First, what is steam punk? I would call it Victorian era style and machinery, plus computers (analytic engines) and some other additional technology, usually powered by steam.
Image by Kyle Cassidy
Wikipedia is a little more complete: Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction, frequently featuring elements of fantasy, that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used — usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England — but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage's Analytical engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality….
There are steampunk movies (Steamboy, Golden Compass, …), books (the difference engine, the Peshawar lancers…), comics (Hellboy, Girlgenius…), role playing games (Iron kingdoms…), computer games (Arcanum…), bands (Abney Park…), in fact there is a steampunk wiki that will tell you all about it, so I don’t have to: http://steampunk.wikia.com/
I even went so far as to make some steampunk jewelry:
All this got me interested in steam engines and trains. So I thought I’d find a book about them. Enter GoogleBooks. Through this marvelous resource I was able to read a good chunk of “Set Up Running” a book about the life of a Pennsylvania Railroad fireman and engineer in the early 1900’s. Although I may not have learned a great deal about the technical aspects of the jobs that Mr. Orr did, the anecdotes are interesting and entertaining.
Anyway, the sample satisfied my need to know a little more about the great railroad era. And living in an area where trains are still an everyday experience, it sheds a little light on what the world was like in the past. So if you are interested in steam engines, trains and biographies, check it out.
But now I’ve moved on to… the Mande Blacksmiths.
The Mande are a cultural group in western Africa. I’d heard that African Blacksmiths were held in some kind of awe and held a special spiritual significance. As a result, I picked up this book. Turns out it is also partially available through Googlebooks, but I have a real copy, which I think will be better in the long run for me in this case.
I haven’t made it that far in yet, but already I know a lot more about the cultural place of the blacksmith in that society. I wonder if I will learn any technique…