From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Top 10 Literary Steampunk Works

Halloween is on the horizon, and we know the steampunk set will be out in full force with the goggles or monocles or corsets or lace. Though Jeff Vandermeer helpfully pointed out to us that the steampunk subculture arose independent of literature, we still think that the heart and soul of the gears, steam and magic is found within the pages of books. To that end, Fantasy staffers Nicole D. Leffel and Samantha Chapman solicited the opinion of several steampunk aficionados on what books and stories fans of the genre should read. Our thanks to Jeff Vandermeer, Jay Lake, Keith Thompson, and Evelyn Kriete for helping us out.

10. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
This book is fairly new, but I think earns its place on a Top 10 list because of the beauty of its language, the breadth of its ideas, and the fact that the central character (who is awesome) is a steampunk creation. — K. Tempest Bradford

9. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
I’ll always be fond of this one because I read it in my late teens and it was totally unlike anything else I’d ever read. And it was a lot of fun, too. — Jeff Vandermeer

8. The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
A foundational work of steampunk (unless you count the Victorian era originals from Verne, Welles, et al.), and a ripping good yarn. — Jay Lake

7. The Scar by China Mieville (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
Though Mieville’s Bas-Lag books are usually placed in the New Weird category, they have a strong steampunk vibe as well. And of the three, The Scar is the best. The setting, the characters, the exploration of the world all flow together perfectly. Steam and gears and magic and a protagonist influenced by Jane Eyre, this novel is a steampunk masterpiece. — K. Tempest Bradford

6. The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
“What’s unique about The Diamond Age is that it’s not an alternate history but a novel of a future where 19th century ideals and morals have been re-adopted. […] Although a sudden return to top hats, airships and velocipedes doesn’t seem in any way inevitable, the juxtaposition of the antique and the ultramodern makes for slyly humorous scenes.” — from a review by Michael Berry

5. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
The child protagonist of this novel is one of the most compelling in literature, and she’s surrounded by airships, a strange other-worldly dust, and the trappings of Victorian England. Truly a strange and compelling steampunk novel. — Jeff Vandermeer

4. The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul di Filippo (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
“…a magnificent specimen of that rare bird, intelligent humour. Di Filippo stirs up a funky stew of puns, literature, natural history and sex, and serves it up in an elaborate Victorian dish…” — from a review by Katharine Mills

3. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
If steampunk can be said to have its true roots in Victorian SF and Fantasy, then League is right in the center of the genre. This comic series brings together characters from five of the best stories of adventure, horror and science fiction published in Victorian England and mixes them with a healthy dose of superheroism and cool gadgets. — K. Tempest Bradford

2. Infernal Devices by K.W. Jeter (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
The novel that started it all, with, as I recall, Morlocks and other bizarre features. — Jeff Vandermeer

1. The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)
A definitional work in the steampunk ouevre. Should be required reading for everyone interested in this style of fiction. This is probably on everyone’s list, along with Paul di Filippo’s Steampunk Trilogy. — Jay Lake

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