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The World Will Be Saved by Steam! (Steampunk, That Is)

Symphony in mahogany, brass and polished steelLast month I surveyed predictive fiction from the past.  This month, we're turning that concept upside-down with a look at contemporary SF set in a past that never quite was: the genre-bending category known as "steampunk."  Steampunk (the word is modelled after "cyberpunk") got its start in the 1980s, but its roots lie firmly in the Victorian era, harkening back to the scientific fiction and world-spanning adventure novels of the likes of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. Rider Haggard (of Allan Quatermain fame). 

The age of steampunk is a time of industry and promise; the electronic age hasn't yet happened, and mechanical gadgetry and steam power are the cutting-edge technologies of the day.  The world moves at the heady speed of locomotive and dirigible, but one still has the time to appreciate style and hand-craftsmanship (and, of course, fine manners).  It is an age balanced between science and mysticism: monsters yet lurk in the dark corners of the world, and wonders await those brave enough to discover them.  There is a fascination with the workings of the natural (and the unnatural) world, and with what might lie beyond.  (Oh, and an odd predilection for cephalopods.)

I've always been a sucker for historical fiction of any kind (alternative history included), but there's something about steampunk that appeals to me particularly.  Maybe it's the way it effortlessly blends my favorite genres-- science fiction?  But of course.  Fantasy?  A touch of horror?  The occult can be anywhere, and dragons get along marvellously well with a steam-powered universe (although, if technology is not central to the plot, this is usually referred to by the related category of "gaslamp fantasy"*).  Romance?  Mystery?  Adventure?  Yes, please!  But perhaps it's the air of possibility that really captivates me-- with innovation as their watchword, what characters can achieve is only limited to what they can imagine.  Not only do they "think outside the box" (a lovely teakwood box, with brass fittings, I should imagine), they take an active hand in reshaping their world as it changes around them.  I think that's a skill-- and an attitude-- that more of us could use in real life. 

Now then... has anyone seen my book?  I was certain I left it right here, beside my parasol and flying goggles....

The inspiration:

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (SF Doyle)
Allan Quatermain: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard (Fiction Haggard)
20,000 Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne (SF Verne)
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (SF Wells)

Steampunk (and some gaslamp fantasy) fiction:

Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers (PbkFantasy Akers)
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (Fantasy Barnes)
The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives by James P. Blaylock (SF Blaylock)
Scar Night by Alan Campbell (Fantasy Campbell)
Soulless by Gail Carriger (PbkFantasy Carriger)
Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo (SF Di Filippo)
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (SF Gibson)
Gears of the City by Felix Gilman (Fantasy Gilman)
Viriconium by M. John Harrison (SF Harrison)
Johannes Cabal the Detective by Jonathan L. Howard (Horror Howard) (COMING SOON!)
The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt (Fantasy Hunt)
The Narrows by Alexander C. Irvine (Fiction Irvine)
Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett (Fantasy Jones)
Mainspring by Jay Lake (Fantasy Lake)
Steamed by Katie MacAlister (PbkRomance MacAlister)
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (SF Mieville)
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (YA Oppel)
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (Fantasy Powers)
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Horror Priest)
Clementine by Cherie Priest (SF Priest)
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (YA Reeve)
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (Fantasy Sedia)
Steampunk by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (SF Steam)
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (YA Westerfeld)
Android Karenina by Ben H. Winters and Leo Tolstoy (SF Winters)

Graphic novels:

Full Metal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (YA GN Arakawa)
Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne & the Beetleburg Clank by Phil and Kaja Foglio (YA GN Girl Genius)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill (741.5973 Moore)


Castle in the Sky (Laputa)  (J DVD #5258 C - anime)
The City of Lost Children  (DVD #6701 - foreign)
The Prestige  (DVD #7545)
Steamboy  (DVD #5057 - anime)
The Time Machine (2002)  (DVD Time #745)
Sherlock Holmes (2010)  (DVD #11839)

* For a further discussion of steampunk-- what it is and what it's not-- check out The Book Smugglers' blog entry, "Bloggers Talk Steampunk."  Tor.com's "Steampunk Month" (referred to in the comments) was celebrated Oct. 2009.

An added bonus for reading the footnotes: Steampunk computing machines

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