Steampunk Noob

sknox

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Some folks here write steampunk; even more read it. I'm writing a story that may have steampunk aspects, but ... well, let me explain.

Set in pseudo-19thc. Does use magical steam. Does have non-humans. So, all that would imply steampunk, right?

The story leaves that world to go into a hollow earth world. This second world has a few steampunk elements (they've been copying the surface world but only the past generation or two). So much of the book won't have many of the standard steampunk elements.

I don't intend to market this as steampunk. It lacks some key elements, such as the usual hero types, no snark, no mysteries or romances. At the same time, where I do have steampunk-y elements, such as train ride that will occupy at least a couple of chapters, I want to strike a genuine tone.

That said, could I have three book recommendations so I can get the flavor of the genre? I've read maybe two--it's not really my cup of tea or my mug of ale. I'm not looking to read for pleasure but for genre research. Is there such a thing as genre appropriation? :)
 

paranoid marvin

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If you write a non-steampunk novel with steampunk themes, you may be in danger of finding yourself caught between two stools?

If you check out last month's Challenge it has a number of short steam-punked themed stories, so may be worth checking out? Good luck with however you decide.
 

Overread

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Steam Punk is in a very odd place because whilst its got a huge host of features that, on their own really work well, for some reason its always remained heavily niche in its appeal. I put a big part of this down on the fact that we've never really had the genre pushed by any big media group. It's a bit like Anime to the west back a few decades ago - great stuff but not marketed nor pitched to the masses so it remained a niche for a very long time.

So to my mind the only risk is that in calling it steam punk you might risk writing yourself into a niche that is not as well searched/hunted for as some others. That said if its crossed with something else then potentially the other genre/structure/aspect will hopefully bump it up.



I'll also be eager to see what others have read as I must admit I've read very little of it (indeed most of what I've read would be either random short stories or the odd comic (Girl Genius - online ); along with films such as Steam Boy or Laputa Castle in the Sky).

In very broad terms though if you've got steam engines, a Victorian style setting (I'd even say fantasy/romantic victorian rather than real), magical levels of steam power, cogs and wheels and pistons etc... then chances are its steam punk.
 

CTRandall

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Two suggestions. First, for a science-fiction/alternate Earth story with a Victorian atmosphere, try Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age. And for a fantasy with magic and steam technology but much missing other steam punk elements, try our very own Bryan Wigmore's, a.k.a. Harebrain, The Goddess Project.

I wouldn't classify either of these as specifically steam punk but they both have significant elements in common with the genre. You might want to look at the blurbs and promo material to see how they've been marketed, as well.
 

BAYLOR

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Some folks here write steampunk; even more read it. I'm writing a story that may have steampunk aspects, but ... well, let me explain.

Set in pseudo-19thc. Does use magical steam. Does have non-humans. So, all that would imply steampunk, right?

The story leaves that world to go into a hollow earth world. This second world has a few steampunk elements (they've been copying the surface world but only the past generation or two). So much of the book won't have many of the standard steampunk elements.

I don't intend to market this as steampunk. It lacks some key elements, such as the usual hero types, no snark, no mysteries or romances. At the same time, where I do have steampunk-y elements, such as train ride that will occupy at least a couple of chapters, I want to strike a genuine tone.

That said, could I have three book recommendations so I can get the flavor of the genre? I've read maybe two--it's not really my cup of tea or my mug of ale. I'm not looking to read for pleasure but for genre research. Is there such a thing as genre appropriation? :)

You might want read Morlock Night by K W Jeter Its a steampunk sequel to the Time machine . In this book the Moorlocks have gotten hold of the Time machine and have turned all of human History into theta feeding ground . The book rocks ! (y)

Also for your consideration

The Martian War by Kevin J Anderson and War of the Worlds Global Dispatches an anthology edited by Keven J Anderson .:cool:(y)

1.Map of Time
2. Map of the Sky
3. Map of Chaos.
By Felix Palma an excellent alt history steam punk trilogy. :cool:

War of the World Goliath animated film ans sequel to War of the worlds. Don' t let the fact act is its animated put off. its a fun film. Its a sequel to the War of the redly , set 15 years after the events in War of the Worlds, In that time the world has rebuilt and men like Doctor Nicola Tesla have reverse engineered martian Technology so now we have our won walker battle machines, Heat Ray weapons, super dreadnought air battleships, and airplanes premed with heat rays . Unfortunately, the Martains have decided to come back and they new weapons and tactics and earth diseases no longer affect them.

