Welcome to the retro-future. Please put on your goggles and board your airship. This pathfinder is designed to introduce library staff and customers to the world of steampunk. We’ll focus on materials you can find in the collections of the Oklahoma County Metropolitan Library System (MLS), supplemented by online resources. Please view these suggestions as if they were a menu, rather than a to-do list. The goal is to help you find a few items that will tempt your fancy and encourage your interest in steampunk. This pathfinder is also meant to serve as a handy reference for librarians who need to recommend steampunk resources to customers. First we’ll consider the question, “What is steampunk?” Then we’ll look at adult fiction, comics, juvenile and young adult fiction, movies, art and gadgets, and Web sites. Enjoy.
What Is Steampunk?
Even if you have never heard of steampunk before, you are more familiar with it than you realize. Have you read nineteenth century science fiction by H.G. Wells or Jules Verne? Have you read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Balloon Hoax,” or Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? Then you’ve seen the world that steampunk seeks to emulate. Have you watched The Golden Compass or the latest Sherlock Holmes movie? Then you have first-hand experience of steampunk.
Steampunk is a genre characterized by steam-powered computers, steam-powered dirigibles (airships), and supernatural creatures. It represents a playful attempt to reclaim technology as controllable and fun—and also a metaphor for the disruptions caused by runaway technology in the real world. Steampunk plots are often dystopian, with cynical heroes and heroines who wrangle with out-of-control contraptions and battle zombies. Here are some introductory examples:
A Short, Fun Video:
Techiediva. 2008. “What is Steampunk?” YouTube, June 17. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b75vrsoT8qM
Falksen, G.D. 2009. “Steampunk 101.” Steampunk Month. October 7. http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/10/steampunk-101
Priest, Cherie. 2009. “Steampunk: What It Is, Why I Came to Like It, and Why I Think It’ll Stick Around.” The Clockwork Century, August 8. http://theclockworkcentury.com/?p=165
Ross, Andrew Rowe. 2008. “What is Steampunk? A Subculture Infiltrating Films, Music, Fashion, More.” MTV News, September 29. http://goo.gl/E7pmB.
VanderMeer, Jeff, with S.J. Chambers. 2011. The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature. Contributions from Desirina Boskovich, Libby Bulloff, G.D. Falksen, Rick Klaw, Jess Nevins, Jake von Slatt, Bruce Sterling, and Catherynne M. Valente. New York: Abrams Image.
The Steampunk Bible is a particularly helpful starting place. It provides an engaging introduction to the precursors and origins of the genre and to its fiction, comics, animated and live-action films, fashion, art, contraptions, music, and subculture. It’s also gorgeously illustrated with lots of color photographs, drawings, and graphics.
A Helpful Hint for Explorers
Books and movies that have a call number listed can be found in the collection of the Oklahoma County Metropolitan Library System (MLS). When you look up most of these in either the staff catalog or in CyberMars, one of their tags will be “steampunk.” Clicking on the steampunk tab will bring up a long list of other steampunk items. The source for these tags is LibraryThing.com.
What to Read—Early Examples of the Genre
Steampunk originated as a literary genre. Two of the earliest steampunk works can be found within the MLS collection. Unfortunately, Infernal Devices is an uncataloged paperback, and as such, there is no easy way to locate it within the system.
Gibson, William and Bruce Sterling. 1991. The Difference Engine.
New York: Bantam Books.
According to VanderMeer and Chambers, The Difference Engine is probably the best-known early steampunk work (56-58). In this dystopian alternate history, the United States has fragmented into several smaller countries. Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace have successfully constructed an analog computer, giving the world a steam-powered information revolution. Great Britain, the center of this development, has suppressed anti-technology activists and becomes a superpower.
Jeter, K.W. (1987) 2011. Infernal Devices. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Reprint, Nottingham, U.K:Angry Robot.
Along with James Blaylock and Tim Powers, Jeter was one of the founding authors of steampunk, and gave the genre its name. This is one of the very first steampunk novels. The MLS does not have any of the early works of Blaylock and Powers, but it has later works by all three authors.
