Steampunk – What’s Your Poison?

Browse any list of steampunk books currently available and you’ll find strong links to pretty much every existing genre. Horror, romance, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi; all are wanting to adopt this jazzy, historical-esque creation for their own. Is there a more mutable genre right now?

I’m not a steampunk expert by any means. As a literary genre, it’s difficult to pin down. As a subculture, it’s cool and amusing, but not something I would get heavily involved in. But I’ve been quietly following its upturn in popularity over the past couple of years, biding my time for the right moment to take the plunge. Too soon and my take wouldn’t be wild enough; too late and, who knows, paranormal romance might have won the monopoly on steampunk.

You see, I’m kinda fond of the old-school aspects of this genre.

To me, steampunk is a wonderful opportunity to combine my two favourite genres: sci-fi and Victorian fiction. I grew up devouring Wells, Verne, and Conan Doyle. My favourite adventure writer of all time is H. Rider Haggard, who admittedly has nothing at all to do with steampunk; but his stories epitomize the broad horizons, the sense of hope and discovery I nostalgically associate with Victorian speculative fiction. Those genre grandfathers are my inspiration, the reason I sat down and wrote The Mysterious Lady Law, my upcoming steampunk debut at Carina. I just love the idea of an alternate Victorian history seen through the eyes of that era’s thwarted science. Giant, steam-powered burrowing machines a la E.R. Burroughs’s iron mole from At the Earth’s Core; glistening airships; steam-powered cars and weapons and weird bicycle inventions; vast telescopes making startling cosmic dicoveries: excuse me while I geek out and fling my bowler hat at the chimney.

Right now, fantasy is prevalent in much of the steampunk I see, and that’s terrific too. I love the zombies in Boneshaker, The Iron Duke, and the hideously deformed sky pirates in Full Steam Ahead. Bonnie Dee’s automatons in Like Clockwork (also at Carina) cleverly usher the industrial revolution into science fiction. Many of the current crop of steampunk books incorporate romance, which goes hand in hand with the Victorian era. My own novella is predominantly a mystery, with plenty of action and a dash of romance. Indeed, steampunk crosses so many genres now, and does it so effortlessly, I think it’s outgrown the original definitions of the genre. Authors’ individual passions are crafting some truly fascinating genre hybrids. And this is the most exciting time to be a steampunk writer.

What’s in it for readers? Well, what blows your skirt up? The weird and wonderful world of steampunk is spreading its clockwork wings, and there’s something for everyone. My advice is: take it one book at a time, and don’t be afraid to dabble in genres you’re unfamiliar with. There are gems to be found in the unlikeliest of places. The goggles, corsets and dirigibles might be constant, but no two steampunk books will be the same.

What’s your poison?



  1. I think this genre is outgrowing its original definition and it’s great to see that growth. Like you, I love the concept of alternative Victorian history. That moment in time when the industrial revolution was gaining steam (ha!).
    But when it comes down to it, I think what attracts me to Steampunk is that combination of gadgetry, in-depth world building, and the twist. I’m a sucker for taking something known & twisting it to something else.
    Can’t wait to read The Mysterious Lady Law & am looking forward to the mystery elements.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ella Drake. Ella Drake said: Today on Contact-Infinite Futures: Steampunk – What's Your Poison?: by @robertappleton […]

  3. Steampunk… for someone who loves both sci-fi and history, you’d think it would be a natural fit for me, and yet, I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Not really sure why. The concept is fascinating, and I like all the elements, but I haven’t actually read one yet *gasp*. I also love a good mystery, so I’ll have to check yours out. 🙂

  4. I think, soon enough, it’ll just be its own genre rather than being stocked with Sci-Fi or fantasy. I just love how imaginative it is — a smattering of old West or Victorian culture, some alternate history, a bit of proto (or maybe retro) sci-fi. . . and it all works.

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