I’ve bene playing the computer game *Arcanum * and it has me jonesing for Steampunk. Specifically books in the genre.

For those not in the know, there are more or less three types of steampunk:

Type A - Gibson-derived Steampunk. Takes the angle of modern inventions arriving, in crude ways, years ahead of their time. For example, in The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, Charles Babbage completes his difference engine and with its help, the computer era arrives a century ahead of schedule.

This is what I consider “true” steampunk as it truly mixes in the cyberpunk aspects. For me, the point of cyberpunk wasn’t that everything is grimy and people have no morals and such, but that technology has advanced far beyond the normal person’s grasp of it. The average person becomes a primitive in his own world because the world itself has surpassed him. This is the kind of stuff I’m most interested in.

Type B - Magic Steampunk. As in Arcanum or, from what I hear, the Lord Darcy novels of Randall Garrett (which are way out of print). In this world, you have an industrial revolution going on alongside a magical world, usually opposed to each other. While this can be somewhat interesting, I’ve always felt that, because of the definition of cyberpunk I gave above, including magic was redundant and missed the point. This is why I’ve never cared for the role-playing game “Shadowrun” which mixes magic and cyberpunk. To me, in cyberpunk, the technology is pretty much magic, since it’s so beyond the reach of most mortals.

Type C - Victorian Technology. For some reason novels such as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” have now been taken into this genre. I suppose it stays in the idea of, “What if there was advanced technology in an earlier time?” but to me it kind of misses out on most of the point. Again, from my own point of view, I enjoy cyberpunk more for the comment on the sociological impact of technology rather than saying “cool! that tech is so neat!” Having higher-than-normal tech doesn’t do it for me unless you’re discussing the effects of such tech on the people around it. I consider this stuff more source material for steampunk rather than actual steampunk, but then again, I haven’t read any of it.

Is any of this pointless muttering making any sense? I’m looking for more stuff like Type A, and some good stuff in Type C. I’ve already decided to hit the Jules Verne and H.G. Welles sections of my library, as well as finally read some Lovecraft first-hand instead of people ripping him off. What would you kind folks recommend?

(Incidentally I have read the “Steampunk” comic book which is so poorly put together and so poorly drawn I’ve had a hard time getting very far in it.)

Saying “Gibson-derived Steampunk” is like saying “Terry-Brooks-derived fantasy.” Gibson came late to the genre and it was pretty much over with by the time “The Difference Engine” was published. Steampunk was created by people like Tim Powers, K.W. Jeter, and James Blaylock. It was either Blaylock or Jeter who coined the term (it was not intended to have anything to do with “cyberpunk” other than a parallel name, BTW). And while Gibson is a fine writer, “The Difference Engine” is a rather weak example of the steampunk; he was not able to pull off the action and wild plotting that was a hallmark of the subgenre.

Steampunk was mostly a fantasy genre, in any case. In addition to those listed above, other authors in the genre include Mark Frost (very overlooked) and Esther Friesner (for “Druid’s Blood”). Lord Darcy novels were a precursor, but it was Powers (who actually wrote of earlier periods), Blaylock, and Jeter who turned it into a subgenre.


Powers: “The Anubis Gates” “The Stress of Her Regard” “On Stranger Tides.”

Blaylock: “The Digging Leviathan” “Lord Kelvin’s Machine” “Homonculus”

Jeter: “Infernal Devices” (called by Locus as one of the best in the genre)

Frost: “The List of Seven” “The Six Messiahs”

Friesner: “Druid’s Blood”

Michael Swanwick: “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter” (not purely steampunk, but much of the same feel)

Thanks, RealityChuck! That’s the sort of info I needed. And yeah, I meant to comment that “The Difference Engine” was well-known but not well-loved, because it’s pretty dull. The long stretches of dull are punctuated by Gibson taking over the typewriter to add something bizarrely opaque. That editorial got forgotten in my ramblings.

I wasn’t aware of any of those other writers so hooray! But you say many of them are fantasy - by that do you mean they involve magic as well as the technology?

