Must Reads: Steampunk

I’m a Steampunk fan. I’m not always hung up on the fashion even though I love Victoriana, but a lot of the fashion actually doesn’t do it for me (unless it’s on someone else). I do however love the whole concept, love the gadgets, love the look of it, love it in novels and movies and I really do love steam powered objects such as trains. The problem is I don’t get to read nearly as much Steampunk as I would like (same goes with most other genres, especially Dystopia, but I guess if you’re reading far and wide you’re going to shorten the chance of reading your favourite genres). So I thought why not do a post of the top 20 most recommended Steampunk novels for those who are interested in the Steampunk genre or just starting out? For myself and for Steampunk fans?

Following, after the Steampunk description, is 15 books in the genre with a brief synopsis. Feel free to contest the list and to state why you do. I will let you know that this list is from scouring the net for polls and recommendations from Steampunk sites which I’ve put all together and listed the most mentioned.

First: What Is Steampunk?

There seems to be two types of Steampunk, but when it comes down to it it all has to do with steam and awesome gadgets with Victorian aesthetics… I love Steampunk. Anyway, there’s the more traditional type of Steampunk that’s neo-Victorian. It’s what life would be if the Victorian age didn’t end. Think H.G. Wells for now as an example.

Then there is the more cyber side or dirty Steampunk that is far more industrial and futuristic. In stories it can be almost dystopic. It’s not the product of Neo-Victoriana or what would have happened if Victoriana as an age didn’t end.

There’s also other novels, movies, and what have you that are called Steampunk, but aren’t necessarily Steampunk such as His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass) by Philip Pullman. It has a Steampunk feel to it with the use of steam, but it is more so Gaslamp (or Gaslight) Fantasy in that it’s not as industrial or sci-fi, but still has that Steampunk edge to it.

Steampunk Websites

One Note: If you haven’t read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and plan to in future do not read the synopsis for Morlock Night because it’s a continuation on from that story (basically what happens if the Morlocks get the machine) and it gives away quite a spoiler to The Time Machine.

Steampunk Novels To Read (In no particular order)


The Difference Engine – William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

The computer age has arrived a century ahead of time with Charles Babbage’s perfection of his Analytical Engine. The Industrial Revolution, supercharged by the development of steam-driven cybernetic Engines, is in full and drastic swing. Great Britain, with her calculating-cannons, steam dreadnoughts, machine-guns and information technology, prepares to better the world’s lot . . .

Homunculus – James P. Blaylock

Homonculus is a fascinating trip to a London that never existed … but perhaps should have.

Darkly atmospheric, Homonculus weaves together the stories of Narbondo — a mad hunchback who works tirelessly to bring the dead back to life, of the members of the Trismegistus Club — a surly group of scientists and philosophers who meet at Captain Powers’ Pipe Shop, and of the homonculus — a tiny man whose powers can drive men to murder.

Perdido Street Station – China Mieville

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.

Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda’s request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger.

While Isaac’s experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands attention: a brilliantly colored caterpillar that feeds on nothing but a hallucinatory drug and grows larger—and more consuming—by the day. What finally emerges from the silken cocoon will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon—and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it invokes . . .

The Steampunk Trilogy – Paul Di Filippo

Three Steampunk short stories: Queen Victoria disappears and is replaced by a newt-human hybrid; naturalist Agassiz is sucked into a bizarre plot involving the pickled remains of the Hottentot Venus; and Emily Dickinson meets Walt Whitman and has a Spiritualist experience.

Morlock Night – K.W. Jeter (I haven’t heard great things about this one, but Jeter coined the term Steampunk)

Remember the original Time Machine and the Time Traveller’s astonishing account of his journey to the far future when humanity had divided into two races — the worker-bestial Morlocks and the elfin-sheep Eloi? Remember also that the Time Traveller went back to that future and never returned?

What happened to his Time Machine? Did it fall into the hands of the Morlocks and did they make use of it to return to the time and place of its origin — the England of Wellsian days?

This is the completion of that epic story. This is what happened when the Time Machine came back with the Morlocks as its riders and London as their new hunting ground for human cattle!

Infernal Devices – K.W. Jeter

It all began when the Brown Leather Man, a mysterious being with a secret older than humankind, asked proper Victorian London gentleman George Dower to repair a weird device. How coud George have know that this was but one of the many infernal devices his genius father had built, and that he himself would soon be pursued by former clients of his father? For George had always been the unsuspecting key to his father’s incredible plans, a key that others would like to possess – from the automaton who wore George’s own face to the mad Lord Bendray, bent on using George to destroy the entire Earth.

