Monday, 13 February 2012

Why You Should Read | Steampunk

Steampunk: it's slightly more than just (admittedly very cool looking) design, and since you're reading this post, you probably know it's also a subgenre. It's hard to define (and many have tried): it can be a type of alternate history (but doesn't have to be). In fact, by far the easiest is to leave it at this:

Steampunk is more than an aesthetic: it's the setting of cogs, gears, brass and steam, but it's also the attitudes and social conventions of the people found there - frequently a kind of alternate Victorian era. There are novels that are clearly steampunk, and those that are only ambiguously so - Kultus being one of the former; Geist one of the latter.

But one key question is left unanswered (aside from when Datamancer will make another of those all-too-awesome laptops): why should you read it? Let me fill the gap...

- The trappings. There's something very beautiful and uniquely exciting about steampunk's trappings: the brass, cogs, and steam from which its technology is (almost universally) composed. Yes, it's just a fun factor - but let me put this to you: no other subgenre has this many airships. So while the common features of the setting might be fun in themselves, they also lead into sequences that can really only belong to steampunk. If that seems entertaining to you - well, you might want to give this subgenre its chance.

- Intermediacy. Most fantasy is either set in a quasi-European variant of the Medieval period (or at latest Renaissance), or in the modern day (urban fantasy). Steampunk is an interesting midpoint between the two, and allows an interesting mix: no instant communications like UF, but a more developed and industrialised society. Of course, it's also part of speculative fiction. So if a story between urban fantasy and epic doesn't entice you - well, steampunk also mixes in some of the trappings of SF. Giant clockwork robots, anybody?

- Society. Steampunk is generally based on an alternative Victorian period, which is fairly rare in fantasy - and fairly refreshing. It also affects the characters, who will have different prejudices, different attitudes, and different occupations - all of which can lead the plot and characters blissfully far from the usual. Furthermore, economic development also plays a part: in steampunk, more characters can realistically have the time and freedom to take part in the average high-stakes fantasy plot. Of course, the era was still hard on many - but compared to your average serf, there's no contest.

- One final point? Who's writing it - to which the answer would take at least a page. Suffice to say, there's a lot of great authors writing steampunk right now, so why not give it a chance? From Richard Ford's recent debut, Kultus, to the more established series - if you haven't tried steam, there's a lot you could be missing out on.


  1. Thanks so much for your post. Just FYI, I think Datamancer is taking preorders on those amazing laptops! I just happened to be discussing them with a co-worker today!

  2. No problem - steampunk's a great subgenre to read. Oh, wow! Thanks for letting me know (I've always been a big fan of those, in an insanely jealous way :P)

  3. Yeah steampunk is awesome. Airships are great. I really need to read some more steampunk. If you haven't yet, you should check out The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. It's in book form and also movie form...As well as Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

  4. Hm, haven't read the novel - I've seen the film, though. The Windup Girl was fantastic, though: I particularly liked the spring powered technology and the focus on biotech.... Need to reread that, actually! Have you read Kultus?

  5. Steampunk has a lot of limitless "fun" going for it: gadgets, mechanics, mad science/science gone wrong (like in the Mark Hodder books), bio-mechanical things, just so many fun toys to play with!

    a nearly polar opposite to hard SF, I don't feel like I need a PhD to understand the tech that's in a steampunk book.

  6. Yes - and since the technology is impossible, the plot won't focus around its exact mechanics and development (a la hard SF)! I haven't actually read the Mark Hodder books yet, but having glimpsed them... I plan to. They look a lot of fun (just from the volume of steampunk trappings I've seen on the covers and blurbs :P ).

    1. Oh, and I see you achieved victory over the comment system! *Cheers*

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