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Steampunk

What is Steampunk?

Steampunk is an imaginative and fun sub-genre that gets its name from the technology it features: steam powered machinery. This sub-genre started very small in the late 1980's and has grown into a larger cultural and artistic movement including fashion. The central tenant is that the literature, technology, and fashion of the 19th and 20th centuries is more durable and aesthetically pleasing than the disposable counter parts of today. Generally, Steampunk takes place in Victorian England, or someplace very similar, where steam power has revolutionized all aspects of life and lead to unprecedented developments in science and society. The Sci Fi stories of Steampunk re-images the capabilities of modern technology through a Victorian lens by blending alternate history and Sci Fi.

Steampunk celebrates the work of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells by recapturing its spirit. While Steampunk may have started as a Sci Fi sub-genre, other genre elements of Fantasy and Romance are included.

You can view the crowd-ranked "Popular" Steampunk Science Fiction books list and vote and/submit entries to it.

Note that Steampunk crossed the boundry between Science Fiction and Fantasy, often featuring elements of both genres. Some Steampunk might be more fantasy than science fiction and vice versa. For fantasy steampunk, check out bestfantasybooks.com's Best Steampunk Fantasy Books lists.

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Other Features of Steampunk

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  • Level of Real Science

    Minimal. While technology is an important component to Steampunk, it does tend to ignore scientific plausibility. For example the retro-futuristic technology found in the worlds of Jules Verne, like the phonotelephote invention. The telephote uses mirrors and wires to transport not only speech but images much like a video phone—it is a very well described technology, but it's construction is not very plausible.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    Low-moderate. Steampunk has a kind of philosophy, one that celebrates creativity, self-reliance, and has an optimistic view of the future. However, Steampunk does not usually (there are exceptions) delve into the exploration of grand ideas.

  • Level of Characterization

    Low-moderate. Steampunk is a very visual sub-genre and there is a strong emphasis on world-building. As a result, characterization often takes a backseat. There are several types of characters that pop up in Steampunk stories: the gentleman, the rebel, the adventurer, the mad scientist.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Low-moderate (with exceptions). The emphasis on world-building can make Steampunk plots a bit weak. That said, Steampunk can also have adventurous stories involving mystery and intrigue that make for an engaging plot line.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. Steampunk has a sense of optimism that isn't always forayed by violence. However, the Steampunk world is one where cool weapons are invented, where pirates raid ships, and where empires are built and defended.

Related Science Fiction subgenres

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    Cyberpunk. Both Cyberpunk and Steampunk build worlds that are focused on a single technology. For Cyberpunk it's the computer, and for Steampunk it is steam power.

  • Alternate History. Much of Steampunk takes place in Victorian England, at a time that is considered a turning point in history and so presents one of the ways history could have gone.

  • Voyages Extraordinaires. Steampunk hails back to the fantastical Voyages Extraordinaires of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells which captures that grand spirit of adventure and exploration. As such, SOME steampunk may feature some or many of these elements of exploration and adventure.

  • Retro-Futurism. There is sometimes a relationship between steampunk and retro-futurism subgenres in that one may use the other; that is some retro future tales might incorporate steam machinery as a future technology. Retro-Futurism might hail back to a re-imagined alternate world where steam-power powers the future. This hearkening back to a past time of steam technology to re-imagine the future with it.

Steampunk isn't for you if...

If you prefer sleek technology and dislike anachronistic technology. If you dislike an emphasis on gadgets.

Popular Steampunk Science Fiction
  • 1 The Anubis Gate


    By Tim Powers. An award winning novel that has time travel, historical figures, Egyptian mythology, and 19th century England.

  • 2 Homunculus


    By James P. Blaylock. In 19th century London a dead man pilots an airship, also carp, zombies, evangelists, an alien in a jar, what more could you need? This novel is the second in its series and is a humorous adventure.

  • 3 Infernal Devices


    By K.W. Jeter. A Steampunk original, the protagonist inherits a watchmaker's store and subsequently goes on an adventure of mystery, time travel, and music.

  • 4 The Difference Engine


    By William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Set in Victorian England this is a novel that is part detective story and part spy thriller. The novel posits a world where the computer age begins 100 years sooner.

  • 5 Leviathan


    By Scott Westerfeld. The first of a series, this novel takes place at the cusp of WWI in a world divided into Clankers (those who have built their societies on machines and technology) and Darwinists (who have used genetics to modify animals in order to make them more useful).

  • 6 Boneshaker


    By Cherie Priest. Steampunk inventions, zombies, gold digging, air pirates, and even a bit of mini-apocalypse, this novel has a vivid setting and a fascinating adventure.

  • 7 Girl Genius


    By Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio and Brian Snoddy A graphic novel series that follows a female protagonist trying to become a mad scientist in a world where mad science is the name of the game and has an almost magical quality.

  • 8 His Dark Materials


    By Philip Pullman. A trilogy of young adult novels where science, theology, and magic are intertwined.

  • 9 Steampunk


    By Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. An anthology of Steampunk stories that highlight Steampunk's imaginative side, featuring writers such as Neal Stephenson, Michael Chabon, James Baylock, Michael Moorcock, and Joe R. Lansdale.

  • 10 The Affinity Bridge


    By George Mann. Mystery in Victorian London—this story combines airships, automatons, steam power, and even zombies for a fun adventure.