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Steampunk Spotlight: Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker

Steampunk Spotlight: Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker

boneshaker3One of the most popular steampunk books of the last few years, Boneshaker (Amazon, B&N) melded some of the most popular genre elements of steampunk and the zombie apocalypse wave of fiction. In this review from Black Gate #15, I commented that the book was a little action-heavy, full of zombie chases that didn’t always translate well on the printed page. I compared it to a George Romero film … and it turns out that someone took that to heart, because it’s being made into a film. I don’t normally go to zombie movies, but I’ll definitely make an exception for this one, which may well be the most visually-stunning zombie film ever.


Cherie Priest
Tor (416 pp, $15.99, 2009)
Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Steampunk is traditionally set in a Victorian urban environment, with a veneer of gentility that covers a darker underbelly. And steampunk almost always includes airships (or at least flying bicycles)… often with air pirates in tow.

The weird west mythos, on the other hand, represents the frontier. While technology is usually central to steampunk, the weird west is often defined by some sort of monster (frequently zombies), but these elements can cross genres. The 1999 Will Smith film Wild Wild West featured a flying bicycle and a giant robotic spider, firmly placing it in the camp of steampunk by most accounts, but containing many weird west elements.

Boneshaker takes many of these staples, puts them in a blender, and sets to mix. It is set in a modified 1880’s Seattle, which has been walled off because a gas drifting out of the ground turns people into zombies.

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Steampunk Spotlight: Kings of Air and Steam

Steampunk Spotlight: Kings of Air and Steam


I was never a huge fan of history class. It wasn’t until after college that I really began to enjoy history, and then it was mostly in the form of alternate history novels. This reading motivated me to begin reading more widely in real-world history, too, though I still like the alternative stuff a little better. In 2005, I pulled some of this reading together into an essay for The Internet Review of Science Fiction on “fantastic adventure history“, stories blend alternate history with fantasy.

Definitely the most potent type of alternate history in publishing these days – with or without fantasy elements included – is the sub-genre known as steampunk. This alternate history is set in an Industrial Revolution or Victorian-era setting, but the steampowered technology is ramped up a bit beyond what was realistic for the time. The look and feel of steampunk is so enticing that even Disney has gotten into it, releasing a limited edition pin set, The Mechanical Kingdom, that features the classic Disney characters in steampunk variants.

Steampunk got its start as hard science fiction, as described at the recent “Founders of Steampunk” panel from the World Fantasy Convention, but it’s definitely moved beyond that. In fact, my first writing for this magazine, back in Black Gate 10, was a review of the fantasy steam-fueled roleplaying game, Iron Kingdoms, in which powerful wizards are able to control hulking mechanized constructs called warjacks. (Interested? Check out this interview with Iron Kingdoms artist Matthew D. Wilson.)

Without really seeking them out, these steampunk games seem to keep coming across my path … probably because there are just so darn many of them. In Black Gate 15, I reviewed the Victoriana roleplaying game (available on PDF at DriveThruRPG), which also has strong fantasy steampunk themes. In that same issue, I reviewed the steampunk zombie novel Boneshaker (Amazon, B&N). Today, steampunk seems to permeate through all sub-categories of genre fiction.

It also seems to permeate my house. I’ve got several steampunk novels, collections, games, and other oddities that I have had every intention of getting around to reading and reviewing. So, in an attempt to clear through this pile of steampunk populating my bookshelves, I’ve decided to begin a series of posts on recent steampunk goodies, starting with an upcoming steampunk board game: Kings of Air and Steam.