Suggested Reading: Top 5 Victorian novels every steampunk must read.

Sure, we all talk about the great Victorian novels, but how often do we Steampunks really sit down and read them?  We’re all so busy sewing, writing, reading modern Steampunk, larping and making, who’s got the time to read the classics?  Well, I do.  If you manage to carve out a few hours for a proper novel and a cup of tea, then check over this list to see if you missed any essentials.

1, Around the World in 80 Days,  Jules Verne.

That’s right, I’m on Team Verne.  Sorry Wells, but Verne is just more fun.  When I first realized that Steampunk was a genre, this was the first book I ever read specifically looking for Steampunk inspiration.  I gobbled it up in one breath and was inspired enough to start writing my own Steampunk adventures.  This book has it all: fantastic and unique characters, exotic destinations, Victorian social commentary, and enough humor, adventure, and excitement to delight anyone.  And for those of you who think, “Oh, I’ve seen the movie.  I don’t need to read it,” I will tell you that you’re utterly wrong!  First of all, there’s no balloon in the book.  Second, I have never seen a decent portrayal of Passepartout in any film or show.  And lastly, although one actor has played Phileas with dignity, none have ever truly captured the damn sexy subtlety of his true nature.  If you adore gentlemanly adventure like any good Steampunk, and you haven’t read this book, then you are doing yourself a great disservice.

2. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells

Don’t take my siding with Verne as an insult to Wells.  Even though a great deal of his novels were bridging past the Victorian era, The Time Machine is as much a part of Steampunk lore as goggles and airships.  This book has the Dystopian edge that permeates modern Steampunk, and more metaphorical social commentary than you can shake a stick at.  While I personally prefer more layered characters, I can say nothing at all against Wells’s skill in storytelling.  I would say that the movie (the original, not that weird thing from the 90s) did a better job of portraying the story in the way that it was written, and any movies based on Verne.  Even so, this great work deserves to be read.

3. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde.

Ah, Wilde…  I’ve had a literary crush on the work of Oscar Wilde since I was in my teens.  It usually takes me twice as long as normal to finish one of his stories, simply because I keep having to gasp, pause, and re-read every gorgeous line I find … which is usually about every-other one.  But wait! you say.  Wilde didn’t write about submarines or airship travel, or time machines!  No, he didn’t.  He wrote of men’s true nature and the murky, shadowed depths of the human soul.  In this glorious novel, Wilde explored the dangers of the ego-centered detachment, which the wealthy and the beautiful London aristocrats danced so blindly about.  Here in 2014, it can be difficult to get a clear perspective of what life was really like back there.  If you want to know the motivations of a Londoner of the time, feel the eerie quiet of an empty life in a grand old house, and taste the terror of one’s own limitless potential in a world of too much freedom, than you will find no better prorate.

4. A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

More than just taking us through wonderfully entertaining stories about murder and mystery, Watson provides another great snapshot of what life was like under the rule of Victoria.  From mentioning popular culture (like novels that were once wildly popular but are now unheard of, and which plays, operas, and even fashions were popular at the time) to noting that the sky over London is rather brown today, Watson weaves a tapestry of the time.  The way that the two characters relate to their world in the original stories, tells more than you will ever find on Wiki, or in any of the TV shows and movies that have been made from it.  Not that there is anything wrong with SherlockBBC.  I was simply staggered by the bulk of raw insight that I found in all of the Holmes stories.

5. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne

I mean really.  How could this book NOT be on any steampunk list?  Sure, there’s more fish genus than are at all needed.  Sure, Nemo’s past is never truly explored.  Sure, Ned can be a bit annoying.  But honestly, what would our beloved genre be with this massively inventive, thrillingly adventurous, and truly beautiful work?  All I can say is that, as with most of Verne’s works, you must be very careful when selecting a translation to read.  The first time I tried to read this book, I couldn’t get more than a few pages in before I got bored.  But, I found out later that I had been reading a highly abridged version, with truly awful re-writing.  I tried a much more modern translation by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter, and suddenly I couldn’t put the book down!  I tell you right now, if you ever tried to read this book and didn’t like it, it was entirely because of the translation.  Get a better copy and try it again today!

