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It Was a Dark and Steamy Night

Or how I stumbled into writing steampunk

…not fit for man nor beast—but perfect for an automaton. Okay, I guess it might rust, or maybe catch some lightning, but a machine doesn’t have the sense to stay in out of the rain unless the lightning makes it sentient…hmmmm….

And thus a steampunk idea begins to spin inside the brain…

It might sound a bit whacky, but despite a bit of crazy a steampunk novel is much like any other novel. It has a setting (Victorian period anywhere in the world—or out of it), characters (often crazy inventors/mad scientists and always some intrepid gals and guys), and a story (which may or may not include brass goggles, airships, clockwork inventions, and automatons on the rampage) that might have elements of romance, or mystery, some action adventure, a thread of horror, or a mix of some or all of those elements.

Unlike some genres, steampunk is wide open, free flowing, and ready and willing to be almost everything to everyone. It can start in the present and send characters time traveling to the past. It can take place in alternate realities/histories or on other planets. What defines it as steampunk is the presence of steam-based, but anachronistic technology, such as The Difference Engine, cool clockwork stuff or those pesky automatons. At present it also has a Victorian feel, but authors are already pushing its boundaries further into the past, curious to see how advanced technology might have impacted the Old West in the US, Egyptians and Chinese, or possibly deepest, darkest Africa.

Since there is no central, governing authority, steampunk is free to fan out in multiple—and fun—directions. Are you intrigued yet? Cautiously interested? How about a little test to see if you might like yourself some steampunk fun?

  1.  Do you have a sense of humor? Feel drawn to the whimsical and the weird?
  2. Prefer horror? Cybernetics? Zombies? Creatures of the night?
  3. Read historical or romance in general?  Romantic suspense? Urban fantasy? Dystopia? Hooked on fantastical creatures? Things that go bump in the night (and sometimes the day)?
  4.  What about alternate realities? Science fiction? Fantasy? Action adventure?
  5. Like heroic pirates? Sexy inventors? Airship captains? Detectives? Rebels? Spies?
  6. Corsets? Brass goggles? Whacky inventions? Derringers and parasols as weapons and accessories?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you passed “go” and can head straight for some steampunk fun. Here’s Heather Masey’s basic reading list to get you started:

Traditional steampunk

The Affinity Bridge (George Mann) and its sequel, The Osiris Ritual (a great place to start if you’ve never read steampunk before)

Whitechapel Gods (S.M. Peters)

Mainspring (Jay Lake)

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Mark Hodder)

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Alan Moore)

The Narrows (Alexander Irvine)

Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve)

You can also read the immensely popular Girl Genius online for free.

Steampunk romance

The Iron Duke (Meljean Brook)

The Miraculous Lady Law (Robert Appleton)

Steamed (Katie MacAlister)

Like Clockwork (Bonnie Dee)

Tangled In Time and Steamrolled, and Steam Time (Pauline Baird Jones)

Clockworks and Corsets (Regina Riley)

Hot and Steamy: Tales of Steampunk Romance (DAW Books anthology)

Full Steam Ahead and Mechanical Rose (Nathalie Gray)

Clockwork Heart (Dru Pagliassotti)

And if you want to try a bit before you dive into a whole novel, check out Project Enterprise: The Shorts. 

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