Would also suggest you check out the old tv series The Wild Wild West which is essentially a science fiction western( steam Punk) :)
 
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HareBrain

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That said, could I have three book recommendations so I can get the flavor of the genre?

The flavour of books labelled steampunk is very diverse, because anything with one of several elements (anything steam-powered, anything set in something like Earth's 19th century) tends to get lumped in there. Mine sometimes gets called steampunk although there is only one element that I think qualifies it: a magical way of heating a firebox for a ship's boiler. Tim Powers's The Anubis Gates sometimes gets called steampunk even though (IIRC) it has nothing steam-powered at all!

So I wouldn't worry too much. If your story has steam in it, some people will call it steampunk. But no one will be upset that it doesn't fulfill various genre criteria, because they don't really exist.
 

Toby Frost

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I agree. It is extremely wide in definition, and almost any fantasy with a post-medieval setting will be be described as steampunk sooner or later. I think it's more realistic to talk about books having a steampunk influence, rather than being in or out of the definition: there's a sort of rickety, improvised tech that you see in the Mortal Engines books or Mad Max that isn't really much to do with steam, but sort-of counts. Or, you can get something like Skyrim, which is largely straight-up fantasy but has aspects of steampunk (particularly, the dwarven mines).

In terms of notable books, I'd recommend two from opposite ends of the spectrum. The Homunculus by James P Blaylock is a wild and often funny caper novel set in Victorian London, in which a group of eccentric scholars do battle with an evil millionaire who uses zombies to man his factories. It's very fast moving and quite bizarre, and a lot of fun.

Secondly, there's The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It's extremely hard to say what the plot of this very dense, serious, heavily-researched novel is. It seems to be about the adventures of a group of diverse people linked by a computer programme written on punch cards. I found it engrossing but difficult, and while it's the closest that steampunk has got to full-on literature, I can't promise that you'll enjoy it. I wrote a review of it here: The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
 
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Luiglin

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I agree. It is extremely wide in definition, and almost any fantasy with a post-medieval setting will be be described as steampunk sooner or later.

In terms of notable books, I'd recommend two from opposite ends of the spectrum. The Homunculus by James P Blaylock is a wild and often funny caper novel set in Victorian London, in which a group of eccentric scholars do battle with an evil millionaire who uses zombies to man his factories. It's very fast moving and quite bizarre, and a lot of fun.

Secondly, there's The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. It's extremely hard to say what the plot of this very dense, serious, heavily-researched novel is. It seems to be about the adventures of a group of diverse people linked by a computer programme written on punch cards. I found it engrossing but difficult, and while it's the closest that steampunk has got to full-on literature, I can't promise that you'll enjoy it. I wrote a review of it here: The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

I read the Difference Engine when it first came out. I found myself trying to clutch at the plot. I'm sure there's a damn good tale in there but it came over as a convuluted mess to me.
 
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chrispenycate

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What tends to define steampunk is more what it lacks than what it includes. No electricity - oh, there might be Van de Graff generators at science fairs, but no practical electricity, which gives us lovely soft-focus gaslight, with limelight for magic lantern shows, and no rapid communications, no telegraph or radio, no wireless bringing you news and patriotic music while you're relaxing after work (though you might have a gramophone), the fastest way of transmitting news the semaphore tower (where installed), an express train (where there were rails) or a pigeon, galloping horse or local savage with a cleft stick. No internal combustion engines more or less guarantees no heavier than air flight (except in fantasy steampunk, where mythological creatures and devices are available), leaving us with airships and occasional gliders, and industrialisation has not yet replaced artisans in manufacture . cartiges for breech-loading firearms are mass produced, like the cloth for the 'men's' uniforms, but rifles are individually hand crafted, and milady's gown is hand woven fabric.

Racism - against people with different accents, letalone speaking different languages or worshipping different deities, is well nigh universal, as are class and gender barriers. "Equality" is a mere idealistic concept - and even then is between noblemen, in no way covering class or country differences.

But steampunk is almost more a visual medium than a literary one. Polished brass, boxwood cabinets with crystal frontages, leather-tubed telescopes, all aboard warships that had replaced their masts and rigging with huge steam boilers, but the treatment of the common sailors is the same (and you've added stokers). Noble cavalry are mowed down my mobile steam fortresses manned by technicians and common soldiers - war is changing. Giant guns ride railway waggons. and take hours to line up for each devastating shot, frequently from over the horizon. And, lacking wireless (and even more television) the rich and comfortable frequent theatres and concert halls, glittering colour through the darkened halls and illuminated ballrooms, knowing they are the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Try, for SF, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson's 'The Difference Engine', or for fantasy Michael Swanwick's 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter'.
 

millymollymo

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Steam/clockwork being the element, the device on which the world building is done.

