This subgenre of science fiction often includes steam or clockwork powered technology—dirigibles, robots, animals, and anything else the authors imagine. Their design is inspired by the 19th Century steam age.
They are generally alternate history, with many set in Victorian England or the American West. Society has often deteriorated due to war or other large scale disasters.
Short Steampunk Literature
Some Fortunate Future Day | Cassandra Clare
Rose lives with her mechanical dolls, Ellen and Cordelia, and some robot servants. Her father is away in the war. One day when she is in the garden gathering ingredients for the day’s meals, she sees a man, a friendly soldier, the first human she has seen in a while. He is on the ground with blood soaking his shoulder.
Tanglefoot | Cherie Priest
Edwin is a young orphan at the Waverly Hills Sanitarium, living in the basement as an assistant to Dr Smeeks. Smeeks is responsible for many inventions used at the sanitarium, which make the work easier. He is old now and his mind is failing. Edwin has been using spare parts and materials to build a robot, a friend, as he doesn’t fit in with the boys who live upstairs. He is putting the finishing touches on it before showing it to Dr Smeeks.
Read “Tanglefoot” (Novella)
Smoke City | Christopher Barzak
A woman realizes it is time to attend to her obligations. She leaves her husband and travels down the Fourth River to the tunnel that leads to Smoke City. She is met by her other husband who travels the rest of the way with her. She sees her children, then begins her life of working for Eliza, the furnace that fills this place with smoke.
Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil | Carrie Vaughn
Harry has been looking for an Aetherian artefact for a year. She finally finds it in a cave guarded by the Cult of Egil. This object proves that the Aetherians had come to earth a thousand years before. She hears an angry group approaching quickly. She picks up the item and disappears into a tunnel, headed for the surface, but not before the mob catches sight of her.
Edison’s Frankenstein | Chris Roberson
Chabane works for Sol Bloom, owner of one of the minor concessions at the 1893 World’s Fair. There is some tension among the groups as it relates to intermingling and trying to watch the shows for free. One day there is a commotion when a man is found unconscious and bleeding. Some of the people attending to him say he looks like Salla, an important man from their past.
Memories in Bronze, Feathers, and Blood | Aliette de Bodard
Nezahual is an old man sweeping in front of his workshop. A well dressed man with a military look approaches him. He wants Nezahual to give a speech about war to the new recruits. He refuses. Mention of some former comrades makes him more emotional. Some of his creations – mechanical birds – are watching from a perch. They swoop down to offer some support.
The Governess and the Lobster | Margaret Ronald
Rosalie Syme and Matron Jenkins correspond by mail. Rosalie writes from her new post where she has been hired to educate the Cromwell children. She says the mechanical lobster wasn’t her fault. The house has a confusing layout, the children don’t seem to have been educated at all, previous staff members haven’t remained long, and her first meeting with the master is unsettling.
Beside Calais | Samantha Henderson
Ian is walking with Claire near the Ecole Aeronautique, looking at the eoles, bull-sized flying creatures. General Adair has said they need to go. A new breeding program is being instituted to help with the war. Claire was injured falling off another beast, a bleriot. She has been training new recruits to fly the creatures.
On the Lot and In the Air | Lisa L. Hannett
A crow is the star player in Robin Marx’s carnival show. Marx makes a slick pitch to the crowd. offering the first shot free. Anyone who can shoot the crow gets a big prize.