore the history and meaning of it until I came across your lens. very informative :)

        • profile image

          getwellsoon 5 years ago

          Steampunk is amazing! I love what some of the movies and TV shows are coming up with.

        • ryokomayuka profile image

          ryokomayuka 5 years ago from USA

          Wonderful Lens. I love the pictures. I really have never read or seen much of the steampunk gene but it does seem interesting.

        • MarcoG profile image

          Marc 5 years ago from Edinburgh

          Stunning lens. Just wonderful. Every day's a school day, and now I feel more knowledgeable about the word that seems to be on trend at the moment. This made me laugh too: 'Steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown'?

        • Hypersapien2 profile image

          Hypersapien2 5 years ago from U.S.

          Great lens and fantastic imagery!

        • TrashBoat profile image

          TrashBoat 5 years ago

          Cool lens. In case anybody's interested, the movie 'Sucker Punch' has a number of highly stylized scenes influenced by steampunk. You know, if you're like me and are too lazy to read books.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @bwet: Thank you very much for reading. It's great to hear you found this informative :D

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @getwellsoon: Me too! I can't believe how drastically steampunk has risen in popularity. Thanks for reading.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @ryokomayuka: I think most people stumble upon steampunk via people who live the fashionable life style or through films. It's becoming really popular in media. Thank you for your comment. Most of the pictures can be found in "Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism" by Jay Strongman, if you like to collect artwork anthologies :)

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @MarcoG: Haha, I'm thrilled your found this lens informative. Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @Hypersapien2: Thank you!

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 5 years ago

          @TrashBoat: SuckerPunch is a great film. From the trailer, you'd think it was purely a steampunk film (I sure did) and perhaps that's because it's the coolest genre Babydoll and her friends explore ;P

          Thank you for reading and commenting. I hadn't thought about suggesting films.

        • Starwrangler LM profile image

          Starwrangler LM 5 years ago

          Great lens, it was wow, just wow. I'll have to reread it again.

        • kovid7 profile image

          kovid7 5 years ago

          Steampunk, han? :D

        • cinefile profile image

          cinefile 5 years ago

          Bravo. This stands head and shoulders above most lenses on any topic.

        • BLouw profile image

          Barbara Walton 5 years ago from France

          I love steampunk. Thanks for gathering together all this good steampunk stuff.

        • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

          C A Chancellor 5 years ago from US/TN

          I haven't read much steampunk but I love the look and concept.

        • profile image

          BeadCatz 5 years ago

          Great lens. I always wondered what the description of steampunk was. I love the look of it and would like to incorporate it into jewelry pieces.

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          Awesome idea for a lens! Very informational...

        • profile image

          seemarahate 5 years ago

          Great information

        • KarenHC profile image

          Karen 5 years ago from U.S.

          I've read a few steampunk short stories and novelettes over the years, and find them fun to read, although for a long time I didn't know about the term "steampunk". You do a great job of explaining what the steampunk genre is.

        • profile image

          katieross 5 years ago

          This lens is so well put together! Great information!

        • kindoak profile image

          kindoak 5 years ago

          Fantastic lens! I love steampunk but haven't really got a grip on exactly why - this lens clears the mystery a bit .)

          I was going to suggest a purple star but saw you already got it. Well done!

        • LadyCharlie profile image

          LadyCharlie 5 years ago

          I really like the steampunk concept...great lens...blessed!

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          Never knew really what steampunk was. I've seen some styles of it around before. This is a pretty cool lens telling the history of it.

        • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

          June Parker 5 years ago from New York

          Love Steampunk and thoroughly enjoyed your writing. *Squid Angel Blessed* and added to "My Squid Angel Blessings for 2012" in the "Books, Poetry & Writing » Writing Tips" neighborhood. In fact, yours is the 1st lens to be featured in this category this year! Whoohoo!

        • floppypoppygift1 profile image

          floppypoppygift1 5 years ago

          I love steampunk art styles. Your guide is a great compendium of how to identify steampunk! Cheers~cb

        • profile image

          nicole-young 5 years ago

          I have really enjoyed the steampunk art style for a while now. Great lens : )

        • agoofyidea profile image

          agoofyidea 5 years ago

          Like you I am writing my steampunk western with only a limited knowledge of steampunk. However, the more I read the more I add to my own story so I am reading more and more. I bookmarked this lens so I can read it again. Blessed.

        • profile image

          anonymous 4 years ago

          Thanks for the lens. Very detailed. I'd disagree with your definition of "speculative fiction," though. As I understood the term, it was basically a re-branding of science fiction and fantasy into a single genre since there's so much crossover anyway. And the "non-literature" stigma that went with both of them.

          Anyone able to clarify for me?

        • WriterJanis2 profile image

          WriterJanis2 4 years ago

          I love your explanation for steampunk. I understand it much better now.

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 4 years ago

          @WriterJanis2: Thank you for the lovely comment! I'm touched you found it helpful. Hopefully it'll be easier to piece things together from here out - I'm still learning too. :D

        • profile image

          anonymous 4 years ago

          Very nicely done explanation of the movement.

          I'd like to add some recommended material to the mix if I may. A free, Steampunk web-serial.

          It's called Orphans of the Celestial Sea, and follows the adventures of Tom Cain and his misfit crew, as they seek to unravel the mysteries surrounding their airship Hecate and the plague of psychosis-inducing Mist which is slowly destroying human civilization.

          Squidoo won't let me post the url, but if you google the title in quotes, it will come up.

          Early reader feedback is overwhelmingly positive, but I'd love to have your help in getting the word out. Here's what readers are saying:

          "ARG! You swine! I must know what happens next!

          Great opening chapter. If you can sustain this pace, you have an absolute winner."

          "Great writing, very much looking forward to more."

          "This was fantastic. I absolutely love the ideas behind it, and the use of accented dialogue was superb. A lot of people can't pull that off but you did it well. Awesome how you combine aspects of steampunk, fantasy, and zombies."

          "Wow! Again, exciting and loads of momentum. I love it."

          "Loving it so far!!! I never read on the computer, I love sitting in bed with a paperback, but I can't stop reading this!"

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 4 years ago

          @anonymous: Thank you for reading and I'm glad you'd like to contribute to my lens. I will look into this web-series you've mentioned, I really appreciate you pointing it out.

        • colgrym profile image

          colgrym 4 years ago

          An absolutely super and erudite job of explanation. I'm a big fan of the steampunk movement in art, design and literature, have been for a few years now but for anyone looking to learn more about it, this lens is fabulous.

          I'd recommend Radio Riel - Steampunk Radio to any fellow steampunk writers out there, something to listen to while writing your next steampunk creation.

          Thanks for a great lens

        • Willow Wood profile image

          Willow Wood 4 years ago

          @colgrym: Oh my goodness! Thanks for such an enthusiastic response. It's always great to hear about how much other people love steampunk in its many forms.

          I've never heard of Radio Riel, thank you very much for telling me about it. I look forward to tuning-in.

          All the best to you on this year's NaNoWriMo challenge! :D

        • TreasuresBrenda profile image

          Treasures By Brenda 4 years ago from Canada

          I've been learning about steampunk -- first simply with understanding it, LOL.

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