As regards type C – I’m a big Verne fan. I don’t think calling him “steampunk” is at all appropriate. Verne is an underappreciated writer who has suffered neglect and really bad translation. (Avoid anything translated by Lewis Mercier = Mercier Lewis like the plague. The man cut up to 1/3 of “20,000 Leagues” and royally botched translations. The best translations of Verne are post-1960.) If you can find them, read The Annotated 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Walter James Miller, or the translation he himself published. He also produced The Annotated From the Earth to the Moon, which is definitely worth it.

Used book stores sometimes have the “Fitzroy” editions of Verne, published in paperback by Ace. These are excellent, neglected Verne books. **The Weapon of Destruction ** = The Secret Weapon is Verne’s neglected submarine book. It formed the basis for two or three movies, including providing a lot of the material for the Disney version of “20,000 Leagues”.

Powers, Frost, and Friesner have magic as part of the mix. Don’t let that deter you, though. “The Anubis Gates” in particular is a great read. “The Stress of Her Regard” is also very good, but it helps to know something about the history of the romantic poest (Shelley, Byron, Keats) to appreciate what he did.

Blaylock and Jeter are more science oriented.

If I were listing the books in order of preference, I’d do Powers first, then Frost (especially “The Six Messiahs”).

I have nothing to add to this conversation other than the fact that I collect and read the comic book of said Steampunks name. While the art is confusing and hard to follow, I really enjoy the style of art. It is refreshing when compared to so many beautiful but bland and unoriginal art styles out there. That and I’m a big fan of Chris Bachalo from his days with Generation X.

Paul Di Filippo’s The Steampunk Trilogy is pretty good, too.

Arcanum is pretty awesome, ain’t it? I’m currently playing a Level 25 gunslinger/persuader/gunsmith type, love that balance between magic and technology, but it’s a pain that Virgil now has trouble healing me because I’m getting so technical.

Actually I’m a bit underwhelmed by it. I don’t think the magic and tech is balanced much at all, and the NPCs are useless except as pack mules. The leveling system is completely idiotic. Most of the weapons are completely underwhelming and apart from a few key magic spells, most of them are useless.

I’m towards the end where I have the opportunity to become a master mage in one discipline and I couldn’t care less. I hardly use any spells above second level and I only have one third level spell. And yet I fear nothing in the land because Harm and Fireflash are so ridiculously overpowered.

The tech route seems more interesting and challenging than the magic route to me. But both are hampered by the dreadful NPC and leveling system, and the lack of really interesting items on both sides.

Missed one RealityChuck :slight_smile: - Let’s not forget Jeter’s Morlock Night, written as a sequel to H.G. Wells’The Time Machine, about Morlocks making it back to Victorian England. One of the first books in this little sub-genre genre ( 1979, I think ).

  • Tamerlane

I recently started playing a mage, and I see where you are coming from with the magic…I heard that melee was the strongest skill for combat (haven’t played a true melee character yet) but that Harm spell does kick a lot of ass. Through the combination of being an Elf and having sold my soul for more magical aptitude, I was frequently doing 40 points of damage with Harm. It sure made the beginning of the game different, and since I played an evil character this time I was able to amass a lot of wealth and gear very early - I entered Tarant at 7th level with Virgil and I in Dread Armor and with close to 10,000 coin in our pockets. I’ve noticed playing a mage keeps you out of a lot of stores and keeps you from having access to certain quests, that’s a significant drawback (as is being evil, several NPCs refused to join me because of my evil aura).

It doesn’t really bother me that playing a mage seems quite a bit easier than doing other types of characters. The game is still very playable and fun with a character designed around a concept instead of maximum power (like my gunslinger Arvid), just a bit more challenging. Consider it a form of difficulty levels - if you need the game to be more challenging, avoid certain skills. As an example, you could choose to play a mage that doesn’t use Black Necromancy, Conveyance, or Fire Magic and not have access to some of the really powerful spells but still finish the game. You could play a character with NO combat skills and still beat it, you’d just have to make sure your followers were prepared and high enough level before going to Black Mine Caves or other areas that require you to fight.