Friday, November 11, 2011

This is for the Readers: What is this Steampunk Stuff?

This is for the Readers: What is this Steampunk Stuff?
By Brad R. Cook

Soyou‘ve met the contributors and received some great writing advice, but now it’s time for a little something for the readers.

As you might have noticed, several of The Writers’ Lens contributors are Steampunk writers and a question I am often asked is “What is Steampunk?”

I thought I would help the readers out there with an explanation. My favorite way to answer this question – “Steampunk is Victorian What If.” Steampunk is just like it sounds, steam technology extrapolated to fantastic possibilities, with a bit of a punk edge. It can take place in the past, as mine does, in some distant dystopian future, or even some Neo-Victorian alternate dimension that sounds so much cooler than our present 21st century world. It’s not just about the technology, there are also gaslight romances, nature vs. technology showdowns, even zombies, or my personal favorite – it’s about the brass!

There are a few iconic hallmarks that are universal.
Color defines the look – brown over black;
Metal is important – Iron and Brass over Steel and Titanium;
Etiquette is essential – nobles and rogues over alien hunting super-soldiers or slang-slinging detectives;
Remember Rube Goldberg – his crazy complex devices have inspired many Steampunk devices.

There are also a few sub-genres,
Dieselpunk – includes the internal combustion engine.
Clockwork, Clockpunk, or Lacepunk – focuses on technology before the steam engine.
Airstream – which is set entirely in the sky
Cyberpunk – includes computers and other “modern” technology.
Gaslight Romances – focus on the dark, foggy streets of European Cities.
Steamgoth – tends to be darker.
Westernpunk – a western with crazy technology.
Edwardian vs. Victorian – which is a choice of time periods.

Here are a few great Steampunk Novels–
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne – We have to start with the original Steampunk novel. Published in 1864 it set the tone for the entire genre.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (one of my favorites, I love all the Fencing)
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
Plus a shout for my own – The Iron Horsemen by Brad R. Cook
I’m querying agents and have my fingers crossed.

There are so many more novels that I could never mention them all, to find more I would recommend the numerous websites and blogs dedicated to Steampunk.

A few Steampunk inspired movies–
Sherlock Holmes – with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – with Johnny Depp
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – with Sean Connery and Peta Wilson
Serenity – with Nathan Fillion

There are also some great anime movies,
Last Exile
Disney’s Treasure Planet

That’s the end of my Steampunk introduction; I hope you enjoy its vast universe.

I wanted to also point out that it is the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, of the eleventh year. I like numbers and given T.W. Fendley’s post about Mayan Astrology, I thought I’d bring attention to it.

One last thing, Happy Veterans Day!
The Writers’ Lens would like to honor all men and women who have served in our nation’s armed services. We thank you for your service, your sacrifices, and want to express that you are always appreciated.

Learn more at or follow me on Twitter, @bradrcook


  1. Thanks for the great explaination! I'm just getting into Cyberpunk and Steampunk but it's always great to read more about it. Do you read a lot of YA Steampunk? I'm looking for good recs for the library.

  2. I highly recommend Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld - it is great Y/A Steampunk and the rest of the series is just as good. It has this amazing tech vs biology theme, not to mention a giant whale airship - yes I said a giant whale airship!

  3. Thanks for the explanation, Brad. I'm looking at the lists of books and movies and realizing that I'm already a fan of steampunk and just didn't know that's what it was!

    Hey, let me know if you need a beta or ARC reader for THE IRON HORSEMEN. I would be thrilled to review for you.

  4. A wonderful blog post, and a great explanation of Steampunk.