The Compulsive Reader: Steampunk Love

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Steampunk Love

Ever since I read and adored Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld's latest, people have been tweeting me, emailing me, whatever, proclaiming how much they are in love with steampunk! This is very gladdening indeed, especially since there are two steampunk novels I love that I think are a teensy bit overlooked.

For those of you who are wondering what the heck I'm talking about (it's okay, I honestly didn't know what steampunk was and that these two books I'm recommending are considered just that til, oh, about three weeks ago), steampunk novels that usually take place in a world that is similar to ours, yet different. As opposed to science fiction, they don't really take place in the future per se, but in the past(usually the Victorian era)...but they're in an alternate past that is a blend of futuristic elements and the ways of the past. Are you still with me? I don't blame you if you're not. I'll give you examples of some steampunk-ish books, as I learn best by examples anyways.

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson

Sophie's life at her boarding school and great-aunt's home in 1938 Edinburgh is a satisfactory one. Never one for athletics or too much excitement, Sophie occupies her time studying, and plans to go to University, or become a trained assistant to the country's business leaders. But a frightening series of terrorist bombs soon disrupts her quiet life, and after a unsettling encounter with a medium at a séance, Sophie begins to unravel a deadly plot that will not only affect her future, but the fate of her schoolmates, family, Scotland, and even the rest of Europe.

What would have happened if things had transpired differently? This age-old question is answered in this chilling and fast-paced novel that weaves a tale of what might have happened had one day in 1815 turned out differently. Set in a world that is at the same time technologically advanced and backward, The Explosionist is a thrilling journey full of mystery and suspense, with a careful balance of politics, science, and supernatural intrigue. Though the story starts off slightly confusing, Davidson's characters are perfectly crafted and her plot cleverly constructed, resulting in a haunting, tremendous novel that will attract readers of all ages.

You see what I'm getting at now? Same world, but different circumstances. Here's another one of my favorites, only this one is set more in the present, based off the idea of what would have happened if in response to the Vietnam War, one man looked to find a safe outlet for the violence and anger many were feeling during that time.

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Lyn's whole life has always been about gladiators and the GSA (Gladiator Sport Association). Her mother has married seven gladiators in Lyn's lifetime, the limit for a gladiator's wife. But when Tommy, Lyn's seventh father, dies, her dowry bracelet is also taken by the victor, a young man named Uber, and the law states that Lyn must now marry him. Lyn hates the gladiator lifestyle and doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps, so in order to save herself and her family from poverty, she makes a daring choice; instead of marrying Uber, she will fight with him to the death in the arena—even though she's beginning to develop feelings for him.

Lise Haines' Girl in the Arena is set in an alternate world, very similar to ours, that poses the question, What if, as a result of the Vietnam War, one man made gladiators popular in America? The world Haines crafts is chilling, with violence a regular part of every day life, but yet also offers many similarities with our society now. Historical details are included as well to help form the world and tell the story of the evolution of gladiators in the US.

Lyn is sick of the gladiator culture and would like nothing better but to get away from it, but she also has resigned herself to the fact that it may be difficult to do so. She is a very realistic and resourceful teen, and her indecision and emotions are quite believable, especially with when she interacts directly with Uber. The book is very fast-paced, which occasionally makes it easy to miss some crucial details or sentences, which may make the story a little confusing at first. Those incidences aside, Girl in the Arena is a heart-pounding, suspenseful read with twists and turns you won't see coming, leaving you to wonder, How can this end? Yet Haines wraps it all up cleverly and realistically, giving the readers and characters hope for a better future while imparting a moral lesson that isn't glaringly obvious or in your face. Girl in the Arena is a very intriguing and well-written novel about violence and entertainment, how easy it is for people to latch on to it when the two are strung together, but also about the courage of one girl wanting to make a positive change in her world.

Cover Comments: I like the mix of modern elements and the classic, gladiator styles in this cover. It fits the book well, even if the girl on the cover doesn't look like Lyn at all. I think it looks a bit edgy, and I like it a lot, even if there do seem to be too many fonts on the cover.

And of course, if you haven't already, check out Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, another fabulous, fabulous read! And enjoy all of the steampunk-ness!

Do you have other steampunk recommendations? Leave them in the comments!


Ali said...

I think the term you are looking for is "alternate history." Steampunk is a specific TYPE of alternate history, one that combines advanced technology with Victorian-era (aka steampowered) style and sensibility. It doesn't mean ANY era. The presence of Victorian style and steam-powered contraptions is pretty much vital to the description. Steampunk includes dirigibles, clockwork, steam-powered machines, springs, brass and watch-parts -- basically all those things that the Victorians figured were waves of the future.

Girl in the Arena is an alternate history whose diversion point is the vietnam war -- way after the victorian era. Ditto The Watchmen, another alternate history.

I'm not familiar with the Explosionist. The cover seems steampunky.

Cassandra said...

I just finished Leviathan last night, and I absolutely loved it. It was one of those books where I just want to read one exactly like it, immediately, right now, please. These recs sound awesome, and I really don't care if they're steampunk or not. If they're good books and they're similar to Leviathan, I want to read them, and I'm sure others will too. Tweet about these! Which is how I found you, by the way, thanks to @OnLocustStreet

in which a girl reads said...

Wow, all three of those books sound so great!

I love reading steampunk--what little I've been able to get my hands on.

My favorite steampunk novel so far? The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding. AMAZING book, just amazing :)

Nikki @ Bookizzle said...

I have to say I haven't read much steampunk, but it's definitely a genre I can't wait to delve into a lot more.

The only one I haven't heard of is The Explosionist, but all 3 sound amazing!

As far as recommendations go, I can't give you anything based on my own reading but I did come across Boneshaker by Cherie Priest via goodreads recently. I've been hearing some great things about it.

suzie townsend said...

Great post. I HAVE to get my hands on Leviathan!

Alyssa F said...

I don't have any recommendations for you, but THANK YOU for defining steampunk. I've seen that thrown around like crazy lately, and I just didn't get it. I think I got a handle on it now, thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Incarceron by Catherine Fischer comes out in February and, besides being an awesome read all by itself, is steampunky.