Steampunk and Shakespeare

I admit that until recently, if you had asked me what “steampunk” was I probably couldn’t have answered you.  After a teeny bit of online exposure and research…well, I’m still not entirely certain.  I know that it usually takes place in Victorian London and involves futuristic technology and gadgetry.  That’s where my knowledge pool runs dry.

According to Wikipedia, steampunk is “a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.[1] Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely usedâ??usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britainâ??that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history.”

It’s a fascinating genre that seems to be (dare I say it?) gathering steam. My curiosity reached a tipping point when I saw a trending topic on Twitter for #steampunkshakespeare.  Quoi? I thought to myself.  I clicked this link and discovered that some steampunk writers are putting together a little submission request/contest for Shakespearean plays or sonnets that have been reworked as steampunk tales.

The idea is to create thoughtful new interpretations of Shakespeare’s universal stories through the steampunk genre.  It is not intended to be a mash-up or just Shakespeare with some airships thrown in.  The rules are basically:

1) Write 10,000 words or less on a scene, act, aspect of the story, or sonnet that turns Shakespeare into steampunk;
2) Make it recognizable and true to the original source material;
3) Use Shakespearean language if possible;
4) Keep violence and sexual situations within Shakespearean limits; and
5) Make the steampunk more than just “window dressing.”

The deadlines for submissions is May 30th.  Considering my deep love for Shakespeare, I’m thinking about taking a stab at this project, even if it doesn’t end in a submission.  It could be a fun exercise.

The glorious thing about Shakespeare is that his plays are so universal.  They can be transported in time or place and still tell a story that touches the heart.  His words still resonate with us today, and I’m always humbled by that fact.  In college, I was blessed to play a number of Shakespearean roles.  Some of the productions were more traditional, but some were experimental, like the gender-reversed Hamlet or the 1920s set A Comedy of Errors. You can play around with Shakespeare so much and yet still tell a powerful story, which is why this project is so great.

To rectify my steampunk knowledge deficiency, I’m declaring entry in another reading challenge.  Bookish Ardour is hosting a “Get Steampunked!” challenge, and to start I’m going to declare my participation at Geared/Level 1 and read 5 steampunk books next year.  That number may increase.  I already have a list of books I’d like to read, which I’ll include below.  Click the button to get more info on the challenge, and a number of others that BA is hosting.

Get Steampunked!

My reading list (so far):

1. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
2. Soulless by Gail Carriger
3. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
4. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

What do you think of steampunk novels?  Any other suggestions for books I should be reading in addition to or instead of those on my list?

16 thoughts on “Steampunk and Shakespeare

  1. That is so cool! I am totally not a writer, but still! Shakespeare with updated equipment? Cars and bombs and Shakespeare, OH MY!

  2. My critique partner wrote a steampunk novel based in 1800's Philly. Complete with zombies! Is awesome. It'll be out Summer of 2012 from Harper Collins. 🙂

  3. I'm sort of fascinated by this genre, but I don't think I've read much that would qualify. I'll be looking forward to your reviews of those books. I've heard fabulous things about Soulless (and the whole series). I'm also curious about Leviathan and Clockwork Angel. I'm not sure if I've heard of the others you list. I'll have to check them out!

  4. I wasn't sure about steampunk either, but I was sold when I read Leviathan and then Soulless, which is more of steampunk meats paranormal. Hope you enjoy both of them. Boneshaker and Clockwork Angel are both on my to-read list as well.

  5. Sweet! It seems like there is lots of good zombie stuff coming out soon, which I think is great. Lia Habel has a zombie book coming out next year that I think is considered steampunk as well. It's on my debut author list – Dearly, Departed.

  6. I'm really fascinated too, which is why I decided to bite the bullet and start reading more of it. I realized I hadn't read much, but it seems interesting, so we'll see what happens!

  7. Since I'm a paranormal fan already, I have a feeling that Soulless might be more my style, but I'm looking forward to reading all of them. I can't wait to see what you think of Boneshaker and Clockwork Angel!

  8. Thank you for spreading the word about the anthology, Logan! I hope you do submit a story and look forward to reading all the great submissions coming our way!

  9. That's a great list! I have the Parasol Protectorate Series on my list as well as Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series. I have Cherie Priest's books as alternates, and probably should have added Clockwork Angel and City of Ember since they are already in the house waiting to be read! Good luck on the challenge!

  10. @Lia Keyes – I saw that on twitter. Thanks for posting a comment. I hope other readers check it out, because I think it's going to be VERY cool!@Julie – Thanks! I can't wait to see your reviews!

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