Behold! The Power of… Steam?


Here’s a riddle: What do you get when you combine science-fiction, fantasy and a certain shade of historical fiction?

The answer is the steampunk fiction genre.

Steampunk may have only come about in the 1980s (or at least it was popularized around then), but it’s cooking with gas these days. Explaining who exactly came up with it, how and why would take far too much time and space. (Not to mention how I have no clue.) But that doesn’t mean the genre can’t be summed up with relative ease.

Steampunk Fiction:

The steampunk fiction genre is most definitely one of the newer ones out there. Somewhat science-fiction, somewhat fantastical, somewhat historical, it’s based around the premise of a world run on steam power.

See why it’s somewhat historical?

Yet beyond that aspect (and a seemingly never-ending display of corsets), it often involves technology the actual 19th century never imagined (therefore sci-fi) and any range of critters that go bump in the night.

While steam power is still used today, it’s got little to nothing on other modes of energy production. In our modern world, we hear so much about oil, coal, solar and wind-powered momentum, with even nuclear plants making significant comebacks in certain parts of the world.

But steam?

It’s accurate to say that was a lot bigger back in the 19th century, when it was first introduced to known history. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it, “The invention of the steam engine in the latter part of the 18th century, providing a key source of power for the Industrial Revolution, gave an enormous impetus to the development of machinery of all types.”

Sure, that’s cool enough, I suppose. But why bother going back to the late 18th century or 19th century for technological inspiration when we’ve progressed so far since then? I mean, they didn’t even have cellphones, much less smartphones back then.

(Gasp of shock and horror!)

True. But chicks went around wearing cool-looking corsets, no matter that their breathing suffered for the vanity. So clearly, there’s a trade-off. Or so the steampunk fiction genre thinking seems to go.

Again, the exploration of how this category of writing came to be is a subject no doubt explored in someone else’s blog. For Innovative Editing’s how-to purposes, however, consider these pointers instead:

  • Steampunk fiction can be married with just about any other genre out there, including romance, mystery and thriller. (They’re automatically linked to science-fiction and fantasy.)

  • It’s going to almost always, if not always, have a Victorian flair to it. Hence the corsets.

  • This genre is heavy on old-fashioned sophisticated gadgets. As Goodreads puts it, steampunk fiction “could be described by the slogan, ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’” In other words, there might not be any cellphones – much less smartphones – but that doesn’t mean people don’t have their ways of communicating loud and clear.

  • If you’re writing in the steampunk fiction genre, feel free to throw in just about any technology you want – just as long as you can make a steam-power case for its existence.

  • Vampires, faeries and other fantastical critters are welcome should you so choose to employ their capabilities.

That’s pretty much the basics. Though of course there’s more to any book classification than what initially meets the eye. So we’ll be exploring the steampunk fiction genre further come Thursday.

‘Til then, more steam power to you.

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