What to Read—Adult Fiction
Finding something steampunk to read in the MLS collection is not difficult. The difficulty for a beginner is in narrowing your options to a manageable number. One way to do that is to consult two helpful lists constructed by Library Journal columnist John Klima.
Klima John. 2010. “Steampunk: Twenty Core Titles, Featuring H.G. Wells, Neal Barrett, and Cherie Priest.” Library Journal, March 4. http://goo.gl/TT9F1
——. 2011. “Steampunk: Thirteen Titles to Update Your Collections.” Library Journal,
Among the books that Klima recommends are The Steampunk Bible, the Difference Engine, and Infernal Devices. Below are a few of Klima’s other selections:
Berry, Jedediah. 2009. The Manual of Detection. New York: Penguin Press.
Jedediah Berry’s Manual of Detection follows the exploits of clerk Charles Unwin, promoted to detective when the previous detective goes missing. In a surreal setting reminiscent of Victorian London, Unwin is forced to rely on the titular Manual of Detection in order to do his new job and try to track the missing detective. (Klima 2010). This is the standalone book, but the ending is constructed so that it could become a series.
Carriger, Gail. 2009. Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel. New York: Orbit.
Klima (2010) describes Gail Carriger’s Soulless as a sort of steampunk comedy of manners. Alexia Tarabotti was born without a soul and therefore able to neutralize werewolves and vampires, When Alexia accidentally kills a vampire who attacks her, Queen Victoria sends a member of the werewolf nobility to investigate. This plunges Alexia into a series of comical misadventures. After the end of Soulless, the misadventure continues. MLS has three more books in Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series.
Mann, George. 2009. The Affinity Bridge: A Newberry and Hobbes Investigation.
New York: Tor.
The Affinity Bridge by George Mann is another mystery. Detectives Sir Maurice Newberry and Miss Veronica Hobbes work to sort out a series of mysterious disappearances in Victorian London. In the process they must battle large and murderous automata. A plague that turns its victims into zombies also figures in the plot. MLS has two additional titles in Mann’s Newberry and Hobbes series.
Priest, Cherie. 2009. Boneshaker. New York: Tor.
In Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, the U.S. Civil War and the Klondike Gold Rush both began in 1850. Seattle inventor Leviticus Blue was working on a giant gold-mining machine for use in the Klondike. An ill-fated underground test of the machine destroyed the city and released a deadly gas that killed some people and turned others into zombies. The city has been walled off to prevent the spread of the gas, and Blue is reviled as a murderer and a thief who destroyed the city in order to rob the banks the machine tunneled under. Blue’s teenaged son, Ezekiel, sneaks into the ruined city in hopes of finding information that will clear his father’s name, and his mother, Briar Wilkes, goes after him.In addition to Boneshaker, MLS has three later books from Priest’s Clockwork Century series. While characters from the first book appear in the later books, each book stands on its own as an independent story, introducing new characters along the way. Priest excels in creating strong characters of both sexes and many racial and ethnic backgrounds.
What to Read—Comics and Graphic Novels
We’ll start this section with another reading list:
Cornish, Chriss. 2010. “Steampunk Comics: A Reading List.” Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf and Book Review, October 19.
A few of Cornish’s suggestions can be found in the MLS collection, including Calamity Jack and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Hale, Shannon, and Dean Hale. 2010. Calamity Jack. New York: Bloomsbury.
Moore, Alan and Kevin O’Neill. 2000. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 1. La Jolla, CA: America’s Best Comics.
Volume One of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen also comes recommended by John Klima (2010). The appeal of the series is that it brings together characters from Victorian science fiction and horror novels all in one surreal story line. This is not good harmless fun. As Cornish
notes, one character is raped in volume two, and the series also seems to portray the racism and religious bias of the dominant British culture of that period. Read it and judge for yourself.
Moore, Alan and Kevin O’Neill. 2003. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2. La Jolla, CA: America’s Best Comics.
