The Foundation of Steampunk Literature

Only fans of science fiction could create the sub-sub-genre.  In the taxonomy of literature, the niche of niches is steampunk.  Speculative fiction set in the Victorian era, steampunk creates a world where the adoption of electricity was delayed and steam-powered devices, on a personal scale, are abundant.  In this realm, one of my favorite books is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.  It’s cyberpunk of the steam age, hence the moniker “steampunk.”

But the inspiration of steampunk surely can be seen in gothic science fiction like Frankenstein, which happened to be one of the books in Coursera’s Fantasy and Science Fiction course.  This was the fourth book and although I had read it before, re-reading it twenty years later is a completely different experience.  Books seem to age better with time than movies.  Of course, reading Frankenstein brought great nostalgia for Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein.

The feedback was generally constructive, as has been my experience and I’ll post my essay and feedback here.  My favorite comment was the reader who accused me of being a “show off” for incorporating a Vonnegut comparison.  But let me tell you this anonymous grader, I got this final jeopardy clue correct when none of the contestants did.

“Quoting a famous line of his, a 2011 biography of this man was titled ‘And So It Goes’.”

Ok, I was at home yelling at the TV (my wife’s TV, I still take the moral high ground of not having a TV like I mentioned last post), but still.  That and I’ve been meaning to read the biography since this post and haven’t quite gotten around to it.  Obviously, the title struck me as remarkable.  😉

Less steampunky but equally Victorian were some short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I picked up my steampunk-pen and wrote of Victorian love.  Not quite my typical theme, but it was the theme in Hawthorne’s stories that stood out for me.  Anyway, the essay with feedback is here.  H.G. Wells is the next author, one whom I haven’t read.  But from what I know of his work, his contribution to steampunk can’t be denied.  More on that next week.

5 thoughts on “The Foundation of Steampunk Literature

  1. Steampunk’s new to me. Actually, I heard about it a while back, but I’ve never actually read it. Can anyone suggest some good titles?

    1. Admittedly, I’m very thinly read in this genre and The Difference Engine (Gibson/Sterling) is the only one that I can emphatically recommend. I am fans of both of these authors (although, I think Sterling’s short stories are better than his novels) and this is great read. The Boneshaker has always been on my “to read” list, as it as nominated for a Hugo in 2010.

      Other than that, please accept a link to this Wikipedia list of Steampunk titles.

      Mentioned on that site are some films. One of which, Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a great movie that does deserve the steampunk label (IMHO).

  2. Personally, I see Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as the quintessential Steampunk writers, although they arguably did it as contemporaneous, assuming that the rapid increase of technology would only get faster (which they were right about, albeit in not-quite-right ways). The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling was the modern exemplar of the renaissance in steampunk, of course.

    1. Verne definitely. If you invent alternate transportation options, that looks good on your steampunk application. I’m looking forward to reading some Wells, as I believe this will also be true.

      My Hawthorne example was a bit of stretch, granted… 😉 But I needed a way to work in my second essay 🙂

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