I hate alternate history novels. I’ve tried. I just can’t get with the program. It’s similar to movies about real people whom I’ve seen during my lifetime: JFK, Martin Luther King, Jim Morrison. I see them portrayed on the big screen and I think, no, that’s her/him.
I’ve got nothing against Harry Turtledove, who is one of the finest purveyors of alternate history novels writing today. It’s just not up my alley.
So, it would seem, there is no logical reason that Steampunk novels would appeal to me. Fortunately, this isn’t necessarily about logic.
You might ask, what is steampunk? The best definition I’ve run across to date comes from PC Magazine. They describe steampunk as “a retro version of cyberpunk,” noting that it is a term that was coined by K. W. Jeter to describe novels that “combine high-tech fantasy with Victorian-era surroundings.” That era was when steam ruled as the most important energy source. Still wondering?
Think Jules Verne and his fabulous flying machines and fantastic submarines and futuristic rockets. Think H. G. Wells and his equally incredible time machine. Think gaslit streetlamps, heavy fog, filagreed frocks, and ominous doings in the highways and byways of the late 19th century.
There you go.
Both Wells and Verne are thought as forbearers of the genre that would become steampunk. Dickens and Stoker and Chesteron and Mary Shelley all fit nicely into the category of classic writers that influenced a genre which sprouted in all its magnificence in the 80s and is bigger today than ever before.
What follows is a list of most recommended titles from any number of sites, including Library Journal, The Guardian, Solar Flare, Flashlight Worthy, and Fantasy Magazine and any other number of library and book-related blogs. I compiled this list for myself and thought it might serve others interested in dipping their big toes into a history of Future Past.
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Infernal Devices by K. W. Jeter
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
Steampunk: anthology, ed. by A. VanderMeer & J. VanderMeer
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Perdido Street Station b y China Mieville
Extraordinary Engines: the Definitive Steampunk Anthology
Souless by Gail Carriger
Leviathan by Scott Westerfields
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo
Homunculus by James Blaylock
Morlock Night by K. W. Jeter
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll & Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Julian Comstock: a Story of 22nd Century America by Robert Charles Wilson
You may notice that three of the novels in this list are currently unavailable in any library in the county: Homunculus, Morlock Night, and Warlock of the Air. Both are older and, to remedy that situation, we will be ordering new copies ASAP. Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, dig into the others.
They’ll give you plenty to think about concerning the past, the future, and, most of all, the right now.