Moore, Alan and Kevin O’Neill. 2007. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. La Jolla, CA: Wildstorm Productions.
Another example of MLS steampunk comic material is the Japanese manga Steam Detectives. The MLS collection includes seven volumes of this series. The first is listed below:
Asamia, Kia. 1995. Steam Detectives: Volume 1. San Francisco: Viz Communications.
Padua, Sydney. 2011. “2D Goggles, or The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.” http://sydneypadua.com/2dgoggles/. Accessed November 19.
Foglio, Phil and Kaja Foglio. “Girl Genius: Adventure, Romance and Mad Science.”
http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php Accessed November 20.
What to Read—Children and Young Adults
Below are a few examples of juvenile and young adult fiction from the MLS collection:
Link, Kelly and Gavin J. Grant, eds. 2011. Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Telep, Trisha, ed. 2011. Corsets and Clockwork: Thirteen Steampunk Romances. Philadelphia: Running Press Teens.
Cross, Kady. 2011. The Girl in the Steel Corset. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin Teen.
Reeve, Philip. 2007. Starcross, or, The Coming of the Moobs!, or, Our Adventures in the Fourth Dimension! : a Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Wilce, Ysabeau S. 2007. Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. Orlando: Harcourt.
What to Watch—Movies
VanderMeer and Chambers (195) strongly recommend an Oscar-nominated short Australian film from 2005 that has been posted on the Internet:
Lucas, Anthony. (2005) 2008. “The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello.” YouTube, October 23. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vORsKyopHyM
The MLS has many of the classic science fiction films based on the work of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and also two recent feature films from the steampunk genre. (The film version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is listed in the catalog, but is no longer available.)
Ritchie, Guy [director] (2009) 2010. Sherlock Holmes [videorecording]. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video.
Weitz, Chris [director].(2007) 2008. The Golden Compass [videorecording]. Burbank, CA: New Line Home Entertainment.
What to Look At—Steampunk Art, Fashion, and Gadgets
The MLS has several interesting books that explore the world of steampunk art and fashion, showing works by active steampunk artists and giving directions for do-it-yourself projects. The online Steampunk Workshop features working contraptions based on historical prototypes.
Donovan, Art. 2011. The Art of Steampunk: Extraordinary Devices and Ingenious Contraptions from the Leading Artists of the Steampunk Movement. Foreword by Jim Bennett. East Petersburg, PA: Fox Chapel Publishing.
Hewitt, Jema. 2011. Steampunk Emporium: Creating Fantastical Jewelry, Devices and Oddments from Assorted Cogs, Gears and Other Curios. Cincinnati: North
Grymm, Dr., with Barbe St. John [pseud.] [Joey Marsocci.] 2011. One Thousand Steampunk Creations: Neo Victorian Fashion, Gear, and Art. Beverly, MA:
von Slatt, Jake. 2010. “Jake’s Wimhurst Machine and How to Build It! (Part One).” Steampunk Workshop, September 30.
von Slatt, Jake. 2009. “How to Build a Wimhurst Influence Machine—Part Two.” Steampunk Workshop, September 28.
von Slatt, Jake. 2007. “Telegraph Clacks Out RSS Feeds.” Steampunk Workshop, April 30.
What to Explore Next
Here are links to a few more online resources:
Ay-leen the Peacemaker. 2011. “Beyond Victoriana: A Multi-Cultural Perspective on Steampunk.” Accessed November 20. http://beyondvictoriana.com/
Octopodicon. 2011. Accessed November 20. http://octopodicon.org/
This is a steampunk convention (or “con”) that will take place in Oklahoma City in early October 2012. Sponsored in part by the Metropolitan Library System, it will feature classes, guest speakers, children’s programming, an art gallery, and more.
Steampunk Culture. 2011. http://www.steampunkculture.com/index.html Accessed November 20.
Steampunk Librarian. 2011. http://steampunklib.typepad.com/ Accessed November 20.
Steampunk Magazine. 2011. http://www.steampunkmagazine.com/ Accessed November 20.
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