The Anubis Gates – Time Powers

Brendan Doyle is a twentieth-century English professor who travels back to 1810 London to attend a lecture given by English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This is a London filled with deformed clowns, organised beggar societies, insane homunculi and magic. When he is kidnapped by gypsies and consequently misses his return trip to 1983, the mild-mannered Doyle is forced to become a street-smart con man, escape artist, and swordsman in order to survive in the dark and treacherous London underworld. He defies bullets, black magic, murderous beggars, freezing waters, imprisonment in mutant-infested dungeons, poisoning, and even a plunge back to 1684. Coleridge himself and poet Lord Byron make appearances in the novel, which also features a poor tinkerer who creates genetic monsters and a werewolf that inhabits others’ bodies when his latest becomes too hairy.

Boneshaker – Cherie Priest

In the early days of the Civil War, rumours of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born. But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of down town Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead. Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teen-aged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history. His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Alan Moore

It’s 1898 and at the behest of M, the mysterious head of the secret Service, Campion Bond is dispatched to procure the services of Miss Mina Murray (nee Harker), adventurer Allan Quartermain, “Science-Pirate” Captain Nemo, Henry Jekyll (and his monstrous alter ego) and Hawley Griffin (a.k.a. the Invisible Man).

Together, they must combat an insidious threat that will decide supremacy of the London skies, but their success may unleash a far greater threat.

The Warlord of The Air – Michael Moorcock

It is 1973, and the stately airships of the Great Powers hold benign sway over a peaceful world. The balance of power is maintained by the British Empire – a most equitable and just Empire, ruled by the beloved King Edward VIII. A new world order, with peace and prosperity for all under the law. Yet, moved by the politics of envy and perverse utopianism, not all our Empire’s citizens support the marvellous equilibrium.

Flung from the North East Frontier of 1902 into this world of the future Captain Bastable is forced to question his most cherished ideals, discovering to his horror that he has become a nomad of the time streams, eternally doomed to travel the wayward currents and nameless brances of a chaotic multiverse. Guided only by the red republican chrononaut, Una Persson, he must confront a multitude of alternate futures before at last gaining an understanding of his fate

The Diamond Age – Neil Stephenson

John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer on the rise when he steals a copy of “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” for his daughter Fiona. The primer is actually a super computer built with nanotechnology that was designed to educate Lord Finkle-McGraw’s daughter and to teach her how to think for herself in the stifling neo-Victorian society. But Hackworth loses the primer before he can give it to Fiona, and now the “book” has fallen into the hands of young Nell, an underprivileged girl whose life is about to change


Soulless
– Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is labouring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

The Prophecy Machine – Neal Barrett Jnr

Even in a mystical world where centuries ago animals were magically changed into humans, the land of Makasar us considered strange. Its two major religions are Hatters and Hooters. During the day, Hatters, wearing hats of course, wander about jabbing pointy sticks into bystanders. The night is ruled by the Hooters, who hoot and set fire to people and things. Hospitality is considered a capital crime. And Newlies, the humanize animals, are treated lower than scum. So when Finn, the Master Lizard Maker, finds himself stranded in Makasar-along with his lover, an attractive Newlies named Letitia, and the grandest, most magical creation of his illustrious career, a talking, thinking, rather cantankerous mechanical lizard named Julia Jessica Slagg-his first thought is a quick exit.

But the Nuccis-strongman son, mad father, and ever madder grandfather-have other plans for Finn and his loyal companions. There’s an odd machine in their basement that needs fixing, and who better to do it than a Master Lizard Maker? There’s more here than meets the eye, however, and Finn soon realises that the future he faces could be very dark indeed.

The Somnambulist – Jonathan Barnes

Once the toast of good society in Victoria’s England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect that he did in earlier times. Still, each night he returns to the stage of his theatre to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling, audience, aided by his partner, the Somnambulist—a silent, hairless, hulking giant who, when stabbed, does not bleed.

But these are strange, strange times in England, with the oddest of sorts prowling London’s dank underbelly. And the very bizarre death of a disreputable actor has compelled a baffled police constabulary to turn once again to Edward Moon for help—inevitably setting in motion events that will shatter his increasingly tenuous grasp on reality

Leviathan – Scott Westerfield

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever

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