Steampunk Romance and The Regency

The January issue of Marie Claire will, hopefully, feature an article I’ve written on steampunk romance. Steampunk romance is being hailed as the successor to the paranormal romance boom, and I discuss a bit (very little bit! 300 words!) of what it is.

Steampunk combines mechanical innovation (the steam) with subversive Victorian drama (the punk). It’s rich in alternate history, innovation, delicious fashion, repression and open expression and all kinds of cool literary types.

It has its foundation in the Victorian period, but as I discovered, its roots are firmly planted in the Regency: See, one of the first and best examples of steampunk (sans the romance part) was first written by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in The Difference Engine. The Difference Engine describes what would have happened if inventor Charles Babbage had succeeded in building a mechanical computer, which he did work on in real life. With–wait for the Regency connection!–Lord Byron‘s daugher, the Hon. Augusta Ada Byron (known as Ada), later the Countess of Lovelace.

The first steampunk commercial fiction is just being released, most notably Gail Carriger‘s Soulless, which has vampires, parasols, Queen Victoria, murder and tea-drinking (I am so excited to read this!). Coming at the end of this year is my friend Liz Maverick‘s Crimson & Steam, while Meljean Brook‘s first Iron Seas book comes out in Fall 2010.

But since we’re talking Regency over here, what would you twist to make a Regency-set steampunk romance? Does the period suit what I’ve described? What alternate histories are your favorites?

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Jane Austen
13 years ago

I love the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels with its alternative history. I guess for Regency I’d try something with the rulers like Napoleon wins and all of Europe is under his rule. George III doesn’t have a disease which makes him crazy. The Prince Regent dies. Something along those lines. I’d also like to see a free Wales and a free Scotland. Maybe some sort of battle over the British Isles empire. I have yet to discover a Regency set in Wales. I know I’m biased because I lived and went to school there, but I’d still like to see something. Beautiful country and beautiful men (Jonathan Rhys Myers, Ioan Gruffudd and more).

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
13 years ago

Soulless is wonderful Megan. I haven’t read William Gibson’s book but I want to because of Ada. And I can’t for Liz Maverick’s book. It would be interesting to see a steampunk Regency because some of the inventions that feature in the novels were invented either before the regency or during. Certainly steam itself, and many of Franklin’s inventions, not to mention balloons.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
13 years ago

Excellent ideas Jane Austen. I think it would be cool to see a world where Napoleon rules all of Europe, and England is the only stand-alone country. Perhaps, Bonnie Prince Charlie succeeded and England is back under the Stuarts and Catholics rule, making Protestantism illegal or under restraints like the anti-Catholic laws.

I think Mary Balogh might have set a Regency in Wales because she is Welsh.

Megan Frampton
13 years ago

Yes, to follow up on EKM’s mention, Mary Balogh’s Longing is set in Wales. A lovely, passionate book (not a trad Regency, mind, but a Regency-set)

13 years ago

Speaking of tech. innovation, I was just in the Harvard Book Store this week to admire their new on-demand book printing machine. You can order a single edition of a title printed. I was impressed. It is a bold move having this machine in the store.

The Harvard Book Store is an indi bookstore, many years old. I special ordered A Sigular Lady from them, I got good service and no attitude about it either.


They had some titles already printed, including a reprint of a 1901 (?) facimile edition of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book. It is the oldest surviving book printed in British North America, printed just three blocks from the bookstore location in Harvard Sq. A nice tip of the hat.

A huge number of public domain titles are available. Perhaps, there is a Regency era title that is out of print or hard to find that they can print up for you.

Because the machine can be used to print new titles, it is worth pondering how such tech might shade the romance publishing market.

Your Steam Nerd, Hatrack

Jane George
13 years ago

Yes, balloons! Hot air balloons helped along by flying mechanical fish tethered to the basket.

And I know we can come up with a really cool steampunk Barouche! But we must keep the horses, because the Industrial Revolution is breathing down the Regency’s neck and we don’t want to spoil the traipsing-across-the-countryside-in-a-muslin-gown-while-reading-a-book atmosphere we love so well.

