Sara’s Steampunk Primer

Automatons, Victoriana, zombies, choo-choo trains, corsets and clockwork. Steampunk is still on the rise. There are festivals, the Edwardian Ball in San Francisco, all manner of funtimes to be had whilst flying our freak flags in honor of the alternative timelines associated with the Industrial Revolution. If you’re like me, you’re a science fiction nut that wandered by chance into this genre. Or maybe you’re just automatically rad and you nailed it from the beginning. Either way, nobody can deny that zombies are huge right now, clockwork things are shiny and intriguing, and the Victorians wore the best outfits. Steampunk novels range from the romantic and supernatural (Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger) to heavily prosed and indelibly genius (Perdido Street Station by China Mieville) to something you might have already heard about (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore).

If you’re wondering where to start, a great place to get your little robot toes wet might be Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. It has zombies, airships, an underground survivor city and a mother & son trying to find each other amidst the madness. It’s an easy read and guaranteed to be entertaining and an intrigue into the steampunk hype. Everybody says that The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is a quintessential example of steampunk and therefore a must-read. Whatever you do, do not become confused and accidentally read The Difference Engine by Doron Swade unless you managed to make it all the way through Cryptonomicon. And speaking of Neal Stephenson, an excellent place to start your steampunk tour is with The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. It takes place in the future in a neo-Victorian society, though technically it might be classified as cyberpunk, it’s still generally considered a must-read in the steampunk circles.

If you’re ready to go straight to the hardcore, then China Mieville is your man. Also, when you get to the back of the book, there’s a huge bonus: A picture of him on the inside back cover, and trust me girls, you’re gonna be stoked. Smoking hot. Perdido Street Station spawned some spin-offs like The Scar, another highly acclaimed steampunk novel based on a floating city made of pirated ships. But Mieville rocks it out with King Rat, UnLundun and Iron Council too. Also, intuitively, The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature is straight up necessary reading.

After you get few steampunk novels under your belt you might feel compelled to buy a pair of goggles. Go with that instinct. Men wearing safari outfits as if they’ve been battling the undead scourge in Victorian India, women in corsets with parasols and thighs strapped with steampunk weaponry, it’s all hot. Steampunk is a celebration of one of the greatest eras in human history combined with all the supernatural fun you can’t get enough of. Someday I imagine, I’ll ride my bike through the park, wearing a bustle while carrying a wooden stake and checking the time on my pocket watch winking at everybody because I know one of you is undead. If you have anything you’d like to add to this topic, and I know there’s so much more to talk about, please check out this column on and start a discussion!

Sara makes the words happen.