Posted by Nancy Novak, Children’s Librarian
Fantasy as a novel genre is not normally my favorite, but I do love a lot of sci-fi, and if you want to make my heart strings “zing”, then offer me a Steampunk novel.
This is how I describe Steampunk to newcomers of this fantasy subgenre: Stories which often blend Victorian conventions, the Industrial Revolution, Dickensian themes, fantastical inventions, History, and sometimes futuristic worlds. Clockwork mechanisms, scrap metal parts refurbished and repurposed, automatons, and machines (both old and new) powered by steam abound. Much of the writing takes on a 19th century flavor. Some steampunk authors like to pose very serious questions about human nature within their carefully crafted mechanical settings, or present rather ironic views of modern society cloaked in a steam powered contraption of wood and metal. Still others are like history lessons with a twist.
A new addition to Azle Memorial Library’s collection is Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. Some of the best authors of YA and adult literature have offered their steampunk imaginings in this collection, and it would be a good introduction to the genre. I could hardly put this book down, reading late into the night and getting up early in the morning to soak up all the imagery. There’s romance, history, and cautionary tales. M.T. Anderson delivers an alternate version of Rome’s conquests, complete with flying machines and a computer nerd guild which tends a handmade machine designed to predict the success of future war campaigns based on all of humankind’s past efforts! It certainly made me appreciate the “history repeats itself” saying, especially in light of the invasion of Iraq. Dylan Horrocks’ Steam Girl is a very poignant framed tale of a girl who writes steampunk as a way to escape her reality. I absolutely loved Cory Doctorow’s Clockwork Fagin for its salute to Dickens’ Oliver Twist. And it certainly had some very remarkable twists. Some of these tales are set in modern times, others in the past. And I loved them all. Many not so subtly comment about current events, and lead the reader to ponder many layers of meaning, such as Christopher Rowe’s question of whether ease in life and personal satisfaction trump saving our planet.
Other recent Steampunk publications –
The author/artist team of Scott Westerfeld and Keith Thompson has a great YA trilogy, Leviathan, Behemoth, and Goliath that presents a heart racing adventure of a young girl posing as a boy aboard a genetically engineered whale/dirigible like airship, accompanied by similarly engineered animal weapons, fighting steam powered machines, all within the backdrop of the beginnings of World War I. Deryn Sharp’s story collides with the prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and so teaches the reader the origins and causes of The Great War.
Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (soon to be a movie) is aimed for a juvenile audience, and tells the story of a 1930s orphan living in the recesses of the Paris train station and fixing clocks, while working on an automaton mystery (a 19th century fad of human shaped mechanical machines that delivered messages to audiences). Selznick tells this story in words and elaborate pictures. It won the Caldecott Medal of Honor in 2008, and it captivates everyone who opens the cover. Read it before you see the movie.
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is set in a post Civil War dystopian Seattle, complete with zombies and goggles. It is one of my son’s favorite Steampunk books.
You don’t have to be a teen to read Steampunk; in fact, it actually helps to have a bit of life experience under one’s belt to appreciate all that Steampunk novels and stories address. So put your goggles on, strap on your “Motion-Powered Wrist-Mounted Monodirectional Lantern” (courtesy of Horrocks) and get into Steampunk!!
Nancy Novak, 2011