Monday, October 18, 2010


by Raelene Gorlinsky

Whenever I mention that EC is looking for steampunk romance submissions (really great ones, please), the question of "What is Steampunk?" comes up.

Steampunk has been around in science fiction for quite a while, and has moved into the romance genre more recently. So a lot of romance authors are still wondering what differentiates this subgenre from others.

It's more than just dirigibles and goggles and clockwork monsters.

My definition: Steampunk is a story set in an historical era (Victorian is most common, but it could be almost any time) that incorporates advanced technology based on the science of that time. Strong, detailed and consistent worldbuilding is critical. (And of course steampunk romance is a story with that worldbuilding, but where the focus is the development of a committed romantic relationship.)

The 1999 movie Wild, Wild West is a good example of steampunk. Steam-based advanced technology set in the latter half of 19th century in the western (frontier) U.S.

Some definitions from others:

From Meljean Brook:
"Steampunk is essentially historical science fiction. The advanced technology is usually steam-based (steam engines and locomotives, for example) and can be combined with various forms of Victorian-era technology and science: airships and clockwork-powered automatons are common. The machines can be small, like singing mechanical birds, or include giant robots."
From a blog article by Heather Massey, reviewer and blogger:
"Steampunk as a literary genre gained notice starting in the 1980s. A subgenre of science fiction and fantasy, it developed as a rebellious response to the science fiction that preceded it. Core elements of steampunk include:
~ Steam power
~ Alternate history settings (mostly Victorian/Edwardian era England)
~ SF/Fantasy elements
~ Devices that reflect the period but are ahead of their time (e.g., difference engines, airships, etc.)"
And there's always Wikipedia:

Steampunk can also incorporate elements such as paranormal or futuristic.

Steamed by Katie MacAlister uses time travel.

Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless) is steampunk romance with paranormal. It's set in Victorian England, does indeed have machinery, steam-powered things, dirigibles--plus werewolves, vampires and ghosts.

"Cherry Tart" by Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks in EC's Flavors of Ecstasy III anthology has Victorian society colonizing other planets using steam-powered space ships.

Nathalie Gray's Mechanical Rose is mild erotic romance.

So you can combine your favorite romance genre elements with steampunk for something original. Just be sure you plan well and get the worldbuilding complete and coherent. And then send EC your submission!

I'm about to start MelJean Brook's The Iron Duke, having read the related novella in the Burning Up anthology. What steampunk romances have you read and would recommend?

1 comment:

Angelia Sparrow said...

Technically, Steampunk is pretty much limited to 19th century, when steam was still the primary power source. Set a story before that and you're into Clockpunk (Medival and Renaissance) or Bronzepunk (Ancient, think 300. Archimedes usually figures heavily in these).
After that and you get dieselpunk (pre WWII) and atompunk (post WWII).

The Vandemeers, in their Steampunk anthology, make the statement that "Steampunk is the argument with the science fiction of earlier generations."

To be technical again, "Cherry Tart" is a Gaslight Romance, which uses the trappings of steampunk without any social commentary.

I did a whole post on this a while back. Steampunk is one of my favorite things to write, although I tend specialize in Weird Westerns instead of London settings.