Today I’m here to give you a run down of my best steampunk novels including Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Boneshaker and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea!
My 10 Best Steampunk Novels
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ or, initially, Voyage au Centre de la Terre was published in 1864 having been written by French author, Jules Verne. It was later reprinted in 1867 after being revised and expanded. The novel follows geology professor, Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel. They discover an ancient document and, after translating it, they discover a dormant volcano with a secret entrance. This leads to a series of caverns which then takes the explorers out into a hidden world in the centre of the earth. The novel was the second book in Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires series which laid the groundwork for the science fiction genre. The story was so popular it was later adapted into a movie starring Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson and was directed by Eric Brevig.
The Time Machine
H.G. Wells’ popular novel ‘The Time Machine’ is recognised as one of the first fictional works where time travel was achieved through the use of a vehicle or device to selectively travel forwards or backwards in time. Again, the novel was popular enough to become a film directed by Simon Wells and Gore Verbinski. In the novel, Alexander Hartdegen, an inventor and scientist is desperate to prove that time travel is possible. He is hit with a personal tragedy which makes him more determined to reach his goal. Alexander tests his theories and is transported to London, 800,000 years into the future. When arriving, he makes the harsh discovery that humankind is now in a civil war – the hunter and the hunted.
Alices Adventures in Wonderland
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll in 1865 could easily be considered one of the most famous steampunk novels. As the title suggests, the novel follows a young girl called Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and ends in the fictional place of Wonderland. Wonderland is filled with many peculiar characters such as the Mad Hatter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The novel has hit the big screen many times such as 1951, 1972 and 1999. Most notably, Carroll’s masterpiece was made into a film in 2010 by the popular director, Tim Burton. The film kept its fantasy elements but also put a darker spin on the story.
20,000 Leagues under the Sea
‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ is one of the best steampunk novels from French author, Jules Verne (‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’). The English version was published in 1872 and is considered a classic science-fiction, adventure novel. The novel is set in 1886 when Professor Pierre M. Aronnax and his assistant Conseil get stranded in San Francisco after reports are made of a large sea monster attacking ships in the Pacific Ocean. The explorers are then invited on an expedition to hunt down the sea monster. During their search, the two explorers and the harpooner, Ned Land, are thrown overboard and make a shocking discovery about the sea monster causing terror in the waters.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
A particularly notable steampunk novella is ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson. In the story, scientist Dr Jekyll creates a potion to bring out his ‘second nature’.
Meddling with the darker sides of science, Dr Jekyll becomes a new person entirely – his murderous alter-ego, Mr Hyde. Stevenson’s novella teaches it’s readers about the complexity of science and human nature. The famous story has had many adaptations. One particular version is Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s 1990 hit musical, ‘Jekyll & Hyde’.
The Difference Engine
‘The Difference Engine’ by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson is a more recent steampunk novel having been published in 1990. As well as being part of the steampunk genre, the novel is recognised as being alternate history. It is also considered as helping to establish the conventions of the steampunk genre. The novel explores the social consequences of a technology revolution in the 19th century.
The Golden Compass
‘The Golden Compass’ from Philip Pullman’s series ‘His Dark Materials’ centres around a young orphan called Lyra Belacqua and her Daemon creature, Pantalaimon. Pantalaimon is an external expression of Lyra’s soul and, because she is still young, her Daemon can easily change shape. The series as a whole is very popular and has been adapted into movies, video games and, more recently, as successful television drama series starring James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
Alongside Steveson’s Jekyll and Hyde novel, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is also considered as one of the most famous steampunk novels, Written in 1818, Shelley’s novel has also had many adaptations on stage and screen. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist, attempts to build a man from scratch. This man becomes known as Frankenstein’s monster (not Frankenstein, he’s the scientist!) and begins to terrorise the area resulting in many tragedies for his creator.
Another more recent steampunk piece of literature is James Baylock’s 1986 ‘Homunculus’, a comic, science-fiction novel. This was the second book published into Baylock’s steampunk trilogy. In the novel, an airship with a dead pilot has been hovering in the air space over London in the Victorian era.
The most recent steampunk novel on the list is Cherie Priest’s ‘Boneshaker’ from 2009. The novel was nominated for the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novel and is part of Priest’s ‘The Clockwork Century’ series. The novel is set in the early days of the American Civil War when rumours of gold in the Klondike has brought miners to North America’s Pacific Northwest. Leviticus Blue, an inventor, is commissioned by the Russians to create a machine capable of mining through the ice of Alaska – currently owned by Russia.