Steampunk Beyond Britain

July 24, 2023 | Isabel

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Steampunk is a science fiction subgenre that features advanced versions of 19th century technologies. Think Victorian adventurers, mad scientists and clockwork automata — all covered in a healthy layer of gears. The settings often reflect the British Victorian (1820s–1901) or Edwardian (1901–1914) eras.

Steampunk key image. Two hats

Steampunk tends to draw on old-fashioned British society, etiquette and fashions. But steampunk books also challenge the sexism, imperialism and rigid norms of these settings. That's what puts the "punk" in steampunk.

And although the steampunk genre is often associated with England, it has expanded much further since the term was coined in 1987. Some of the expansion follows British colonial history. Another part comes from writers infusing steampunk themes into the history of other places. The common element of the genre is technology. 

At the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy, we recently launched Steampunk! An exhibit, which explores the many facets of this dynamic genre. For the discerning reader, we’ve selected some choice titles that push steampunk beyond its British roots.


Everfair by Nisi Shawl
The native populations of the Congo use their own steam technology to stand against European conquerors. Everfair is a safe haven for the Congolese and enslaved people who have escaped Europe and America. They are determined to protect their freedom and way of life at any cost.

The Haunting of Tram Car 015

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèli Clark
Cairo in 1912 is a thriving hub of mechanical innovation, thanks to the djinn. When Agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Yussef investigate a misbehaving tram car, they find a much bigger problem. Ghosts and spirits are possessing city automata. Now these essential machines can think for themselves! The sequel, A Master of Djinn, follows the adventures and investigations of Fatma el-Sha'arawi. 

Karen Memory

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Seattle is teeming with steam-powered automata, airships and opportunity-seekers. Karen Memery is horrified to learn someone is building a new machine to control people’s minds and bodies. At the same time, a serial killer is preying on streetwalkers. Drawn into danger, Karen will have to fend for herself and her friends.

The Sea is Ours  Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia

The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng.
Travel to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and beyond in this anthology by Southeast Asian authors. These stories are both cultural celebrations and commentary on the often British-centric steampunk genre.

Arabella of Mars

Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine
Humans landed the first airship on Mars in the late 1600s. A century later, Mars is home to a thriving British colony. Arabella, who has a knack for clockwork, disguises herself as a boy to sneak aboard the airship Diana. Her goal? Aid in the war between France and Britain back on Earth to save her home. The first book in the Adventures of Arabella Ashby

More to explore

Looking for more recommended reads? Visit Steampunk! An exhibit at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy. On until September 30, 2023.

And join us for a free movie screening of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on Monday, July 31, at 6 pm. The movie will be shown with English subtitles. A legion of superheroes, the likes of which mankind had never seen, must band together under the leadership of Allan Quatermain to save the world from "The Fantom," who is threatening to launch a global Armageddon. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill.

This post was co-written with Ames G.