Thanks go out to Hugh Ashton for prompting this topic! We were explaining steampunk on a thread in the Indie Authors Group on Facebook, when I brought up the term “steampulp,” coined by my friend and sometimes collaborator Scott Carter. Hugh was kind enough to write about the term in his blog, so I'm returning the favor.
Steampunk itself is an unknown term to many people, but as a genre it's starting to make its way into the public consciousness via movies such as Sherlock Holmes. Even our local magazine, b Metro, featured a steampunk photo shoot at Sloss Furnace back in February of this year. The term refers to a fantasy genre usually set in a dystopian Victorian era Britain or America, characterized by an industrial timeline in which Victorian “tech” is extended into the future. Gadgets and engines are prevalent. K.W. Jeter is credited with the invention of this genre (to describe his and Tim Powers' books, notably the wonderful The Anubis Gates), but The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling popularized it. Cherie Priest is my favorite writer in this genre, with her Clockwork Century books. In them, the Civil War is still going on, being fought with engines of destruction. Books in the genre aren't necessarily set in England or America. China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and The Iron Council (and others) are certainly steampunk, but are set in a fictional world.
So what is steampulp? It's steampunk, but without the dystopian view. There are no underground factions struggling against tyranny (the “punk” in steampunk). It's lighter in tone, with the feel of old pulp serials (like Doc Savage and The Shadow). Larger than life heroes and villains predominate, and above all, there's wonderful tech. Airships and steamships and steam trains steal the spotlight, providing transportation and escape routes and thrilling platforms for fights. My forthcoming novel The Source of Lightning is one of these. It is set in America, centering around the Great Airship Flap of 1897. Another is Red Wheels Turning, by the aforementioned Hugh Ashton, set in pre-revolutionary Russia.
Let's hear it for steampulp!
In fact, I'd like to hear from you with your thoughts on steampulp and other examples in this new genre, in the comments below.