Searching for Deeper Steam, or “Do You Even Steampunk, Bro?”

I’m going to be honest here. Killer of Enemies, a young adult novel by Joseph Bruchac, is not what I would consider steampunk, at least, not on the surface. It obviously lacks the stereotypical steampunk tropes such as brass goggles, gears, airships, or any steam powered technology to begin with. The closest this novel comes to showing any of these typical pieces of steampunk imagery is the brief mention of motorcycle goggles. However, this particular novel is one of the focal points of the Steampunk Literature course I’m taking.

If It's Not Covered In Gears, Is It Still Steampunk?

How does this story relate to steampunk at all? The best explanation is to look at how steampunk writers and scholars are defining the term. In the anthology Steampunk World, Diana M. Pho writes about an interesting truth regarding steampunk: “steampunk has become synonymous with an emergent idea in today’s literature – the cross genre… Nothing is simply ‘Steampunk’ after all – it is steampunk and alternate history, or mystery, or romance, or horror, or what-have you” (Pho 20). In this sense, Killer of Enemies falls under the steampunk umbrella quite comfortably. It seems to exhibit the necessary requirements to be a young adult novel, a post-apocalyptic novel, and a speculative fiction novel. If Steampunk is truly synonymous with cross-genre, then this novel definitely fits in.

However, there are other Steampunk elements in the novel that don’t require such semantic wrangling to bring it under Steampunk’s literary wings. As you may have gathered from my previous post, “The Good Professor Punks the Punks”, perhaps one of the most Steampunk idioms is that of a relationship with created objects. Lozen, the heroine of Brucharc’s novel, clearly holds that ideal near to her heart. Repeatedly she considers her tools, especially those given to her by someone she loves, to be close companions. For instance, when speaking of those clearly not-brass goggles, Lozen notes, “ Maybe I don’t need them all that much. But I really love them. My dad gave them to me” (Bruchac 128). A true love for the created is clearly a Steampunk ideal, and Lozen embodies this perfectly.

Works Cited:

Bruchac, Joseph. Killer Of Enemies. 1st ed. New York: Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2013. Print.

Pho, Diana M. “Introduction: Going Global or Re-Engineering Steampunk Fiction”. Steampunk World. Ed. Hans, Sarah. 1st ed. Dayton, OH: Alliteration Ink, 2014. Print.


One thought on “Searching for Deeper Steam, or “Do You Even Steampunk, Bro?”

  1. Killer of Enemies was an interesting read. It did indeed lack the quintessential archetypes that are so often associated with steampunk paraphernalia. But aesthetics alone do not make something steampunk, no matter what pop culture says. Steampunk is polydynamic, it is not homogenous, and it is certainly not grounded solely in brass fixtures. The diversity in steampunk allows for some unique narratives like the ones we find in Steampunk World. The sheer variety of cultures allows for a massive amount of different story telling techniques. While I don’t push diversity for the sake of diversity, the variation in story techniques do very much make steampunk more accessible in a global sense. This makes the movement strong and ensures it will endure the many trends we see in literature. (I’m referring to the current teen vampire obsession).

    Killer of enemies lacks the brass and steam, it even has technology that is far beyond anything we are currently capable of. While said technology is inoperative it is still there. Lozen posses a reverence for her tools and technology that is shown throughout the novel. Whether the sidearms she carries, the walls at Big Ranch, or the wire she used to make a trap for the Super Snake (greatest character ever) she goes into extremely intricate details about their value functionally, structurally, and their various methods of production. That is steampunk. There may be no brass but that direct focus is steampunk, that is what steampunk tech strives to be: durable, functional, and unique. This was all present in Killer of Enemies and will its technological features might make it seem atypical or even heretical to steampunk, it has its place and is in fact steampunk.

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