Steampunk Experiment

I’m playing around with a Steampunk idea. If I manage to pull it off, it will be the fifth in the Candy’s Monsters novella series. After a straight out mystery (The Mary Shelley Game), a broken-hearted, chick-lit, dark comedy (Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet), a 21st Century gothic horror (POED) and a romantic suspense novella (The Strange Case of Dr. Hyde and Her Friends), I’ve finally found my monstrous way to Steampunk. I’ve read a big bunch of ‘em. Loved a few. Hated a couple. Found merit in the fusion genre with its twist on time & technology. And so it’s time to dive—or tip toe—into the stew of mixed influences that make Steampunk so Steampunk-y.

I’m curious about the aspects of Steampunk that resonate with readers. For me, it’s the fun with anachronisms—the mix of real & fantasy and the reimagined timelines. In historical fiction (good historical fiction) there is a clear adherence to the broader context of historical realities. Historical fiction can make history come alive by giving the reader a doorway into another time and place. Phillipa Gregory’s ‘The White Queen’ is brilliant. As a reader, I was swept into the world she created by melding serious research with an imaginary inner life of historical figures.

In Steampunk the realities of the Victorian era (Queen Victoria 1837-1901) are re-imagined with technology—or technology enhanced with magic—plus feminism and other ideas borrowed from later periods. A Steampunk novel juxtaposes historical facts with fantasy fiction, in the fashion of the great 19th century science fiction & fantasy authors—Jules Verne and company. My inspiration for trying Steampunk was a visit to an exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. It featured books by Verne, H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley and others masters of adventurous 19th Century fiction.

I’m playing with a setting close to home—my apartment building. It was built at the turn of the 20th Century when cast iron architecture was giving way to the next phase of building styles as Manhattan expanded north. It will be 1900 and the building will be a brand new, state-of-the art manufacturing facility. The top floor and roof will be the laboratory of my protagonist.

Whether you love Steampunk or loathe it, I’m interested in hearing what you think is essential to a good Steampunk tale. Thoughts, gripes, rants, critical elements and anything else about Steampunk… please share here!


The exhibit at the Smithsonian was inspirational.

The exhibit at the Smithsonian was inspiring.


  1. Well, I’m quite fond of steampunk literature, and I’m well-practiced at being opinionated.

    What is essential to a good steampunk tale is a good story, of course. Besides that, what really sets steampunk aside from stories that glue some gears on a top hat, is the sense that the story could have been conceivably written by a contemporary of Verne and Wells. Just as our contemporary science fiction is imbued with our contemporary values, I think good steampunk must also carry the values and worldview of a Victorian-era writer. Without those values, it is, in my opinion, just window dressing.

    The first steampunk book I read was Whitechapel Gods by SM Peters. I had never read anything like it before, and it blew me away. What I loved about it was the atmosphere. The Victorian-influenced setting and atmosphere was just incredible. Since then, I’ve been looking for a similar book that melded together such a rich and dark atmosphere with a compelling story and an empathetic protagonist. I have found nothing close to it.

    What I loathe about steampunk is when it is used as window dressing. When the author just puts women in corsets and replaces horses with “steam horses” and calls it steampunk without having a deeper understanding of the Victorian era, it feels disrespectful to me, the reader. If the author couldn’t be bothered to do the research and understand why these things were as they were, then it feels like a gimmick–a cheap patina slathered on by a lazy author, and as a reader, I loathe lazy authors.

    That is my opinion, since you asked. Good luck!

    • Candy Korman

      I’ll be honest up front—I was a history major in college. I will not be able to resist some actual historical research and so I plan to weave some real life with the Steampunk. I agree about the use of Steampunk details as window dressing. It undermines the genre and worse… it undermines the story. My plan is to use the Steampunk (imagined) setting with an undercurrent of some of the real conflicts, issues, ambitions of the period and place. Fingers crossed (well not on the keyboard).. I hope I can pull it off.

      Thanks so much for your helpful direction. There’s going to be a serious debt to H.G. Wells in this one!

  2. Sorry, Candy, Steampunk isn’t my favourite genre. I have read some, but not much. That said, everything is in the details so I’m sure I’ll enjoy yours. 🙂