It seems like something new crops up every week as the "hot new thing" in romance. M/M stories. Comedic vampires. Snarky first person heroines. Amish dudes?
Steampunk has really taken hold in the last year as a sub-genre of romance. I inhaled Gail Carriger's quirky Parasol Protectorate Series. The Iron Duke was universally hailed as one of the best books in 2010. It makes me wonder...is steampunk here to stay? Or is it just a flash-in-the-pan? A temporary trend that's not going to last?
What is steampunk exactly? According to Wikipedia, its a "sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used--usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain--that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy."
Two examples that I've read recently are Gail Carriger's quirky series (Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless), and The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook. Carriger's books are light-hearted fun, a mix of historical/paranormal/steampunk romance. I can't imagine a quirkier mix of elements...vampires, werewolves, paranormal politics, funky mechanical inventions, tongue-in-cheek comedy, and proper tonnish protocol strictly enforced by the spunky heroine, Alexia. There are dirigibles, mechanical beetles, automatons, a fully loaded parasol covered with weapons, and more. The steampunk inventions are silly and fun, but the glue that holds these books together is the romance between the soulless heroine and her lusty werewolf spouse.
The Iron Duke is an altogether different species of book. The steampunk vision in this world is dark and threatening. There is no comedic relief in sight. Brook's world is perilous indeed, and we find microscopic mechanics that have insidiously infected the human body and forced it into slavery. Steampunk is not merely a backdrop for this story; it is the story. This frightening alternate world has been horribly transformed by these strange mechanical inventions...zombies roam the land, the human populace has been permanently altered, and the romance is intense and feels desperate at times. This book is a fascinating example of steampunk world-building.
I'm not sure if the steampunk genre will be a long-term component of romance. However, I do think that sci fi and romance is a daring and successful combination. Whether it's steampunk or biopunk, or aliens or water-based societies, the choices are endless. The sky is the limit with the imaginative options for this marriage of genres. For authors looking to flex their creative muscle, steampunk offers a glittering opportunity to imagine an alternate world and re-write history.
Just don't forget the romance.
If you're going to tack "romance" at the end of this genre, then you need to remember the most important element--the relationship between the hero and heroine, their conflict and resolution. Funky inventions and nail-biting adventures need to complement the romance, not fight with it, overshadow it, or replace it altogether. It's a tall order....incorporating all of these complex elements into one story, but that's the challenge for the writer of this genre.
I'm not sure if steampunk will fizzle out or continue to gain popularity. But the interest in sci fi/fantasy romance, which allows a huge creative outlet for authors, certainly will. I find it curious that steampunk has gained so much, well, "steam" (pun intended). Maybe folks are eager for an alternate reality. Maybe they wish they could re-write history. Or maybe they just want to be entertained. Whatever the reason, steampunk looks like it will be here for at least the foreseeable future. Enjoy it while you can!
What do you think about this new sub-genre? Do you love it? Or are you tired of new trends?
For more information about these books, please check out the reviews at Penelope's.