Tuesday, June 21, 2011

steampunk novels

I would like to throw a word in here about steampunk as a genre of literature.

Although enthusiasts cite such works of literature as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as the first true steampunk novels, the term itself is a relatively recent label to these books.

image source: My Handbound Books - Bookbinding Blog
Steampunk's creation as a subculture goes back to the 1980s, when writers such as Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter wrote stories that essentially took place in a Victorian setting and incorporated aspects of Victorian sci-fi such as time travel, clockwork automatons, and airships.  Jeter is actually the individual credited with creating the term "steampunk" for this genre of Victorian science fiction, fantasy, and romance that has become the fashion, music, movie, design, and literature enriched subculture it is today.

Some titles with heavy steampunk influences include the following:

Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Homunuclus by James Blaylock
Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
The Prestige by Christopher Priest
The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul DiFillipo 
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill  
The Prophecy Machine by Neal Barrett Jr.
Mainspring by Jay Lake
Extraordinary Engines (a collection of steampunk short stories) edited by Nick Gevers
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
Soulless by Gail Carriger
What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel written by Maggie Killjoy, founder of Steampunk Magazine

There are also steampunk romance novels out there, such as Katie MacAlister's Steamed: A Steampunk Romance

As sad as it is for me to admit, I have never read a steampunk novel.  As I have mentioned before, I had never even heard of steampunk until I started this blog back in September 2009.  Most of my reading consists of hefty history books and Victorian literature, but not the steampunk "classics" by Verne and Wells.  I have read Frankenstein twice, but the connection between Shelley's gothic horror tale and steampunk is the weakest out of the three 19th century writers I listed as having elements of steampunk in it.

image source: Black Wyvern Books
The reason I haven't read these novels is that modern literature just doesn't really appeal to me. The vocabulary used is often too simplistic for my tastes and chapters are shortened, text enlarged and margins widened to make people feel like they really read a 400 page book in three days, when they really read a 150 page book in that same amount of time.  They just feel like cheap tricks to get readers to believe that a crappy book is a real work of art.

So here's my question to the readers- should I, as a blogger, ditch the literary snobbery and divulge in some modern reading of the 19th century kind in order to round out the topics that I cover on this blog?  I for one wouldn't mind reading The Golden Compass.  I could easily divide my reading between steampunk novels and my beloved Victorian literature and history books. 

Currently on my reading queue are the following:

Mayhew's London by Henry Mayhew
The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Using Your Brain for a Change by Richard Bandler

So not too long of a list for me.  Mayhew's London will probably be done in two weeks as it's such a fascinating read- I'm already a quarter of the way through it.  The Valley of Fear will be one of of those books that I'll read to my boyfriend as he paints his historical miniatures.  I will save The Fountainhead for my two-week vacation, as the book's print and margins are so small that this 600-page novel will actually not be a burden to carry through East Europe.  I did want to save The Idiot for that purpose, but that book is much heftier and may be more of a pain to keep in my backpack.  Using Your Brain for a Change is a book on neuro-linguistic programming techniques - not a normal choice for myself to consider, but it was highly recommended to me by a friend.

I could sprinkle in a few steampunk novels with these books I suppose, but that will mean that reviews on the Victorian literature ones will not be as prevalent on this blog.  Like you all really need me to read and review books that are at least 100 years old and have been reviewed umpteen times before. :)


  1. Yes, but do yourself a favor and don't read 'Steamed' (my thoughts) as there are other, better steampunky romance novels (recently I read 'The Iron Duke' by Meljean Brook).

    Another title you might want to consider is Scott Westerfeld's 'Leviathan'. It's written for the young adult audience so may be heavier in your modern-novel irritations, but I loved it.

    I'm assuming that you know about the Steampunk Scholar blog, if not, you might want to look at his reviews to get an idea of what titles will work best for you.

    [I'm a relatively new follower so I don't "know you" all the well so feel free to take all of this with a grain of salt]

  2. I'm currently reading Soulless by Gail Carriger and its great so far. I don't know if it is the kind of book you would enjoy but it is interesting!

  3. @ karen! - No, thank you for the wonderful suggestions! I will look up the Steampunk Scholar Blog, as that sounds absolutely fascinating!

    @jessieann13 - "Soulless" did sound like one of the more interesting of the novels, so I will definitely give that a try.

  4. I'm also reading Gail Carriger's series (I'm just on #2) and am liking it: light with a lot of personality.

  5. Yes! Yes! Yes! Ditch the literary snobbery! You won't regret it. If you like, think of the 'other' novels as 'inbetween' reads. You also need to add China Mieville to your list - not strictly Steampunk, but definitely worthwhile - and even somewhat literary!

  6. I loved the His Dark Materials series by Phllip Pullman. The Golden Compass novel is much better than the movie (isn't that usually the way).