Even though the YA magical circus series I’m working on is contemporary, I use a lot of steampunk-circus-Victorian aesthetic elements. Very fun!

And Elizabeth, I love your Napoleon-ruled alternate history. Write it!

13 years ago

I can’t wait to read your article in Marie Claire!

I have yet to delve into the steampunk genre, but have several on the shelf begging to be read.

I don’t know much about it, but there is a new TV series coming out that is steampunk inspired. It is called Riese. I’ve only seen one preview, it looks interesting.

13 years ago

I LOVE that first picture, of the Victorian SP young gentleman.

I’m looking forward to all the books you mention.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Well, I just don’t understand this at all, so I guess I won’t be writing any of these.

I understand alternative history and I certainly can grasp mechanical innovation, but I’m just not getting the unifying concept that unites William Gibson’s book with Liz Maverick’s into one sub-genre.

I’ll have to grab that issue of Marie Claire!

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

I just got my new book order today, which includes Carolyn’s new book and “Soulless”!! Can’t read either until after the deadline, but I am very excited about both. I love this new steampunk trend.

The book I just read “Age of Wonder” about Romantic-era science contains ideas for many stories in this sub-genre, I think (ballooning, chemistry, astronomy, ideas for life on the moon, mechanical carriages, reanimation, etc)…

Megan Frampton
13 years ago

I wish I felt confident enough in my imagination to write one of these myself, but I don’t, thus far. I do like the alternate history, especially when coupled with super-geeky science heroes or inquisitive young ladies who get involved in steamy mechanicals (ha!).

Enid Wilson
13 years ago

“vampires, parasols, Queen Victoria, murder and tea-drinking” I like the combination. To turn Regency to steampunk, I think I will write a murder on a steam train/ship trip with romance throw in.

Bargain with the Devil

13 years ago

Um, I’ve got a proposal written that is “steampunk” Regency. It was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to going back and playing in that world once I’m finished polishing the current WIP.

There is a difference between steampunk and alternate history. Alternate history is much as Jane Austen said: what would’ve it been like if Napoleon won?

Steampunk can have that, but the core of steampunk is the technology. The steam engines, the balloons, etc etc and so forth. Just imagine if all those failed experiments actually worked. That’s steampunk.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
13 years ago

Naomi Novik’s books which include dragons what category would that fall into I wonder?

Barbara Monajem
13 years ago

I haven’t read any steampunk (although the manager of my local Borders strongly recommends Soulless), but isn’t Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass sort of steampunky? When I first read it, I thought it was alternate history, what with the quite different version of Oxford from the real one. I was quite surprised at the direction it (and the sequels) took.

I quite enjoyed 1642, and also Katy Cooper’s two alternate histories where Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur doesn’t die and becomes king instead of Henry. Also interesting about those stories is that Henry VII is portrayed very sympathetically — exactly the opposite of The Daughter of Time, where Richard III is shown to be a good guy.

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

Fascinating post! I read a book a while ago that actually wasn’t that great, but the concept was that a woman was sent back in time from 23rd century to the late 18th century to halt the industrial revolution and save the planet.

I love Jasper Fforde, too!

I’m writing an alternate history where the French do invade, although the idea came from my discovery that the French invaded Fishguard in the 1797 (defeated by the locals, and it was their second attempt–the first petered out in Ireland). During that decade the local militias boomed. It wasn’t until the English established supremacy at sea that the fear of a French invasion faded.

13 years ago

Eagerly waiting for ‘Soulless’ (steampunk with the funny) and ‘Iron Seas’ (steampunk with the drama, presumably, given the author’s previous work).

I was transfixed by the first graphic of the young man with astonishing fashion sense for quite a while. I’d love to know what it was originally intended for – to sell hair products? clothes? a movie? an art happening?

Megan Frampton
13 years ago

I am not sure the original purpose of that photo, although I agree it is amazing. I found it by google-imaging “steampunk fashion.” Thanks for stopping by!

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