Steam Away

soulless_coverI don’t know about you, but I am sick – sick sick sick – of Regencies and paranormals.  I’m not the only one: Lynn wants Italy, I want France, and LinnieGayl wants post-WWI.  But we’re saying much the same thing – we want something different.

So the imminent ballooning of steampunk comes as a breath of fresh…steam.  (It may have come into prominence during the 80s and 90s, according to Wikipedia, but to me, it’s new.)  This genre mixes different elements together – sci-fi-ish technology, occasional fantasy elements, usually an alternate historical setting, and a mystery or romance or two – and the combination is absolutely irresistible.

I first encountered steampunk in the form of Gail Carriger’s Soulless, the beginning of her wonderful Parasol Protectorate.  It’s perhaps steampunk at its “purest,” in that it remains confined to an alternate Victorian setting, and features steam machinery, dirigibles, and many gadgets that could have arisen from the technological advances of the time.  That it has a mystery and romance is an added bonus.

Then I read Katie MacAlister’s Steamed (which is “traditional” steampunk combined with the author’s trademark humour), and M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star and Dru Pagliassotti’s Clockwork Heart.  This is where things got complicated: The Native Star has steam-powered machinery, but the driving force in Ms. Hobson’s alternate America is magic, not technology (although she briefly mentions conflicts between the scientific and magical worlds).  As for Clockwork Heart (a good book and unfortunately out of print), my best stab would be to call it speculative fiction.  Because it really isn’t anything else.

Surveying the Internet, I find it difficult to pinpoint steampunk, and others seem to have the same trouble.  Some books get mentioned repeatedly, like the above, as well as Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke and Zoe Archer’s Blades of the Roses series (both of which I haven’t read).  Others defy reasoning – Frankenstein, as steampunk?  Nuh-uh.

But of the ones I’ve read, this is what they have in common: They ask the age-old question of “What if”, and answer the question compellingly and plausibly.  What if the Victorians had worked with and accepted vampires and werewolves?  What if there was a society that used a giant steam-powered machine to predict caste?

The answer, apparently, lies in the fertile imaginations of our steampunk authors.  Years from now, I’ll be able to nod sagely to grasshoppers and intone, “Yup. I was there when it happened.”  But until then, all I can do is read.  And I’ll do it very happily.

What do you think is considered steampunk?  Have you read any steampunk novels?

- Jean AAR

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21 Responses to Steam Away

  1. PatW says:

    Interesting that you ask this question on a Romance Blog site. I will be fascinated to see the opinions gathered here. One of my favorite Sci-Fi authors (Steve Miller of Lee&Miller fame) asked the same question on his blog some time ago. The answers from a sci-fi genre readership are bound to be different, Here is the discussion

    Sorry – don’tknow how to make the link live.

  2. LynnD says:

    I have read both Meljean Brook’s Iron Duke and Zoe Archer’s Blades of the Rose. I really enjoyed both of these series; however, I would not classify the Blades of the Rose Series as Steampunk – it’s more like Indiana Jones meets an alternate Victorian era, with magic (great stuff). The Iron Duke is definitely Steampunk and it’s fabulous. I think that for a book to be “Steampunk”, it should focus on the “steam technology” and it’s effects, not magic. I enjoy the blending of magic and technology, but I do not think that these should be called Steampunk. FWIW, Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic is fabulous – but it isn’t Steampunk. If you can find them, Paula Volsky’s books (Illusion, Gates of Twilight, The White Tribunal and The Grand Ellipse) are also very good. I also vote for different settings in romance – there is a whole world out there besides regency England and, while I still like some paranormal series, most of them are just to much of the same old same old.

  3. farmwifetwo says:

    If you want post WWI and aren’t fussy on genre there are mysteries set in this time.

    I do recommend Laurie R King’s Holmes/Russell series. Starts with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

    Blades of the Rose… not on my recommend list unless you like a lot of sex, a lot of thinking about sex, interspersed with running for your lives and battles against good and evil.

  4. Carrie says:

    I agree with LynnD, The Iron Duke is definitely steampunk. In fact, it’s steampunk romance at its best. There are many steampunk novels, but most would not fit the romance genre because of a lack of HEA. I’ve read yesterday that Clockwork Heart had an HEA, but my husband who read it recently, said definitely not a romance type HEA. He did say it was an awesome book, and also recommended Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. But again, those are sci-fi steampunk, not romance.

