Posted By J Kuhl on May 25, 2010
Steampunk is more than flaunting that bustle or tipping your top hat; it’s a movement that started off on the page. Unlike other subcultures like goth, punk, and emo, which sprung from music, Steampunk has its roots firmly in literature. Anyone interested in reading up on Steampunk works has a range of literary choices.
First, there are the nineteenth and early twentieth century classics that have inspired Steampunk, such as Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, H.G. Welles The Time Machine, H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories, or Pride and Prejudice san the zombies. Then there’s the category “proto-Steampunk” a.k.a those modern sci-fi books that came before K.W. Jeter coined the word Steampunk in 1986: examples include Michael Moorcock’s Nomad of the Time Stream series, Jeter’s Morlock Night, Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates. And, don’t forget the watershed novel that jumpstarted the subgenre: William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine.
Well, I’m not going to talk about any of those. While they’re all great reads, Steampunk lit’s growth is on the rise with emerging talent. Below are my top five must-reads in Steampunk subgenre today. So grab your mono-goggle and take a gander at the list below:
by Phil & Kaja Foglio
Girl Genius has become a cornerstone of modern Steampunk fiction. Created in 2000 by the talented couple Phil and Kaja Foglio, Girl Genius follows the mad science adventures of Agatha Heterodyne, the last known heir of a legendary family who discovers that she has the Spark—that is, the hereditary ability to become a scientific genius at the cost of sanity. Agatha learns how to control her abilities as a Spark while at odds with the many people who want to control her power and her family’s legacy. The creators refer to the comic as “gaslamp fantasy” to address the more fantastical elements of Girl Genius, but many fans admit that GG was their gateway drug into Steampunk. Oh, and did I mention that the comic has won one Hugo Award and is nominated for its second?
by Gail Carringer
Soulless is Jane Austen meets Buffy—a witty, fun read that expands Steampunk horizons to include vampires and werewolves in Victorian England. The feisty protagonist Alexia Tarabotti doesn’t fit into proper English society, being unmarried, half-Italian, and without a soul. Not many people know about the last part though, and being soulless is an unusual power that renders the supernaturals of London powerless at Alexia’s touch. But when a string of newborn vampires start appearing (and disappearing), supernatural society starts pointing fingers at her. What’s a young woman to do? Take out her trusty parasol, hitch up her skirts, and find out the answer herself, of course (with the help of a handsome Scottish werewolf to boot!)
by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett
An alternative history cleverly conceived and designed with wonderful coffee table treatment, Boilerplate delves into the life and times of the world’s first mechanical soldier. Boilerplate was designed in 1893 by Archibald Campion with the aid of close friends and inventors Edward Fullerton and Nikola Tesla and unveiled at the World’s Columbian Exposition. From there, Boilerplate is taken on various adventures around the world from the Boxer Rebellion in China to an Arctic exploration to encounters with famous folk like Pancho Villa, Theodore Roosevelt and Lawrence of Arabia. Boilerplate succeeds in accomplishing a sense of verisimilitude with various “real” photographs and period art featuring the intrepid robot. Moreover, the book addresses the very real marginalized histories of women and minorities that, like Boilerplate’s own “history,” had been lost to time.
The Alchemy of Stone
by Ekaterina Sedia
Sedia’s Steampunk fantasy fable is about Mattie, the mechanical girl who can see the world with all-too-human eyes. Mattie is a “free” sentient automaton, who feels out of place in her world for being the only one. She earns her living as an alchemist and receives an unusual assignment from the mysterious gargoyles of the city: how to prevent them from turning permanently into stone. In the meantime, class tensions are rising, the rivalry between the alchemists and the mechanics is brewing, and revolutions are being planned. The Alchemy of Stone is lyrically written and touchingly told, deftly handing issues about humanity, technology, class, and race.
by Cherie Priest
A frenzied romp that shows that Steampunk doesn’t have to be set in Victoriana England—and in fact, is even better when it’s not! Set in the frontier town of Seattle, Boneshaker mixes Steampunk with Weird West and Horror. The citizens of Seattle face a zombie apocalypse when the Leviticus Blue’s Boneshaker drilling machine releases a mysterious underground gas that beings the dead back to life…and craving human flesh! Years later, Briar Wilkes, a pariah for being Blue’s widow, has to return to the shut-in downtown Seattle in order to rescue her wayward son Zeke. Boneshaker is high adventure with airship pirates, gas masks, tense fight scenes and one diabolical mad scientist, and it creates one of the best Steampunk settings outside of Europe to date.
Author Bio: Exiled from her homeland, the French-controlled colony of Tonkin, Ay-Leen the Peacemaker once joined the International Assassin’s Union only to be kicked out for never paying her dues. Now, she can be found when you least expect her, fighting the good fight in the name of justice and a free meal. Her motto? “It’s not violence, it’s action!” She also maintains a blog about multicultural Steampunk.
Read it at beyondvictoriana.com.