Our guest today is Val Roberts. Her science fiction debut, Blade's Edge, spent many weeks at the top of Samhain's best-seller list. Welcome, Val!
My friend Clarissa asked me to stop by today and say a few words about the up-and-coming genre Steampunk, which is basically historical science fiction. Sometimes Steampunk has paranormal elements, but very gadget-centric. Examples include the movies Wild, Wild West, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Sherlock, Van Helsing and even The Golden Compass.
The word “steampunk” was coined in the middle 1980s to describe a branch of alternate-history speculative fiction, just about the same time William Gibson popularized “cyberpunk” with the novel Neuromancer. Steampunk isn’t necessarily dystopian the way cyberpunk is, however; it’s more interested in airships, brass goggles, and giant gears.
In Steampunk worlds, beloved Victoria Regina is safe in London and nothing to do with the problem at hand, which might be a giant squid menacing the Strait of Gibraltar, or how Jack The Ripper escaped from a locked room at Scotland Yard, never to kill again. Government isn’t corrupt, and often tasks the lead character with the investigation into the initial situation.
And then there are the gadgets—giant mechanical spider transport, anyone? Or a submarine powered by giant brass coal-fed boilers, then, if spiders aren’t to your taste? I always wondered where they got the oxygen to burn the coal underwater.
Whatever a writer’s imagination can come up with given the constraints of Victorian-era science and technology is a viable steampunk gadget. They don’t even have to be practical; these were the people who put skirts on piano legs, after all.
Steampunk has spread beyond its literary beginnings, too. You can find steampunk jewelry, steampunk fashion, steampunk online role-playing games, steampunk blogs and conventions.
A few misguided souls have suggested that works by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can be counted as Steampunk titles, which is roughly equivalent to confusing a 1914 Detroit Electric Car sedan with a 2010 Toyota Prius. Those venerable authors were writing ordinary speculative fiction during the age of steam (actually, they were inventing the genre, but that’s a topic for another time).
If you’re interested in reading a few books to see if you like the genre, I can recommend The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook, Steamed! by Katie McCallister, while Samhain Publishing (my publisher) has a whole series of Steampunk novellas.