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What is Steampunk?
Simply put, Steampunk is a genre of science fiction that encompasses modern-day technology and societal issues, but is set in Victorian-era places. From thrillers to romance novels, Steampunk is a flexible genre that appeals primarily to science fiction or fantasy readers, although it straddles genre lines enough to draw in fans of all kinds. There’s just something so appealing about imagining a modern-day, technologically advanced world with a romantic old-fashioned twist, which is precisely why this genre has exploded in popularity. And it’s not just literature, either. Steampunk has become a way of life for some people–it’s a musical genre, fashion statement, and even a way to make a living for the most talented artists and clothiers.
But since I’m an author, I’m going to focus on the literary aspects of this genre. So without further ado, let’s dive into the kinds of Steampunk novels you can find wherever books are sold.
It’s not just cogs and wheels. Seriously.
Many Steampunk authors and artists set their work in Victorian England, primarily in London. But this doesn’t have to be so. There’s Steampunk set in the Wild West in America (try Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences), under the ocean (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), and in time travel stories (Dr. Who, of course!), as well as a variety of other fascinating places. There are some people who assume that Steampunk just means fancy, old-fashioned clothes and technology with a couple of gears thrown in for good measure. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Any author worth their salt will come up with a world that will draw the reader in, focusing on a wide range of plot twists and quirky characters. These characters tend to all have one thing in common–they go against convention, and they do so gladly. But this brings up a concern for some fans who argue that the -punk suffix is misattributed to weak, watered-down storylines. However, I think there’s a number of ways one can approach this topic.
Putting the “Punk” in Steampunk
Many Steampunk works take place in dystopian or gritty, segregated societies. The characters are often a band of misfits that fight against convention and “big brother” type governments, and that always makes for a story rife with struggle, romance, life and death issues, and all those other good things that keep you turning page after page. This fits the classic definition of “punk” pretty well. But I don’t think that’s the only way to honor the “punk” theme. The story could be a little more light-hearted, with characters who are pushing the envelope in their own small way. It could be an action-adventure with fantasy elements–say, a group that travels to exotic places and goes treasure hunting in tombs or ancient ruins, only to uncover a secret hidden for centuries. Or maybe you just want to write about a strapping gentleman or resourceful lady who works as a pirate to get rich and live as he or she pleases! These aren’t necessarily “punk” story elements, but I don’t think everything has to be so serious to be classified as such.
There you have it. If you have any other ideas of what makes Steampunk so great and diverse, please leave them in the comments. And then go out there and find a Steampunk book to read–just be prepared to get sucked into a literary genre that you won’t be able to get enough of.