Steam punk books come in various styles, with many different themes and plots. This literary sub-genre is hard to classify as the definition is often more to do with aesthetics than the actual plot or atmosphere of an individual novel. K. W. Jeter introduced the term “steampunk” in 1987 as a tongue-in-cheek variation in the cyberpunk movement. The steam part of this genre comes from the fact that most of these tales are based in pseudo-Victorian societies where steam power is the technological norm.
Victorian texts by such novelists as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells preempted many aspects and ideas that comprise a typical steampunk story. Real and imaginary eccentric lone inventors like Brunel and Babbage are illustrations of real-life innovative individuals to materialize in the dark fantasies and offbeat sci-fi of this kind. Fantastic Victoriana is a common thread running through many steampunk tapestries.
Cherie Priest is hailed as the “high priestess” of cyberpunk novelists. Founded in a varied 1880s USA, her “Boneshaker” observes the complex relationship between a representative parent and a teenage son. Fast-paced escapades and exploits, distinctive characters and nifty weapons come together in this account of the chaos of the American Civil War. Priest’s books in the “Clockwork Century” sequence feature wicked scientists and cannibalistic zombies in a thrilling and impish confection of science fiction, horror, fantasy and history.
“Howl’s Moving Castle” by the master story-teller Diana Wynne Jones is a delightful saga of the youthful Sophie Hatter altered into an aged woman by magical forces. Jones relates Sophie’s travels attempting to find a means of changing back. Demons, witches, wizards and a weird moving castle generate a steampunk environment.
The multi-award winning “The Anubis Gates”(1983) by Tim Powers is thought of as a founding work throughout the genre. It is easily-accessible and loved by fans of fantasy and science fiction for its imagination and quirky characters, including the poet, Lord Byron. The plot involves an attempt to restore the ancient Egyptian gods to power. Another “must read” for anyone wanting a more complete understanding of this genre is Neal Stephenson’s 1995 offering “The Diamond Age; Or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer”, set in a post cyber-punk future of neo-Victorian society awash with nano-technology.
Films such as “The League of Extaordinary Gentlemen”, video games like Final Fantasy and War of the Worlds, music videos and concept albums, as well as role-playing games including SteamCraft and Space 1889 all fall into the steampunk grouping. There are also many comics and graphic novels. “The Edgeworld Chronicles” are children’s steampunk fare.
The influences of Lovecraft, Stoker and Shelley are readily identifiable in these works. Jeter’s “Morlock Night” pays direct homage to “The Time Machine”. Subdivisions of this genus include steampunk-romance and steampunk-mystery.
R. L. Stephenson. H. P. Lovecraft and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all played key roles in the growth of the stylish speciality of steampunk books. The preeminent of these masterworks are likely to become modern-day classics. All kinds of themes and plots combine to create questions both philosophical and meta-physical.