So You Want to Read Steampunk...

While not pretending this list is comprehensive, these are some of the steampunk novels I've read that I would recommend to someone just strapping on their goggles and starting down the clockwork rabbit hole.

What is steampunk? Very, very simply, steampunk is Industrial Revolution-era fiction with a sci-fi twist. Computers running on gears and steam, floating battleships, bio-mechanical soldiers, stuff like that. Steampunk is much more than that, of course, but that's the archetype.

Jules Verne and HG Wells are considered the precursors to steampunk. Technically they're science fiction, not steampunk, because they were written in the era in which they take place. But if you want to understand the steampunk feel, you can hardly do better than to read The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

One of the first steampunk novels is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Published in 1990, it takes place in a 19th-century Britain where Charles Babbage has built the first computer out of gears and cranks -- becoming a Lord among a new breed of tech-savvy nobility -- where race cars and tanks run on steam, and where the Japanese build clockwork robot servants.

These are my three favorite steampunk novels. You can read a more in-depth review by following the links.

Boneshaker -- An experiment gone wrong turns 19th-century Seattle into a walled-off zombie town, and a hard-working mother must go in to rescue her son.

Leviathan -- An adventure novel set in World War I, except instead of Central vs. Allies it's the massive machines of the Clankers vs. the genetically-engineered monsters of the Darwinists.

Perdido Street Station -- A dark tale that mixes technology, psuedo-scientific magic, a myriad of sentient species, and bio-engineered monstrosities in a city with the feel of 19th-century London, but way creepier.

That's just a beginning of course. Other books I've heard of, but haven't been able to read yet, include Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, the Steampunk anthology edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, Jay Lake's Mainspring trilogy, and Kenneth Oppel's Airborn.

And probably lots more I've never heard of. Steampunk readers, got any good recommendations I've missed?


Matthew MacNish said...

I already own Leviathan, but just haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Now I have to go get Boneshaker, like STAT.

linda said...

Ooh, I heard a lot about Leviathan and it does sound pretty cool. Maybe I'll check it out. But the other two does sound a bit too dark/creepy for me. Thanks for the recs, though!

Jen said...

Thanks for the tips! I will check these out.

Hepius said...

Thanks, Adam. I'll definitely get into these. I want to research the genre before I try to write it.

I just read SOULLESS. A very good read, if a little on the romance side for me. And it did have the bad guys make one ridiculously unbelievable move that really irked me. But I can put that aside and highly recommend it. I'm reading the second in the series right now. You can get all three packaged together for $9.99 on Kindle. I couldn't pass up the deal.