Steampunk is what’s happening now. Novelists from all genres are jumping on board and taking their readers back to an alternate version of Victorian times (1837-1901) and the Second Industrial Revolution (beginning in the mid-1800s).
The scifi/fantasy con I just attended had attendees dressed in their vision of steampunk fashion. One of the more popular dealers in the Dealer’s Room was Lord Montague and his Steam Punk Funk Bizarre. Just this month one of my favorite television shows, Castle, had an episode featuring the steampunk scene.
Everything steam and punk seems to be all the rage, but it is not new. In fact, the origins of the genre are back in the 1960s and 1970s, but the term steampunk originated in the 1980s. The story goes (see the Wikipedia article on steampunk, highly informative and laboriously documented) the term was created by author K.W. Jeter (author of Morlock Night – Random House plans to re-release this out-of-print book in paperback in April 2011) to cover his and certain other authors works which dealt with a Victorian setting and imitated the world created by H.G. Wells in his novel, The Time Machine.
No matter when the genre began, steampunk fiction is generally considered to be based on the style of works by the famous 19th Century authors, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain and Mary Shelley.
I didn’t experience steampunk again until my son turned me onto The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – the movie (2003) and the comic book series (1999). This treatment of the Victorian era was credited in bringing steampunk into the mainstream.
Right now, I am reading Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke. This story and the prequel, “Here There Be Monsters,” in the Burning Up anthology, are set in Queen Victoria’s England. The British pirate Rhys Trehearne aka The Iron Duke has just defeated an evil enemy, the Horde, who had unleashed nanoagents which infected every person in London and placed them under Horde control. The Iron Duke may have defeated the Horde, but the people still fear the return of the enemy. The novella and novel deal with the aftermath and the fears of those who survived. Meljean’s world building is superb and she populates her books with fascinating characters alongside a veritable treasure trove of pseudo-scientific gadgets including dirigibles, mechanical sea monsters, automatons and the other trappings of any grand steampunk story. Think Jules Verne with romance and you’ve got the idea.