Airship, Automaton, and Alchemy: A Steampunk Exploration of Young Adult Science Fiction
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Steampunk first appeared in the 1980s as a subgenre of science fiction, featuring anachronistic technologies with a veneer of Victorian sensibilities. In recent years steampunk has re-emerged in young adult science fiction as a fresh and dynamic subgenre, which includes titles such as The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross, The Hunchback Assignment by Arthur Slade, and Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Like their predecessors, these modern steampunk novels for teens use retrofuturistic historiography and innovative mechanical aesthetics to dramatize the volatile relationship between man and technology, only in these novels the narrative is intentionally set in the context of their teen protagonist's social and emotional development. However, didactic conventions such as technophobia and the formulaic linearity of the bildungsroman narrative complicate and frustrate steampunk's representation of adolescent formation. Using case studies of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia, retrofuturism and technological hybridity are presented as defining features of steampunk that subvert young adult science fiction's technophobic and liberal humanist traditions. The dirigible and the automaton are examined as the quintessential tropes of steampunk fiction that reproduce the necessary amphibious quality, invoking new expressions and understanding of adolescent growth and identity formation that have a distinctly utopian, nostalgic, and ecocentric undertone.