@Toby Frost 's own Space Captain Smith and the series he built from that is one example - check out the humour.
@Stephen Palmer 's Factory Girl series another - check out the complexity, set in Edwardian time.
Natasha Pulley's Watchmaker of Filigree Street - utterly different again, and one of the few Steampunk tagged novels you'd find on 'a coffee table'
Anthony Laken's One Cog Turning - takes Steampunk to a cognitive level and well away from Victorian England.
Genevie Cogman's Invisible Library series could be (and is) tagged as Steampunk because of the cross over elements, but some contain no steam power what so ever.

@HareBrain nailed it though. Write it. Then worry about where it fits.
 

Luiglin

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I've always considered Steampunk to be be any weird science/technology set during Victorian times, whether it uses steam or not. You could almost equally call them alternate history.

Ie is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Scifi, steampunk or alternate history? The only thing that may care is Amazon categorisation. For everyone else it's a rollicking adventure.

Don't let yourself be shoehorned into a genre. Write your tale and go from there :)
 

Overread

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There are certainly more than a few steam punk references where the steam is purely used to generate electricity, though often electricity is wild, powerful and rather in the same line as Tesla's vision where yes in a steam punk world they would built a huge Tesla coil in the middle of the town to have huge arcing lightning power the city defences. The important part being that the coil would likely be steam powered; that the defences would likely have very few covers over the cogs and geared mechanics.
Indeed I think one thing that can sum up steam punk is if you're watching a steam train and focusing on the wheels moving with the rods and bars; or the steam show machines that show pistons and wheels and cogs all turning. That era and style - no covers, bare bones exposure - seeing the machine working - is as much a part of Steam punk as the steam in itself.

Which is a good reason that it likely does feature a bit more in visual than written arts, since that feeling of smoke and steam and cogs and gears is a lot of info writing; whilst a picture or animation shows it in a few moments.
 

janeoreilly

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There's plenty of steam punk romance if that floats your boat - meljean brook Iron Duke, Gail Carriger Prudence etc - these are all corsets and airships, pretty much what you would expect, although carriger mixes in paranormal so she also has werewolves and vampires. It's a tricky one because it doesn't sell very well here for some reason. Had an interesting discussion at book group a few weeks about whether Nick harkaway angelmaker is steampunk or not, as it has a few elements of it.
 

sknox

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I've always considered Steampunk to be be any weird science/technology set during Victorian times, whether it uses steam or not. You could almost equally call them alternate history.

Ie is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Scifi, steampunk or alternate history? The only thing that may care is Amazon categorisation. For everyone else it's a rollicking adventure.

Don't let yourself be shoehorned into a genre. Write your tale and go from there :)

Don't worry, I gave up on shoehorns a long time ago (I also gave up on patent leather shoes). Funny you should mention 20k Leagues, as the story that prompted my OP is an Altearth take on A Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Thanks to the references here, I've logged a few books onto my Kindle and will at least zoom through them in the coming weeks. I won't start actual writing until June, so there's time to orient myself, at least.
 

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It is without doubt a right old mess. In terms of an enjoyable story, there's also The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling, which is a sort of Raj-punk set in a strange version of the British Empire, and is a homage to the rollicking yarns of people like Rider Haggard.

I second this. Highly enjoyable book, one of his best.
 

BAYLOR

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It is without doubt a right old mess. In terms of an enjoyable story, there's also The Peshawar Lancers by S.M. Stirling, which is a sort of Raj-punk set in a strange version of the British Empire, and is a homage to the rollicking yarns of people like Rider Haggard.

Ive read that one, It's a superb book. I wish Sterling would do some kind of a follow up to it. :cool:(y)
 

paranoid marvin

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It's a videogame, but try playing The Chaos Engine on Amiga or Mega Drive to give you an alternative viewpoint to steampunk.
 

HareBrain

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I think the best examples of steampunk can be found in visual media, as it's primarily a visual aesthetic. To be honest, I think that's where it's best suited. To take one example, the clockwork octopus in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street I found completely unbelievable, enough to break me out of the story; but though my suspension of disbelief would also have been tested in a film, it would have looked too amazing for me to care as much. I find a lot of steampunk devices to be like that.
 

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