Well, that my top 5 classic Victorian essentials list.  What’s yours?  Do you agree with my line up?  Did I missing something dreadfully important to the genre?  Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.  And happy reading!

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Suggested reading: The Map of Time

I want you to take a moment, and breath in a lung-full of air.  Savor the taste of it.  Notice that it’s ordinary, clean of the ozone-spark of anything like magic.  And now that you know what you’ll be leaving behind, let me introduce you to something truly magnificent.

The Map of Time, by Felix J. Palma is without a doubt, the best thing I’ve ever read.  It’s not a classic (yet), it’s not Poe, or Dickens, or Wilde, and it’s certainly not flawless, but it is still the very best.  Let me attempt to explain what I mean.

Rather than listing all of the ways this book is exceptional, first let’s take a look at what’s wrong with it.  Palma breaks loads of literary rules.  There are more red-herrings than I can count.  He uses real, dead human beings as characters.  He makes fun of Terminator in the middle of the Victorian era.  He’s writing in Spanish, but writing exclusively about English people.  He switches POV whenever it suits him.  He smashes the 4th wall to bits so frequently that I got used to it, and made fun of his own novel, inside of his own novel!  And yet…  When he breaks these ancient rules, he does it with such grace and smug brilliance that I not only forgave him for it, but I wanted to thank him for his bravery and for proving that it could be done.

I fell in love with this book on the first page.  I had no idea what was in store for me (or H.G.Wells) when I read that first page, but I could smell the magic.  But it’s not just the first page.  Every character in this massive tome (I recommend the eBook simply so that the book is physically manageable) is treated with near-Vernian compassion, which gives them all a full life of their own.  The plot is revealed in endless layer upon layer, each one perfectly plausible at the time and yet obviously ridiculous once you see the next.  The actual events are dense and complexly connected, and yet there is always time to sit down with the Elephant Man for tea, and learn through sublime implications just how human he really is.  How human we all are.

This book is a treasure trove of delight and beauty.  There’s something wonderfully clever around every corner, and something honest, raw, and bittersweet tucking into every silence.  There were moments, when reading this, that I honestly could not put the book down (even if I was supposed to be working, or I was starting to run late for my appointment) because I felt that electric tingle in my blood that always tells you: Stop.  This is rare.  This is something worth being late for.  This, right here, is going to change your world and make it a little wider … even if just by a little.

I should, also, mention that there are actual flaws that I can’t exactly excuse.  There seems to be no filtering when it comes to “romance” or gruesome violence.  Although they are few, some of the scenes are so unexpectedly detailed, and yet surrounded by such charming passages, that I felt they were incongruous with the rest of the book.  And so, as much as I’d like to, I can’t recommend this book to anyone under-aged or easily offended.  I noticed many, many, typos throughout the book, probably due to the fact that it was translated from Spanish to English and is longer than Harry Potter.  And yet…  I found I could forgive Palma all of this, easily.  I guess, in this case, an overwhelming amount of good really can outweigh the bad.

Now, I will not tell you what this book is about.  If I did, it would spoil so many wonderful moments.  So, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.  If you’re fine with your air the way it is, then go read something else.  But, if you’re like me and you prefer your air scented with a hint of magic crackling in the corners, then I have just the book for you.

Try the official first Chapter excerpt right here!

Get the Kindle version (seriously, the paperback is huge!) here.

Check out the gorgeous Official Site.

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Are you an author who loves Steampunk as much as I do?   Or, are you just a big big fan of a Steampunk/Neo-Victorian author?  Would you like to see  your favorite book, or your own book, featured on this blog?  Please leave a comment on this post with a short pitch and a link!   I’ll happily feature anything that I think will fit the style of my blog.  And even if I don’t feature it, please please leave your info in a comment anyway!  Who doesn’t love new books?