Steampunk, believe it or not, is a term that has been round since the late 1980s. It is usually defined as a sub-genre of science fiction and features a late 19th century or early 20th century setting, but with steam-powered and clockwork inventions and machines. Steampunk can also be identified as a sub-genre of speculative fiction and is often described as alternate history. Most steampunk novels are set in Victorian England or America, but are also known to be set in the Wild West of America.
Authors to Know
Steampunk is often characterized by the setting of the story and inventions that are fantastical and magical. Steampunk uses a lot of visual descriptions, especially when it comes to the machinery and fashion. Oftentimes, a lot of description will go into how a machine works. Supernatural elements are typically included in a steampunk story. Steampunk plots are adventure-driven stories, where machines play the part of moving the adventure along. Since there is so much action packed into most steampunk novels, the pacing is usually fast.
The characters of steampunk novels are quirky and include inventors, mad scientists, or the like. Characters in steampunk novels also take on the punk mentality. Usually the main character or characters is individualistic often goes against the mainstream, and he or she may be fighting for a cause or movement. Many times the plot of a steampunk novel involves good vs. evil, where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined.
Much of steampunk’s appeal is exploring the fantasy of “what would have happened if..?” Readers enjoy imagining the machines that authors create that function in a time before ours, where the technology of today does not exist. Instead levers, gears, steam, and clockwork are what authors use to create fantastic machines. Steampunk is also a genre where readers can escape and enjoy an alternate history filled with excitement and adventure, eccentric characters, and rich descriptions of setting, fashion, and machinery.
Readers of steampunk are those who enjoy history, science, and/or an action-packed adventure stories. Readers of steampunk are also those who are willing to suspend disbelief. Steampunk appeals to both male and female readers, though not all readers flock to steampunk. Steampunk is not a mainstream genre, but those who read it definitely form a strong attachment to it, and may begin identifying with other aspects of the steampunk culture (the fashion, the maker movement, etc).
The steampunk genre has been thought of as a trend itself. However, it has been around long enough now where many consider it a genre. Trends can include incorporating warfare, romance, and time travel into the plot of a steampunk novel. Currently, many steampunk novels feature feisty female leads.
The Steampunk Bible: an illustrated guide to the world of imaginary airships, corsets and goggles, mad scientists, and strange literature by Jeff Vandermeer with S.J. Chambers (Abrams, 2011).
Read On… Speculative Fiction for Teens by Jamie Kallio (Libraries Unlimited, 2012).
Most major publishers do publish steampunk novels for teens.
- The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
- Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (2014 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults Top Ten, 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
- Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (2011 Teens’ Top Ten)
- The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (2012 Readers’ Choice List)
- Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
- Dearly Departed by Lia Habel
- The Peculiars by Maureen McQuarry (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
- The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge (2012 Readers’ Choice List, 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
- The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
- Steampunk!: an Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
- Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (2005 Printz Honor Book, 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2005 Best Books for Young Adults, 2007 Selected Audiobooks, 2006 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2005 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers)
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (2000 Audiobooks for Young Adults)
- Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (2004 Best Books for Young Adults)
- The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
- The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
- Corsets & Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances edited by Trisha Telep
- Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (2011 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2011 Top Ten Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2010 Best Books for Young Adults)
– Colleen Seisser, currently reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls