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Guest Op: The Case for Steampunk Romance

Steampunk lolcat

Heather Massey is a blogger who travels the sea of stars searching for science fiction romance adventures aboard The Galaxy Express. Additionally, she pens a science fiction romance column for LoveLetter, Germany’s premier romance magazine.


When I think of steampunk, I envision Victorian fashion, airships, and oversized rivets. And lest we forget-’Captain Nemo’s elegant submarine, too. It’s a heck of a lot more than that, of course, but the elements that tend to leave a lasting impression in people’s minds is the brass goggle-icious visuals.

But what is steampunk, exactly?

Steampunk as a literary genre gained notice starting in the 1980s. A subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, it developed as a rebellious response to the science fiction that preceded it. Core elements of steampunk include:

  • Steam power
  • Alternate history settings (mostly Victorian/Edwardian era England)
  • SF/Fantasy elements
  • Devices that reflect the period but are ahead of their time (e.g., difference engines, airships, etc.)

Clockwork-HeartIn fact, the concept of inventions that debut far ahead of schedule represents one of the most fascinating aspects of the genre. Yet steampunk science is far from cold, modern, and sterile. It’s warm, flashy, and larger than life. New collides with old to the point that the inventions are characters in and of themselves.

In Jess Nevins’ introduction to STEAMPUNK, an anthology edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, he points out that there is often conflation between an Edisonade type story, with its reputation for action/adventure and stylish trappings such as brass goggles, airships, and automatons, and steampunk, which can also include those elements. However, a core difference is that steampunk is "an argument with the science fiction of previous generations" (p.8, "The 19th-Century Roots of Steampunk.").

Regardless, all of those aspects have their appeal. Steampunk offers many fascinating and thought provoking stories. But there’s something it’s been missing all these years. While steampunk has a very "romantic" feel-’mainly because of the aesthetics-’most of the stories have lacked any kind of actual romance.

Steampunk + Romance

Steampunk romance is a subgenre that’s ripe for exploring. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now to any great degree. While steampunk-as-argument generally explores many dark themes in the science fiction arena, it’s the Edisonade components of the genre that have the most potential to bear succulent fruit when paired with romance.

Here are a few reasons why:

A major appeal is the historical settings. How many romance readers have cut their literary teeth on historical romances? Steampunk romance is a natural extension of those. We’re not limited to Victorian era England, either. The American Old West alone (BACK TO THE FUTURE III, anyone?) has loads of potential. Think automaton horses and heroes wielding steam powered rifles! With the right inventions, characters could even venture to the Moon!

Steamedstylistic elements. Let’s face it, Victorian fashion may have been stiff and uncomfortable, but it sure looks amazing. I think it would look even more amazing if the characters were solving mysteries using analog computers or falling in love while sailing through the clouds aboard mighty airships. Brass goggles are the new black!

Flexibility of worldbuilding is another reason to cast an eye toward steampunk romance. It’s entirely possible to have a compelling love story that includes just a single steampunk element (because yeah, while goggles and automatons are exciting, let’s not overdo it, eh?). I’m chomping at the bit to discover what kinds of heroes and heroines would arise from steampunk romances, and how a relationship would be defined by this kind of world. Personally, I have a thing for sexy inventors.

Steampunk Romance on the horizon

Steampunk romance has the potential to offer something familiar, yet different. Authors can stretch their creative wings. Readers gain variety and a hint of the exotic grounded in the familiar. Publishers laugh all the way to the bank. Win-win-win.

Steampunk romance is barely a subgenre currently, but I’d like to think that’s about to change. Right now, you can read CLOCKWORK HEART by Dru Pagliassotti; THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN by Alan Moore, THE DEMON’S DAUGHTER by Emma Holly, and NEW BLOOD by Gail Dayton.

There are a few books on the horizon that will pair steampunk with romance:   Meljean Brook’s THE IRON DUKE, Liz Maverick’s CRIMSON & STEAM, Gail Carriger’s SOULLESS, Katie Macalister’s STEAMED, and Zoe Archer’s THE BLADES OF THE ROSE: WARRIOR. I can also envision scads of titles coming from the digital sector.

Erotica romances have been ahead of the curve for quite a while now, for example, Nathalie Gray’s novella MECHANICAL ROSE and Circlet Press’ LIKE A WISP OF STEAM anthology. Liane Gentry Skye’s Wicked Redemption will close out Red Sage Publishing’s THREE KINDS OF WICKED anthology next summer. In September, EC’s ELLORA’S CAVEMEN anthology will include the story Cherry Tart.

In the GLBT arena, Ginn Hale’s WICKED GENTLEMEN and Angelia Sparrow’s short Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch are currently available.

If you’re looking to submit your steampunk romance, Anne Sowards of Ace/Rock and Angela James of Quartet Press are actively looking. Recently, Lyrical Press put out a call for steampunk (both romance and erotica). So polish up that steampunk beauty and send "er out!

Now I’ll turn the brass wireless mic over to you. Thoughts on the genre-? Have any recommendations to share? What kinds of stories would you like to see?

Guest Reviewer


  1. Mezza
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 04:28:44

    Just wondering if you could categorise Emma Holly’s demon books [The Demon's Daughter, Hot Spell (anthology, "The Countess's Pleasure"), Prince of Ice, Demon's Delight ("The Demon's Angel"), Beyond the Dark (anthology, "Queen of All She Surveys"), Demon's Fire ] as steampunk because they mix different technologies with a Victorian-style culture?

    Also there is Sarah Hoyt’s series beginning with ‘Heart of Light’ which has magic carpetships in an 1889 that never was.

    Both these series are alternate realities with unexpected technologies that are part of the story’s world building. Or is a story ‘steam punk’ if the technologies drive the story?


  2. Michelle
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 05:22:39

    A slight twist of topic, but one of my favorite animated movies is Howl’s Moving Castle. I think steampunk lovers would appreciate this movie.


  3. Nat
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 06:06:54

    “Steampunk romance is a subgenre that's ripe for exploring. I'm surprised it hasn't happened before now to any great degree. While steampunk-as-argument generally explores many dark themes in the science fiction arena, it's the Edisonade components of the genre that have the most potential to bear succulent fruit when paired with romance.”

    Succulent fruit? Man, when I grow up, I want to write like that. What a glorious post, Heather. And thanks DA, for making it happen.

    @ Michelle: Howl’s a fav of mine, too. So is Steam Boy (even if the little girl beats her dog…).

    I know it’s more than aesthetics, but for me, that’s pretty much why I love, and have loved, steampunk for so long. I grew up reading Jules Verne’s adventures (Around the World in 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, etc). H.G. Wells is another author I enjoyed. Some would argue his stories are more about the machines than the people in them, whereas Verne seemed to care more for the characters and their exploits, keeping the fantastical machines they used as tools of adventures.

    Thanks for mentioning Mechanical Rose. It was a lot of fun pairing an eccentric inventor and a lady assassin. Fortunately, my publisher thought so too! Mechanical Rose has done very well and is enjoying a sort of second life now that steampunk is popular. I'm so glad that tiny genre is getting some mainstream love.


  4. nutmeag
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 06:43:51

    Thanks for giving me a list of books! I adore steampunk, and marrying it with romance seems natural to me. Are you a fan of of the webcomic Girl Genius ( The tag line is “Adventure, Romance, Mad Science,” which seems pretty apropos.

    Other steampunk that’s not quite so romancy, but still fun: Larklight by Philip Reeve and Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. And I agree, Howl’s Moving Castle rocks, though as much as I like the movie, the book (by Diana Wynne Jones) is 10 times better.


  5. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 06:43:55

    I had an idea where the feminist movement started right away with Wollstonecraft. Which would make for an interesting alternate reality Victorian era. :-)


  6. Angela James
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 07:12:08

    @Mezza Emma Holly’s books are often what I use as an example for people because they’re the most widely familiar in the romance genre.


  7. kimber an
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 07:23:00

    Go, Heather! Long live the Galaxy Express!

    I just started getting into Steampunk this year. So far, I’ve only hit CLOCKWORK HEART. Unfortunately, the characters failed to engage me. However, the worldbuilding was freakin’ awesome!

    Now, I’m waiting anxiously to see if I’ll get an ARC for BONESHAKER by Cherie Priest. It’s set in Alaska and, uh, I just so happen to live here.


  8. Tumperkin
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 07:49:59

    I’m wondering where someone like Susannah Clarke (authentic historical setting with alternate reality – magic is real and acknowledged) fits into this. Is that steampunk or something different? It has the same sort of appeal, I think.


  9. nutmeag
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 07:59:04

    Steampunk doesn’t have anything to do with magic, but is considered alternate history, just as Susannah Clarke’s books are–and yes, steampunk does generally have the same appeal.

    Steampunk is all about technology in the Victorian age and how it fits in with their ways of thinking. Here’s several explanations of steampunk, as seen from different angles (literature, fashion, aesthetics, etc).

    I suppose steampunk and magic can be incorporated in the same worldbuilding, but it doesn’t really make sense, since magic kind of precludes the need for technology.


  10. Leslie Dicken
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:03:01

    Personally, I have a thing for sexy inventors.

    Awesome, cuz I’m writing one! I realized at the RWA conference how hot (heh, pardon the pun) steampunk was getting. So, combining my love of the Victorian timeperiod and the cool gadgets, I’ve undertaken writing one. It’s been a blast so far!!

    I’m really looking forward to reading STEAMED and some others you’ve listed. The next few years are going to be fun.


  11. Nat
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:06:35

    Hmm, I’m not sure magic precludes the need for technology. I can see how magic could diminish, maybe, the need for an all-tech world. But I think the two can coexist and still make a steampunk story. Just like steampunk can be “set”, if I can use that word, in another era than Victorian England. It’s just that it’s the most popular. But think about the beauty of, say, Edo-era steampunk, or Russian czar-like steampunk.

    Maybe steampunk is like amber; it became frozen in time during its apogee, with the fashion and accoutrement en vogue at that time and place (1800s and Europe respectively)?


  12. nutmeag
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:12:30

    You do speak truth. I indeed was speaking more of magic precluding the need for all-out tech. In worlds where magic is only gifted to a few special beings who tend to not share that gift with others, I’m sure the tech would come in very handy for the Muggles. ;-) Hmm, there could be some interesting worldbuilding in that.

    I suppose steampunk is a bit stuck in it’s era, but mostly because there are other names (I think) for tech based in other time periods. I’m thinking of WWII and 50s-type tech that’s ahead of it’s time. What comes to mind are the gadgets seen in the short-lived tv show The Middleman. They fight/contain/help aliens and paranormal beings with high-powered tech that looks straight out of the 50s. It’s pretty awesome. Surely there’s a name for ahead-of-time-tech from the WWII era?


  13. Jane
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:17:23

    Thank you, Heather, for this great post. I really love how you broke down the elements of steam punk. When I first read this when it was sent to me, I got excited about reading the subgenre. Can’t wait for these books to come out. The Iron Duke by Meljean? Just the title makes it sound awesome.


  14. Rebecca Goings
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:19:24

    Re: Magic with Tech, there’s a popular world in D&D circles called “Iron Kingdoms” which is heavy on the steampunk/magic flavor. In fact, playing in this world (with my geeky hubby who own’s was my first descent into “steampunk” so for me, it’s hard to separate the two in my mind.

    Iron Kindgoms spawned a miniature war game geeks play in dark corners of game shops called “Warmachine”:

    Steampunk Westerns fascinate me, as Westerns are my historical of choice. But I’d be terrified to write one. Where do you start research? I guess it would be a mixture of reading those who’ve published before you and making up your own canon.

    But like the author of the post mentions, how much would be too much? Would flying airships be too much in a Western Steampunk? To me, it seems yes it would, unless it was a flying train ala Back to the Future III. And unfortunately, as far as I know, that horrible Wild Wild West movie is the only other “example” of Western Steampunk I know about.



  15. Nat
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:35:29

    @Becka: you didn’t like Wild Wild West, eh? :) I thought it was pretty good. Although I did enjoy the old TV series a lot more. Still, Will Smith makes everything look good, so maybe I’m biased.

    Man, aren’t those covers glorious up there? Steampunk is so aesthetically pleasing. I keep coming back to this element. It’s so exciting to see a favourite genre getting attention and love. Back when I wrote Mechanical Rose (in 2007, although it came out in ’08), I couldn’t find a lot of recent works to help situate my story.

    Heather, I wonder why it’s becoming so popular. Any thoughts? Because the visual element has always been there and the love for historical romance isn’t new. So why the timing of steampunk’s “emergence” into the more mainstream arena? Is it because some have said the historicals are enjoying renewed energy? (not that I imply they ever went anywhere).


  16. SandyW
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:36:23

    Magic and Steampunk occur together in the manga/anime ‘Full Metal Alchemist.'
    And the WWII techno stuff is often referred to as Dieselpunk.
    Nathalie, the idea of ‘Edo-era steampunk' is just too wonderful.

    I have been a fan of Steampunk before it had a name, in the days of the B&W Wild, Wild West (cheesy as it was).


  17. Nat
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:41:43

    Just forgot to mention when I compared steampunk to amber. Maybe in 300 years, they’ll look at our society and its trends/fashions/gadgets and will have reenactments and fairs about the PCpunk and Applepunk :) And they’ll walk around with “old school” white headphones and call one another Dude.


  18. Aoife
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:54:30

    Does anyone here know if the sequel to Clockwork Heart is going to be published, and, if so, when?

    Thanks for the overview, Heather, I’ll be looking out for the books you mentioned.


  19. Ella Drake
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:54:55

    I do love this genre & look forward to reading Steamed & The Iron Duke & all the others I can get my hands on.
    As for movies with these elements, if you enjoyed Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, his Castle in the Sky is another I’d recommend.


  20. Ella Drake
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 08:57:02

    @Aoife I read on her blog some time ago that Pagliassotti plans a sequel. Don’t know if that’s happening or not, though


  21. Links and Things « Enter the Octopus
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 09:02:31

    [...] leave a comment » The Case for Steampunk Romance [...]

  22. Heather
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 09:15:10

    @Rebecca Goings:

    And unfortunately, as far as I know, that horrible Wild Wild West movie is the only other “example” of Western Steampunk I know about.

    I’m not positive that it falls into the Western Steampunk realm, but The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. had some elements. And it had Bruce Campbell, which makes it win-win. ;-)

    ETA: When I was double-checking my memory, I found this March 2009 LA Times “Steampunk Starter Guide” that mentions Brisco.


  23. Aoife
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 09:24:10

    @Ella DrakeYes, I had seen that, too, but had never heard whether she actually had a contract for that book.


  24. Lou
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 09:33:25

    Great post! :)

    Thank you for explaining what Steam Punk is about. I admit, until I had read the post above, I was still struggling to understand the concept of it.


  25. hapax
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 09:44:15

    It isn’t *quite* steampunk, since the alternative history feels a bit earlier than the Victorian era, but I’d add in Jaida Jones’s HAVEMERCY, which includes a lovely GLBT romance, and certainly has the steampunk aesthetics about it. (There’s a sequel, SHADOW MAGIC, that just came out, but I haven’t read it yet.)

    Second the love for Girl Genius.


  26. Janine
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 10:06:33

    @Heather Massey

    Core elements of steampunk include:

    â– Steam power
    â– Alternate history settings (mostly Victorian/Edwardian era England)
    â– SF/Fantasy elements
    â– Devices that reflect the period but are ahead of their time (e.g., difference engines, airships, etc.)

    I wonder if a book is still considered to be within the steampunk genre if one or two of these elements isn’t in it. For example, Wicked Gentlemen is set in a 19th-century based fantasy world, rather than in our own alternate history. And I don’t think it has devices that are ahead of that time.

    The same is true for Megan Hart’s Pleasure and Purpose. I recently wrote a review of it which will be posting in a couple of hours, and I wasn’t sure whether or not to call it steampunk but I did end up putting steampunk in one of the tags on the review.


  27. Kathryn Smith
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 10:17:15

    I loooooove Steampunk! League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, not exactly romance, though! lol. Another comic book is Steampunk by Chris Bacchalo and Joe Kelly. Very beautiful and busy and dark.

    I’m one of those who believe that you can have magic in the world, but I agree that it should be only a few people who can use it. I think magic works perfectly in that world, but it has to be an old school magic. Runes, tattoos, spells and blood. Always the blood. :-)

    Part of the appeal has to be the fashion and gadgets, right? Taking Victorian fashion and then roughing it up a bit — putting corsets on the outside, shortening skirts… A lot of people confuse the look with Goth, but it’s fairly easy to tell the difference when you see them side by side. Steampunk has such a fabulous look about it. You can make it really shiny and glittery, or take it to a very grimy, sooty look.

    Recently I’ve been reading a book called Edison’s Eve – it’s a history of automatons and it’s fascinating. Fiction-wise, another book you might want to look at is Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters.

    And Sherry — I love your idea of starting the feminist movement with Wollstonecraft! If you ever get a chance to write that, please let me know.


  28. Angela James
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 10:21:12

    Fiction-wise, another book you might want to look at is Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters.

    I wasn’t a fan of this book, I’m sorry to say. I thought the writing and the pacing were almost plodding, with the use of graphic detail trying to cover for it. I wanted to love it, which made it even more frustrating and sad for me.

    Oh, and for anyone wondering about it, it’s not in the romance genre (not even close).


  29. Kathryn Smith
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 10:26:19

    I haven’t finished it yet, Angela — and now you’re making me question whether or not I will! :-) But thank you for saying what I forgot — it’s not romance either.

    Does anyone know much about Boneshaker, Cherie Priest’s next book? It’s American Steampunk I believe. Great cover.


  30. Ann Aguirre
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 10:26:58

    I know Anne is looking for steampunk, but I am pretty sure she doesn’t want romance. A romance subplot should be fine, but it should be SF/F for Anne to acquire it.


  31. Meljean
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 11:11:11

    @Kathryn Smith: I’ve heard amazing things about BONESHAKER, but haven’t read it yet (probably won’t while I’m working on my own, sigh.) Priest has a great site and intro at


  32. Evangeline
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 11:19:05

    I like steampunk, but I don’t want it to be the next “Vampire” or worse, using demons or angels or non-wolf wereanimals in paranormal romance, in order to stand out. While publishing is a business and writers want to sell and make money, it just irks me that this sub-genre is being turned into a gimmick. Honestly, I feel that if you have to ask what steampunk is, what to incorporate in it, etc etc, it’s really just trend-jumping.


  33. Janine
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 11:39:57

    Honestly, I feel that if you have to ask what steampunk is, what to incorporate in it, etc etc, it's really just trend-jumping.

    I was asking as a reader and reviewer, not as a writer. I’d like to know which books to refer to as steampunk in my reviews.


  34. SonomaLass
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 12:00:27

    My DP is a big steampunk fan — I think Difference Engine is his favorite novel ever. We have been working on a steampunk romance (he is writing it, but I have to advise on the romance angle, because that’s the genre I read that he doesn’t). It’s to do with trains and how fast they go (he’s also the engineer, so I can’t explain it, but it’s cool), and also with an idea similar to Sherry Thomas’ above about earlier feminism, based on the idea that Victoria COULD (alternate history ahoy) have encouraged women in traditionally male professions — if a woman can rule the British Empire, why not women engineers?

    I highly recommend Jay Lake’s books, Mainspring and Escapement. The world building is excellent, and there are strong romantic elements. I wouldn’t classify them as romance novels, because the “save the world” plots definitely overshadow the relationships, but they are very good.


  35. anon
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 12:17:21

    Skyler White has a steampunk romance coming out next year called and Falling, Fly.


  36. XandraG
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 13:03:05

    I’ll echo the mad love for Girl Genius. If you aren’t reading that comic–why the hell aren’t you?

    I confess to looking forward with some excitement to Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series. I don’t think it’s strictly Steampunk, having supernatural creatures as part of the plot, but I’m not a genre purist, either. ;)

    The first issue of “Steampunk Tales” is out for free as an iPhone/ipodtouch app, and subsequent issues are 1.99. I’ve been following GD Falksen’s series of short stories there.

    I have two steam-oriented WIPs in progress, simmering, but nothing that’s not romance and nothing that’ll be ready any time soon, more’s the pity. I wish I plotted faster.

    And if you’re at all into the modding/maker aspect of Steampunk, then you should definitely DVR SyFy’s “Warehouse 13″ (or hulu it) so you can freeze-frame every time you see that awesome computer (courtesy Rich Nagy/Datamancer), or just drool over Jake von Slatt’s blog. Which is, sadly, part of the reason I’m not plotting faster. My kids and I have been modding brass goggles and nerf guns as fast as they can earn their allowance to buy them.


  37. Chrissy
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 13:08:49

    I really liked Robyn DeHart’s recent release. I wish I could remember the title– Seduce Me Something? Anyway, I think as romance/steampunk gets more popular we are all going to have to:

    1. Realize that to make it work, rules are going to be bent.
    2. Accept that since some are “calling for steampunk” there will be some lame, weak crap along with the good.

    I love it!


  38. Links: NYU vs. Muppets for the best Woody imitation, Michael Greenberg, African books, teachers, and more «
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 13:09:45

    [...] Here is an article that combines Steampunk and Lolcats [...]

  39. Renee
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 13:31:18

    Though the romance is not the main story line, Elizabeth Bear’s New Amsterdam is an excellent example of Steampunk conventions (dirigibles!) combined with paranormal elements (vampires, magic, and weres.) It is set in an alternate reality New York, in a US that never won its independence from England.

    HaveMercy, Clockwork Heart and Wicked Gentlmen are other favorites of mine.

    @ Aiofe and
    @ Ella Drake: According to a recent post on Dru Pagilosotti’s blog, she has recently completed the sequel to Clockwork Heart, but is still looking for an agent.

    I can’t wait for the new crop of steampunk soon to be released!


  40. Leslie
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 13:33:33

    This is a very timely post since I just asked on another forum, What is steampunk, and never got a reply. So thanks for this!

    I am wondering, since I am still trying to figure this out, would the movie The Prestige (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, David Bowie) fall into the steampunk category?



  41. Dru Pagliassotti
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 13:40:34

    Fantastic post, and thank you for mentioning Clockwork Heart! (Feder & Schwert will be publishing it in Germany, btw…)

    Oddly enough, when I first sold CH, it caused us all some consternation: Steampunk romance? Is anyone going to know what that is? Should we market it as science fiction? Romance? Paranormal romance? What other novels can we use as comparisons? We just didn’t know what to do with it. And now steampunk romance is being recognized as a discrete genre. Wonderful!


  42. Angelia Sparrow
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 14:55:10

    Thanks for mentioning “Cherry Tart” and “Meanwhile back at the Ranch.”

    Circlet Press just released LIKE CLOCKWORK, the second volume of steapunk erotica. The third volume, LIKE A CORSET UNDONE, will be out in mid-September.

    Kerlak Publishing has a call out for steampunk stories. The editor is good people and probably wouldn’t mind a romance or two.

    It’s definitely the up-and-coming thing. I’ve enjoyed it since the 70s reruns of Wild Wild West. Ands I enjoy it more now as a reader and a writer.


  43. XandraG
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 15:00:00

    Ooo…I forgot to mention–although it’s closer to Dieselpunk (which is its own brand of awesome), check out the movie, “Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow” – Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law. Has that wonderful 30′s pulpy feel to it. And giant friggin’ robots. Anything with giant robots, airships, and dashing pilots is awesome, even if it does have Angelina Jolie in it.


  44. Anthea Lawson
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 15:01:21

    I think steampunk romance is poised to be the next breakout subgenre. At RWA Nationals a number of editors were specifically asking to see Steampunk settings, and I know of several steampunk romances that are in production right now. Watch for a lot of fun reads in the next few years in this genre! And hopefully it won’t get oversaturated…


  45. Helen
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 15:09:54

    Do you have a contract for the sequel? I can’t wait for it to come out. I LOVED Clockwork Heart.


  46. Angela James
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 15:12:01

    I’ve been asking for steampunk for five years. Does this mean I predicted a trend? I think I’ll start telling everyone that to make myself feel better.


  47. Maili
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 16:19:17

    Awesome article!

    I think we shouldn’t forget two similar sub-genres: Gaslight Fantasy (which is what I strongly associate magic and the paranormal with) and Alternate historical fantasy. I’d file New Blood and Wicked Gentlemen under Gaslight Fantasy, for example. But that’s just my view, though. :)


    I am wondering, since I am still trying to figure this out, would the movie The Prestige (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, David Bowie) fall into the steampunk category?

    Somewhat, yes. I’ll try to make it spoiler-free: Yes to the electricity angle. Nikola Tesla’s technology, considering the time period, is the key element. But if I were to classify it, it’d be a Gaslight Fantasy.


  48. Heather Massey
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 18:46:36

    Wow, so many comments! Sorry I couldn't get here sooner. Great discussion, so I’ll just jump right in with a few responses:

    Jane, thanks again for having me.

    Mezza, I've only read Holly's Prince of Ice, and it didn't strike me as steampunk or as having steampunk elements. But I've seen a number of comments attesting to those books having steampunk flavor (including Angela James' below) so I could have missed something.

    You're right in that “pure” steampunk would be technology/theme driven, but obviously all authors aren't bound to that. There are stories gravitating towards other expressions, such as the Edisonade or ones blended with other genres. I think it'd depend on how much steampunk was in the story. For example, you can have a fantasy that has a steampunk element, but if the steampunk doesn't play a predominant role, then the story is a fantasy at its heart.

    Michelle, I watched Howl's Moving Castle last week and it was terrific. I agree, a must-see.

    Nat, I'm glad to hear sales of MR are good. Nothing wrong with aesthetics, either, because they're so shiny!

    Nutmeag, thanks for mentioning Girl Genius. It slipped my mind and I should have included it in the post. Haven't read Larklight yet, but I thought Reeve's Mortal Engines was loads of fun.

    Thanks, Kimber An!

    Steampunk is all about technology in the Victorian age

    I think the Victorian age is the most popular time period and setting, but there are also steampunk stories (mainly in digital games and movies) set in fantasy worlds. Jay Lake's MAINSPRING is one book example. Steampunk is pretty versatile, and it'll be interesting to see how authors play with the possibilities.

    The next few years are going to be fun.

    Leslie, I couldn't agree more, lol!

    Heather, I wonder why it's becoming so popular. Any thoughts?

    I've noticed a few things. One is that there have been some buzz-worthy steampunk books released in the SF arena in recent years. Two, Alan Moore: LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is hugely popular (volume four came out in May 09). Three, there are hardcore fans who also love to create costumes and gadgets in the steampunk mold, and they've been very visible in conventions and online communities for some time now. Four, people like me who can't shut up about it, lol! But I'm only the latest in a long line of fans. I'm sure there are other reasons, but it's also possible that given how “young” of a genre it is, it was ripe for more exploration.

    And it had Bruce Campbell, which makes it win-win. ;-)

    Bruce Campbell can do no wrong.

    Lou, glad to be of service.

    I wonder if a book is still considered to be within the steampunk genre if one or two of these elements isn't in it.

    Janine, I think it depends on who you talk to. But one only has to read a book like THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE or WHITECHAPEL GODS to understand the sharp differences between pure steampunk and stories that blend it with other genres or just use elements of it. For pure steampunk, yes, I'd wager all the elements need to be there. Regardless, authors will follow their muses and blend it with other things. Your comment points to how helpful it can be to breakdown a story's elements in order to help other readers make decisions about whether a book will interest them.

    Kathryn, I enjoyed WHITECHAPEL GODS very much. I also really liked THE NARROWS by Alexander Irvine. Cool golem action, but surprisingly a big focus of the book was the protagonist's interactions with his wife and daughter, which gave the story a lot of warmth (and heartache at times).

    Ann, thanks for the clarification about what Anne Sowards is looking for.

    I feel that if you have to ask what steampunk is, what to incorporate in it, etc etc, it's really just trend-jumping.