    • C.J. Archer says:

      Carrie: There are many steampunk novels, but most would not fit the romance genre because of a lack of HEA.

      I agree, there’s lots of steampunk books but few of them are romances. Definitely Meljean Brooke’s The Iron Duke is the one that comes to mind. The Blades of the Rose series are not steampunk in my opinion. For non romance I’d try Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker – great story. But bring on more steampunk romance!

  5. Carrie says:

    And if you want to see what it looks like to cross country music with steampunk take a look at this:
    Incredible Machine
    and Wide Open

    I went to see Sugarland’s Incredible Machine tour last fall, and in 40 years of concert going, theirs was one of the most fun, most energetic concerts of any genre I’ve seen. The stage was wonderful, larger and with more stuff than you see in this video.

    A good example of visual steampunk is The Wild, Wild West, either the old TV show or the somewhat newer movie.

  6. AARPat says:

    Count me in as one of those who loved The Iron Duke. I haven’t checked lately to see if the sequel is out yet or not.

    As for other steampunk, so much of it is sci-fi that I haven’t gone past Iron Duke. I’ve tried to read the sci-fi but what I’ve read seems to be a rip-off of Philip K. Dick, but not nearly as well written.

  7. Ellen AAR says:

    Jacqueline Winspear has a wonderful mystery series in post WW I England. It’s the Masie Dobbs series and I love it!!

    As for steampunk. I remember watching the old TV series The Wild, Wild West back when I was much younger. I’d call it early steampunk. James West and Artemus Gordon had such wonderful hi-tech (for the time) toys.

  8. maggie b. says:

    I don’t think of the Blades of the Rose as steampunk. They rely heavily on magic. There is no cool steam technology that I recall in them.

    maggie b.

  9. Carla Kelly says:

    You know, you’re not the only ones tired of Regencies. Nuff said.

  10. xina says:

    Besides the Carriger novels….Avalon Revisited by O.M. Grey. The hero is a vampire, brother to Henry VIII. It takes place in Victorian London, with a zeppelin as the meeting place of the h/h. Pretty good story, some nice love scenes (or smut as a reviewer on Amazon calls them…not). The prose is a little choppy, but I think the author has a lot of potential. I’m hoping for the 2nd book with the same h/h. Only 2.99 for the Kindle edition!

  11. Nathalie T says:

    Steampunk isn’t my cup of tea (I don’t ike Sci-Fi either). When I’m ocationally tired of Regency Romance or Paranormals I read Mystery novels or manga/manhwa.

  12. Melanie says:

    There is a YA series by Scott Westerfield – Leviathan and its sequel Behemoth – that is really interesting Steampunk. It is basically WWI if the Austrians focused on mechanicals (referred to as Clankers) and the British were Darwinists (creating fabricated beasts).

  13. Oh, I love, love, love steampunk! Thanks for this post.

    To define a very complex subgenre in a simple way that hardly does it justice, core elements of steampunk include:

    * Steam power
    * Alternate history settings (mostly Victorian/Edwardian era England)
    * SF/Fantasy elements
    * Devices that reflect the period but are ahead of their time (e.g., difference engines, airships, etc.)

    Steampunk also involves lots of thought-provoking themes.

    I’ve read many of the steampunk romances currently available, and am working my way through more of them. I can’t get enough.

    Here’s a list of the steampunk romances (those based on science rather than magic) currently available to the best of my knowledge:

    CLOCKWORK HEART (Dru Pagliassotti)
    FULL STEAM AHEAD (Nathalie Gray)
    MECHANICAL ROSE (Nathalie Gray)
    WILD CARDS AND IRON HORSES (the only western steampunk romance I’ve come across so far)
    HERE THERE BE MONSTERS (Meljean Brook, from the BURNING UP anthology)
    THE IRON DUKE (Meljean Brook)
    SKY RAT (Angelia Sparrow)
    STEAMED (Katie MacAlister)
    ISLAND OF ICARUS (Christine Danse)
    THE MIRACULOUS LADY LAW (Robert Appleton; steampunk mystery w/ romantic elements)
    SILK, STEELE AND STEAM (steampunk romance anthology from Samhain)
    LIKE CLOCKWORK (Bonnie Dee)
    TANGLED IN TIME (Pauline Baird Jones, part of her KEY series)

    Having read SOULLESS, I consider it paranormal romance with steampunk elements. Gail Dayton’s NEW BLOOD, to me, read like alternate historical fantasy with steampunk elements.

