Book Review: Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions

Author: Brian J. Robb; Foreword by James P. Blaylock
Hardcover: 192 pages, 300 color images
Publisher: Voyageur Press (November 17, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0760343764
ISBN-13: 978-0760343760

Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions is the definitive book on the writers, film-makers, artisans and aesthetes who created the extraordinary genre. The book is spectacularly illustrated and international in scope, telling the comprehensive history of the movement, from its melding of Victorian, Edwardian and science-fiction influences to Lady Gaga and Alexander McQueen incorporating Steampunk into their art.

The author and contributors represent a “who’s who” of the Steampunk, Victorian, Edwardian, and science fiction genres. Starting with its roots in literature to its ongoing evolution involving visual media and informing craft and DIY traditions, author Brian J. Robb, along with James P. Blaylock and Jonathan Clements and others, not only charts Steampunk’s history but also its influence on culture today, and its future.

Absolutely excellent. Steampunk fans new and seasoned alike should love this tender and scholarly tribute to the genre. Happily, the content is very thorough as to the history and development of the aesthetic, as well as its current incarnations.

It’s notable albeit understandable that the first third of the book is all about the literature, but do not discount this if you prefer your Steampunk on the screen side. The literature aspects are really interesting, and the included photos of book covers and illustrations are terrific eye candy. As an added bonus, you may find yourself seeking out some books – get ’em on a book reader if the paper frightens you – that you’ll love.

Other sections include women in the genre, and examples of steampunk in movies, TV, comics, and music; the Japanese take on the movement; subgenres; and the future of the aesthetic.

As TV is the area in which I’m the most knowledgeable, I can confirm that section was quite well done and relatively thorough – although the use of a pic of Cap’n Mal when discussing the Castle Steampunk episode was more than a little odd, and limiting the Firefly reference to just that half mention in the same picture was just wrong. But the book redeems itself with a multi-page entry about Doctor Who.

This should come as no surprise, as author Brian J. Robb is also the author of Timeless Adventures: How Doctor Who Conquered TV, as well as books on Star Trek, Star Wars, and others. James Blaylock, who wrote the forward, is considered to be one of the three originators of Steampunk literature, and his inclusion is a good indicator of the level of quality of this book.

Another terrific feature is the liberal sprinkling of sidebars on with more specific information on related topics. “Authors Define Steampunk”; “Burroughs’s Pellucidar and Other Hollow Earths”; “Disney’s Nautilus”; “Steampunk Batman” and more. The book really is full of useful and interesting information for People Like Us.

There’s plenty of opinion in here as well, and while you may disagree with it, it’s broccoli opinion. You like it, you don’t, both views are valid and totally dependent upon taste. What is more important is the level and quality of the discourse, which is broad, well presented, well reasoned and thoughtful. It falls just short of being fully scholarly, as there are no footnotes included. While footnotes would have been appreciated by people like me, more normal people would likely have rolled their eyes at them and considered them affectations, so I understand the absence.

Aesthetically, this book is absolutely gorgeous. It’s impressive – roughly 9-1/2″ x 11″ and heavy, with a beautiful cover, nice heavy coated pages that are full color and look tea-stained and otherwise “aged,” loaded with beautiful photos on every page, easy to read type (although every once in a while the decorative page interferes, but the effect is minimal), and even endpapers and flypaper that are quite lovely.

Whether you’re a goggles-and-gear-wearing devotee of steampunk or are simply curious, this beautiful book belongs in your library.

I give Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions Five Out of Five Stars.



Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions  is available to order right now from Amazon ~ here’s the link:

Erin Willard
Written by Erin Willard

Erin is the Editor In Chief and West Coast Correspondent for

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