Steampunk: Tales of Future Past
by Vaughn Treude
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that has become quite popular in recent years. As the name implies, it features steam-era technology in a historical or fantasy setting. It has also given rise to a subculture based on the fictional works, with innovations in fashion (as shown above) art, and music. I have been an aficionado of steampunk since I first encountered it in the 1990s, and have written several works in this genre. In the upcoming months, my writing partner Arlys Holloway and I will be releasing a number of new works.
The term steampunk was coined by science fiction author K.W. Jeter to describe his 1979 novella Morlock Night, a fanciful sequel to H.G. Wells’ classic, The Time Machine. This was an appropriate beginning because, in many ways, steampunk follows in the footsteps of Victorian-era science fiction writers such as Wells and Jules Verne. The name is a play on words, combining 19th century steam power with a 20th century punk-rock attitude. The first steampunk novel to achieve critical acclaim (which was also my introduction to the genre) was The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. This book imagines a world in which Charles Babbage’s mechanical computing machine brought about the information revolution a century earlier.
Since then, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of fictional works that envision the future as seen by our ancestors. Their predictions were often comical, but at times surprisingly accurate. To be honest, I did not think steampunk’s popularity would last. I expected that it would go out of fashion like so many other niche literary styles. Yet it has endured, perhaps due to the economic and social turmoil of the last few decades. It offers readers an escape to an elegant world of refined tastes, manners, and old-fashioned adventure.
Most steampunk fiction is based in the Victorian Era (1837-1901), often in Great Britain – though a number of writers, myself included, have created stories with American protagonists and settings. Popular steampunk works include Scott Westerfield’s alternate-history World War I series Leviathan; Cherie Priest’s Wild West adventure, Boneshaker; and Gail Carriger’s Victorian-era urban fantasy, Soulless.
I began my foray into steampunk with my second novel, Fidelio’s Automata, which I published in 2015. Its hero is Cuban inventor Fidelio Espinoza, who comes to America to work with Thomas Edison. He creates a giant mechanical spider, intending it to perform dangerous occupations such as mining, but the prototype is stolen and converted into a weapon. Fidelio enlists the aid of Nikola Tesla to stop a group of corrupt businessmen from using his creation to victimize striking workers. The book is available on Amazon, along with a short story prequel called “Fidelio’s Dilemma.”
In an imaginative effort to promote the book, Arlys wrote a series of blog posts in the name of Professor Ione D, a young Victorian-era woman who traveled the world and collected recipes related to the places and people Fidelio encountered. We enjoyed Ione so much that we decided she needed her own adventures, beginning with Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, which we released in ebook form in 2016. On April 1, 2017, we will publish the print version, which features 12 new illustrations by various contributors. Currently we are working on a sequel, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, which we will release in the same way – first in ebook form, followed by an illustrated print edition. Finally, I’ve written a second book in the Fidelio series called Fidelio’s Insurrection, which we plan to edit and prepare for publication, hopefully before the end of the year.
Steampunk offers an escape into a fictional world with rich historical settings, swashbuckling characters, and imaginative, gadget-driven steam-powered adventure. It incorporates a retro-futuristic style, mystery, romance and above all, fun.
Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out his works at vaughntreude.com.