Erinn Batykefer, MLIS

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What is…Steampunk / Neo-Victorian Lit?

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest– YA Steampunk

I decided to look into more steampunk/neo-Victorian lit for teens because I’ve had quite a few questions about it at the Middleton Youth Services Help Desk.  The YALSA Reader’s Choice Booklist wildcard category was Steampunk in 2011, so apparently lots of other folks must be getting questions, too!

YALSA defines steampunk as “a literary mashup of science fiction, fantasy, and Victorian sensibilities.”

 The line between steampunk and neo-Victorian is definitely blurry, but here’s a good example of the distinction in popular works:

Steampunk

In Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, the setting is an alternate WWI and the focus of that world is machinery– specifically, technology/science (often in the form of creatures) that did not exist at the time, but is used to build an alternate world.

Neo-Victorian

In Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, the setting is a girl’s boarding school in the Victorian era, and the social and political world of Victorian England are well researched to inform the setting, dress, language and sensibilities of the characters.  The supernatural plot elements do not alter the larger scope of the world enough to make it truly alternate in the classic, sci-fi definition, (which applies more aptly to steampunk).

Even though both kinds of work employ world-building, steampunk uses it to create an entirely alternate history that could not have existed, while the neo-Victorian uses world-building to create an alternate reality within a historical framework.

There are always exceptions to a rule like that, but it’s a decent place to start, especially since the two sub-genres tend to attract similar audiences.

Title-discovery Resources

YALSA Steampunk and Neo-Victorian Wiki

YALSA Reader’s Choice Nominations

Steampunk Scholar: Reading list

Stampunk Scholar: works tagged YA

Wikipedia’s List of Steampunk Works

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This entry was posted on April 26, 2012 by in Books & Resources and tagged , , , , , , .
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