    In forthcoming steampunk romance news, DAW Books will release a steampunk romance anthology in 2011. Titled HOT AND STEAMY: TALES OF STEAMPUNK ROMANCE, it’s edited by Jean Rabe and contains stories by authors such as Tobias Buckell.

    L&L Dreamspell has a call for submissions for a steampunk anthology and my sources tell me that one of them will be a steampunk romance. I also heard that one of the stories from their forthcoming erotic anthology will also be steampunk flavored. Here’s the link to the submission guidelines:

    Some of my favorite non-romantic steampunks are:

    THE AFFINITY BRIDGE and its sequel, THE OSIRIS RITUAL by George Mann (both contain very understated romantic elements that I’m hoping will develop more as the series continues. THE AFFINITY BRIDGE is also a great intro to steampunk if you’ve never read it before—lots of mystery, fun action-adventure, and a *great* heroine).
    MAINSPRING (Jay Lake
    THE NARROWS (Alexander Irvine)
    MORTAL ENGINES (Philip Reeve)

    Also, Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer have edited two steampunk anthologies, STEAMPUNK and STEAMPUNK II. I enjoyed the first one very much; the second is currently on my nightstand.

    You can also read the immensely popular GIRL GENIUS online for free:

    Also, Luc Besson’s Les Aventures Extraordinaires D’Adèle Blanc-Sec is a film with steampunk elements (see trailer here:

    Hope that helps!

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  16. I’ve always seen steampunk as a natural extension of the “what if” attitude of the Victorian era added in with a lot of machinery – but no magic. It’s just my take but I think that the machinery takes front and center with plenty of cool gadgets along the way.

    I love The Iron Duke and all of Zoe Archer’s books – but my steampunk is a bit more… boring, I guess. I put the influence down to my spending so much time in Second Life, a virtual world where I hang out with a lot of steampunk people where magic isn’t really the norm.

    Having said that, let me note that I have a steampunk romance out with Samhain Publishing!

    (blatant plug)

    Wild Cards and Iron Horses

    Their love rides on a spring and a prayer…
    During the recent Civil War, a soldier risked his life to save Jonathan Handleston—and lost. With the help of an advanced metal brace on his crippled hand, Jon now travels from one poker tournament to the next, determined to earn enough money to repay the man’s debt.

    Prosperity Ridge is supposed to be the last stop on his quest, but his brace is broken and he needs an engineer to repair the delicate mechanisms. The only one available is Samantha Weatherly, a beautiful anomaly in a world ruled by men.

    Sam is no fool. Jon is no different from any other gambler—except for his amazing prosthetic. Despite a demanding project to win a critical contract to develop an iron horse, she succumbs to the lure of working on the delicate mechanisms. And working with the handsome Englishman.

    Like a spring being coiled, Samantha and Jon are inexorably drawn together. Sam begins to realize honor wears many faces, and she becomes the light at the end of Jon’s journey to redemption. The only monkey wrench is Victor, a rival gambler who will stop at nothing to make sure Jon misses the tournament. Even destroy Jon’s and Sam’s lives.

    Available as an ebook from Amazon, B&N, etc. Coming out in paperback in July 2011!

  17. arnique says:

    Steampunk is so trendy right now that I’m afraid it will go the way of paranormal books: quantity over quality. Of the books you’ve mentioned, the best are Brook’s The Iron Duke and Hobson’s The Native Star. The former is all action and gadgetry and Big Things At Stake while the latter is quieter and more poignant. Enjoyed the world-building that both authors did.

    As for Carriger and Archer, I agree with one of the comments that they are not strictly steampunk but more alternate universe fantasy. However, I think the publishers tried very hard to market them as steampunk. The first Carriger books was cute but the rest were forgettable, and both writers seem to put a lot of tropes, as if they wanted to point out in capital letters ‘oh, look, I’m a steampunk book! Check out my umbrellas and widgets!’. Rather sad I got suckered in by their lovely covers. I tried reading all four of the Archer books, and my interest died out 3/5 of the way in.

    Still, looking forward to more from Brook and Hobson!

  18. evieb says:

    I don’t like steam punk much. I read Iron Duke it was ok but the romance was low key. When I need a break from Regency I read historical novels from other time periods or Romantic Suspense.

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