    I hope steampunk never becomes gimmicky, but my feeling is it's not any more immune than any other genre. Personally, I'd rather have a ton of reading choices even if there are a few gimmicks rather than not have any choices at all. Also, I think people are far more aware of steampunk than they realize-’sometimes they don't even have a name for it even as they enjoy it. And who knows-’the person who knew squat about it one year might do tons of research and come out with a quality, pure steampunk story five years later.

    Dru, Angelia, my pleasure.

    I've been asking for steampunk for five years. Does this mean I predicted a trend?

    Yes! But you know, sometimes it takes a village…!

    Thanks, Maili! And I agree with your take on New Blood. Wicked Gentleman is on my to-be-purchased list.

    And, if you’ve made it to the end of my monster comment, I’d like to invite you to read an interview I posted today with Katie MacAlister (STEAMED).


  49. Nat
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 18:54:24

    Oh, I completely forgot to mention China Miéville. He does steampunk. In fact, he has a singular gift when it comes to cities and underworlds. Dude can do *dark*, yo.

    Gimmick and trend-jumping: oh well, it comes with the territory. As Heather said, I prefer to have more choices, including the bad stuff, then be stuck re-reading the same old books.


  50. Rebecca Goings
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 20:12:58

    Bruce Campbell can do no wrong.

    A-thefrick-MEN!! :D Love that man.

    Also if you’re one of my fans on Facebook (hint hint lol) you’ll know I’ve been thinking about writing a book about a sexy sheikh but set on a different world kind of combining Persia with Arabia, basically to create my own flavor of the region. I’ve thought it wouldn’t be that big a stretch, with all their ornate mosaics and gilded palaces, to add some Steampunk into that desert-y setting. The Persians, during the Islamic Golden Age, made some pretty awesome leaps and bounds with medicine, science, poetry and would be awesome to delve into that with steam and brass and “magic carpets” and such.

    True, it wouldn’t be an alternate history, but an alternate world, really. Not sure how advanced I would go into it, but just the romance and sexiness of the desert mixed with steampunk calls to me.

    Moreso than Western steampunk if I’m perfectly honest.

    Will I ever write it? **shrugs** Sheikh, probably someday. Sheikh steampunk? Who knows. I just love the exotic-ness about it.



  51. Edie
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 20:42:13

    I'm not positive that it falls into the Western Steampunk realm, but The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. had some elements. And it had Bruce Campbell, which makes it win-win. ;-)

    OMG My most favourite TV show ever!! I so need to find that on DVD in Australia!


  52. MaryK
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 22:39:36

    However, a core difference is that steampunk is “an argument with the science fiction of previous generations” (p.8, “The 19th-Century Roots of Steampunk.”).

    I’m curious. What’s the argument about?

    I have an e-copy of Clockwork Heart. I’ll have to break it out and give it a try. The steampunk description reminded me of Firefly. Inverted steampunk maybe? :)


  53. MaryK
    Sep 01, 2009 @ 22:53:13


    Howl's Moving Castle rocks, though as much as I like the movie, the book (by Diana Wynne Jones) is 10 times better.

    I love that book and wanted to love the movie, but was very disappointed in the plot changes. The movie is gorgeous though. I need to watch it again. Maybe if I’m not expecting a faithful retelling, I’ll like it more.


  54. Heather Massey
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 07:29:17

    I'm curious. What's the argument about?

    Dru Pagliassotti sums it up nicely in Does Steampunk Have an Ideology?:

    I conceive of steampunk as a quintessentially postmodern cultural movement. If modernism was a reaction to the Victorian period's industrialization, a rational movement that valued simplicity and function and cast itself as a revolutionary movement that threw off the traditional and embraced the avant-garde, then steampunk is squarely situated within the postmodern reaction to modernism. Postmodernism is a reaction to the problems that have arisen from constantly embracing the new; it explores the fault lines of structuralist approaches and master narratives and considers the ambiguities and challenges of new sciences that address complexity, ambiguity, and diversity. Aesthetically, postmodernism reclaims traditions shunned by modernism and has been characterized by its use of irony, intertextuality, pastiche, and bricolage -’ all of which are manifested within the steampunk movement.


  55. DS
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 08:04:08

    I am likely to pick up a book just because it is steampunk– but I’m starting to worry a little about definitions. Maybe we need a TV Tropes sort of list of romance subgenres if we are going to have to slice the lemon so fine as to consider steampunk against gaslight fantasy.

    I do want to note that while the steam part adds the decorative brass curlicues, the punk part is also important. Just adding dirigible travel and a steam powered typewriter to a regular romance is not going to get it.


  56. Maili
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 08:48:55


    Maybe we need a TV Tropes sort of list of romance subgenres if we are going to have to slice the lemon so fine as to consider steampunk against gaslight fantasy.

    Ack. I forgot to list another reason why I see the difference between Gaslight fantasy and Steampunk. You actually pointed it out yourself:

    I do want to note that while the steam part adds the decorative brass curlicues, the punk part is also important. Just adding dirigible travel and a steam powered typewriter to a regular romance is not going to get it.

    Right. ‘Punk’ in Steampunk is important to consider/remember. To some old timers, the punk element is a focus on rebelling against authority, corporation, Big Brother syndrome, secret societies or whatever that controls people’s lives or their way of living.

    It’s a riff on Cyberpunk that revolves around 20th-century-and-beyond technology and a rebellion against the corporation-like world. Hacking their way into a main system to cause chaos. Steampunk holds a similar attitude, but in Victorian setting along with its Victorian-but-still-anachronistic technology.

    When a story doesn’t have this, then it can be just a fantasy with the steampunk element or flavour. (Or a Gaslight fantasy. :D) Not necessarily the case for all, though, as this is usually for the purists, so no one will cry if authors push this boundary. :D

    I know it’s difficult to see the differences, but when one is familiar with these sub-genres, it’s really easy to see. Almost like people be able to recognise the difference between SF romance and Futuristic romance, or Urban Fantasy with a strong romantic element and Paranormal Romance.


  57. BevBB
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 08:56:34

    I am likely to pick up a book just because it is steampunk- but I'm starting to worry a little about definitions. Maybe we need a TV Tropes sort of list of romance subgenres if we are going to have to slice the lemon so fine as to consider steampunk against gaslight fantasy.

    Snort. Definitely. There is such a thing as getting carried away with subgenre-ing ourselves to death. Now tagging, i.e. indexing, on the other hand, is a good thing. Do not get me started. ;)

    As for steampunk, I love it. I can’t wait to see more romances with it but then alternate histories have never bothered me, whenever they’re set. I do have a special fondness for steampunk, though.

    Question, because this has been bugging me. The TV series on Sci-Fi, oh, excuse me, SyFy now, called Sanctuary. I tend to think it has elements of both steampunk and technopunk (cyberpunk? what’s the right term there?) due to the present setting coupled with the flashbacks to Helen’s and the rest of the Five’s past. Am I wrong in thinking this? I ask because I’m not exactly sure when and how technopunk kicks in but that series definitely has some stuff that might qualify. I said might. Like I said, I’m not sure. There’s a lot of stuff going on there so I’d be interested to hear what some of you think about it. It’s also one that mixes science and magic, too, into a blend that sometimes gets difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.


  58. Nat
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 09:31:43

    “Snort. Definitely. There is such a thing as getting carried away with subgenre-ing ourselves to death”


    Also, the mixing of genres reminds me of my reaction about a certain mix I hadn’t seen before. Couple of decades ago (feels like decades anyway), Babylon Five came up with these Technomages. I was always very intrigued by the concept of magic and science fiction. I mean just the name, Tek-no-mahhhhjj…*drool* Dude!

    As for steampunk and any kind of punk, sure, the dystopia, the stick-it-to-the-man, is important. But I wouldn’t want to start dissecting it like that. If it has the shiny cool gadgets, the sense of grandiose adventure, and a funky revision of pseudohistory, I’m happy to call it steampunk.


  59. Tina Burns
    Sep 02, 2009 @ 23:17:23

    Like Angie, I’ve been asking for Steampunk for ages. It’s a genre I fell in love with the first time I saw Howl’s Moving Castle and have been on the hunt for Liquid Silver and my personal reads ever since.


  60. nutmeag
    Sep 09, 2009 @ 11:35:34

    I just finished reading some “Dissertation Notations” from a future where steampunk comes back into style after the internet gets fed up with humanity and quits. It’s a cute “article” overall, but I mention it here because of a section on romance fiction and how “bodice rippers” come back into style after women start wearing large amounts of clothing again. It’s a funny read.

    FYI: “the new sense of slow seduction” is called steamplay.


  61. Heather Massey
    Sep 11, 2009 @ 18:22:25

    Tina, thanks for the info. I’ll tuck it away for future blog posts. If I could re-experience HMC in a book–heavenly! STEAMBOY is pretty sweet, too and I heartily recommend it.

    Thanks for the link, Nutmeag–that was a fun piece.


  62. Heather Massey
    Sep 25, 2009 @ 19:05:47

    Fyi, Sasha Knight of Samhain tweeted that she’s looking for steampunk & cyberpunk romances, and that an anthology call is coming soon.

    Couldn’t be more excited! I think this is a first regarding an anthology devoted exclusively to steampunk romance.


  63. Austin Cook
    Jun 10, 2010 @ 21:13:53

    David Bowie has some really eccentric personality but i like his style of music. he is a good actor too.~;:


  64. Alice Kelly
    Jul 15, 2010 @ 10:17:08

    when i hear about David Bowie, it reminds me of Vanilla Ice. ,*,


  65. Steampunk Romance « Ruby's Reads
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 07:11:05

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