Steampunk. Who Knew?

At our RMC-SCBWI Fall Conference, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a group of young adult librarians at the Saturday lunch. Shamelessly, I wasted no time in picking their brains to get ideas for my YA Lit class, which I’ll be teaching again this spring. One of them said the best book she’d read the past year—in any genre—was Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. I’d read The Uglies series by the same author, but hadn’t heard about this book. She went on to say Leviathan was “steampunk.”

When I looked completely blank, she took pity on me and provided a brief but intriguing explanation. Wow! Here was a genre I’d never even heard of.

Chatting between bites didn’t quite do it for me, so I had to educate myself. The first thing I did was to google it,  of course. And the second thing I did was to look at the Wikipedia entry for steampunk, which is very informative. Click on the link, because it will tell you far more than you’ll learn here! To my surprise, steampunk has actually been around for a number of years.

In my quest for enlightenment, I discovered that steampunk isn’t just literature—it’s fashion, jewelry, music, art, interior design, and probably lots of other things as well. Apparently, one shops at Etsy for all one’s steampunk needs.

Since literature is my main interest, here’s what I’ve learned so far about the genre:

  • Sub-genre of SF/Fantasy
  • Set in Victorian times
  • Employs steam-powered technology (but not always)
  • Features alternate history
  • Uses technology that was ahead of its time (but not our time), such as airships. Different, however, from airships we know and love, like the Goodyear blimp.

I watched a video of a panel discussion from Book Expo America, 2010. Authors Scott Westerfeld, Cory Doctorow, Cherie Priest, and NYPL Manager Karen Grenke took part. It was amusing to learn that they were inspired by Disney World (I nearly hyperventilated) and Star Wars.


Some of what the panelists said about steampunk:

  • It has great visual appeal
  • It’s a blend of high tech/low tech
  • Open to many ideas
  • Victorian manga
  • Informed by science fiction of the nineteenth century

This is what I’ve learned so far. What can you tell me about the genre? And what are some of your favorite steampunk novels?

3 comments on “Steampunk. Who Knew?

  1. Fascinating post, Pam. I had never heard of steampunk before, but it does have a certain appeal, though I’ve never been that much into Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, but they were products of their society. I also learned about dystopia.

    I’m also not a big graphic novel fan–though I loved the NA and Udolpho versions I read earlier this year.

    Nice to not be completely oblivious to the trends in the publishing!

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