Steampunk is gaining steam and lots of it. More and more, we science fiction and fantasy authors are being “pressured” to consider writing in this genre, to jump on that particular train (“locomotive?”). Why? Well, Steam­punk is spreading and in some rather incredible ways. And there is no point in getting “steamed” about all this, because Steampunk seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. Okay, so I’ve probably pushed the puns to death here, but let’s be fair, they are easy to do with this subject, so cut me some slack!


Anyway, when Steampunk first started in the 1980’s nobody could have predicted its rapid and very powerful growth. After all, it was just another subgenre among many other old and new genres of sci-fi and fantasy at the time, along with Cyberpunk, Sci-spy, Mundane, Biopunk, New Wave, Science Fiction Westerns, Space Westerns (no; Science Fiction Westerns and Space Westerns aren’t the same thing), Gothic Science Fiction, Cosmic Science Fiction, Alternate History, Erotic Science Fiction, Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, Christian, Gay/Lesbian, Time Travel, Space Opera, Pulp, Military -- well the list does go on, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t stop there. Steampunk has infiltrated movies (Golden Compass, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Bioshock), anime (Steamboy), complete novels, and so much else!


So who knew that Steampunk would be one of the leading contenders? So powerful has it grown that it’s now influencing not just fiction, but even art and culture in the form of designs of such things as homes and computers! More importantly for us writers, many magazines and publishing outlets want it, some exclusively. So wax those keyboards, my fellow authors, and make those fingers fly, because you’d better consider writing something in Steampunk.


But what is Steampunk? Well, the main definition seems to be anything written in a 19th Century setting or atmosphere, with em­phasis on the Vic­torian Period, or style. It is when most things were powered by steam. Think Jules Verne with his Captain Nemo and the sub­marine Nautilus. Ponder H.G. Wells with his airships and such – not to mention that lovingly-upholstered, baroque-and-brass time machine of his. I wanted a model of that!


So instead of our types of computers, you’d probably use analog versions, rather like old fashioned mechanical adding machines, only much more complex, maybe filling an entire building or city block. Instead of jets zooming around, you would use propeller-driven dirigibles. Interoffice communications would be via pneumatic tubes, rather than electric intercom systems. Picture lots of brass fittings, tubing, piping, and steam hissing out of various valves. Envision the odd woman in a hoop skirt and bonnet, dresses with bustles and bows, or a few men in top hats and cravats, and you have the setting. Now toss in a big dollop of science fiction or fantasy to go with that, and you have – Steampunk!


Perhaps one of the main reasons for the rapid growth of Steampunk is its flexibility. Whether set in an alternate universe, our actual one of the 1800’s, on some other planet, some other type of universe, past or present, or just set in a world of pure fantasy, even including magic as a prominent feature, Steampunk seems to not only hold it’s own, but apparently is expanding rapidly, as well.


Do not confuse Steampunk with cyberpunk. They may have had the same source, but are now parallel and pretty much separate movements. Yes, there is crossover (slip­stream may account for this) involved, but where cyberpunk has a real penchant for failed utopian visions (“dystop­ia”), Steampunk is usually not nearly so dark in that particular way. It tends to incorporate that joyous feeling of the 19th Century that anything was possible, anything could be invented. However, that doesn’t mean Steampunk can’t be dark, because it can.


Picture an air war, for instance. It might be composed of fleets of dreadnaught dirigibles, with troops trying to commandeer other “vessels” by gliding across to them using batwing-style personal gliders. Maybe, a super bomb would be a new type of powerful dynamite, capable of blasting a city center, rather like the American military’s MOAB (Mother Of All Bombs, which isn’t atomic in nature). See what I mean? It’s all fascinating stuff. And it’s so fascinating; it’s seizing an ever larger portion of the sci-fi or fantasy writing market, so as an author you should think seriously about trying your hand at writing it.  

I’ve always lamented the whole Harry Potter phenome­non, which made the subject of magic in general so popular, as well as the vampire trend going on today. This wasn’t because I didn’t like them, but because I didn’t get in on the ground floor, missed these two in their early development. In other words, when it came to surfing trends in science fiction and fantasy writing, I missed the wave! And frankly, the Harry Potter magic types of novels, although still popular, do seem to have definitely peaked. And, with everyone and their sister writing vampire romances, adventures, urban fantasies of the same ilk, it seems we will soon be peaking there, as well, if not already.


But Steampunk is still growing. And believe it or not, many writers haven’t really heard of it, or if they have, either they don’t know what it really is, or dismiss it as just another niche genre. Well, I don’t think so. Again, it’s growing rapidly and well may make a major showing for some time to come in our writing sphere.


For example, hosts of magazines are doing “Steampunk weeks,” “Steampunk issues,” and such promotions. One site, Galaxy Express at:

refers to “Steampunk as the new black!” As the article says, lots of folk are blogging about it, “spreading the buzz,” and it is “showing up in more books and films.” There is even a Steampunk Magazine. So it is my opinion, my educated guess that the Steampunk train is leaving town, and if you aren’t on it, you’ll be missing the “steamboat.” Yes, there I go in, but really it is just so easy to make these sorts of puns…


As Galaxy Express says of Steampunk, “it’s stylish, involving lots of shiny brass and oversized rivets" and readers, often like children, are attracted to “shiny” things. And you as a science fiction/fantasy author had better be able to supply it when they want it. That’s the catch here; you have to be riding that groundswell, not splashing about, at literary sea, somewhere behind it. Trust me; there’s money to be made in steam, folks, so do think about writing Steampunk. Whether your interests lie in sci-spy, time travel, or even Space Westerns, Steampunk settings are still easily used, and can be a good integral part of your story. Steampunk is big on atmosphere. It may get a little misty at times as a result, but hey, nothing’s perfect!



Author's Note: This article is an excerpt from Rob's newly released book, Guide To Writing & Publishing Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror.


Rob Shelsky's Blog:

Rob on Amazon:

Rob's Steampunk Novella, Engine Of The Gods:



What Is Steampunk?

What Is Steampunk? A Subculture Infiltrating Films, Music, Fashion, More


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