Short answer: This subgenre definitely has staying power if it’s adequately nurtured.
Like many genres, erotic steampunk romance will probably cycle up and down in the coming years. Right now, it’s relatively young. In that sense, it may be too soon to predict where it’s going.
However, we can identify factors that could influence its fate either way.
As glorious as steampunk gadgets are, there’s a danger of reducing them to the sex toy of the week. Toys are fun and a mainstay of erotic steampunk romance, but without some meaty subtext to accompany the titillation, erotic steampunk romance may very well wind up as grist for the fad mill. Gadgets can be more than just toys—they can also be tools of social commentary.
In fact, one way to give erotic steampunk romance more staying power is social commentary in general. Fear not—social commentary won’t strip away all the fun. If it’s integrated seamlessly, readers can digest it while relaxing into the story at the same time. Authors of erotic steampunk romance can convey lots of interesting commentary about sexual relations, romance, and technology as viewed through the lens of a steampunk setting.
Speaking of settings, erotic steampunk romance can go beyond Victorian England. There’s a whole planet to explore (Africa! China! The American Old West! Under the sea!) and even outer space. Neither are authors limited to steam-powered technology. There are related kinds of punk with which to experiment, e.g., clockpunk and dieselpunk.
Erotic steampunk romance can also include action-adventure elements, and/or be mixed with mystery, fantasy, and horror. They can be light-hearted or dark in tone. Authors limit themselves to a narrow definition of steampunk at their own risk.
In order to endure, erotic steampunk romance would also benefit from featuring ethnic, sexual, and gender diversity. Since steampunk frequently features fantastical elements, why on earth would we want to close ourselves off (as readers and authors) to stories populated by white, heterosexual couples? What about exploring the “Other” with characters such as steampunk cyborgs, characters with prosthetics, and automatons? Couldn’t we have at least one transgender inventor or airship captain? Taking advantage of all the freedoms a niche subgenre has to offer can go a long way toward keeping stories fresh and inventive.
Small press/digital publishers have been putting out calls for erotic steampunk romance for some time now. How long will that last? Difficult to say. Reader interest in such stories will depend on not only on quality, but also on how accessible they are. The steampunk resurgence caught many by surprise, and there’s a bit of a learning curve in the mix.
But the great thing about many editors who work for small press/digital publishers is that they are lifelong fans of science fiction and fantasy. They won’t stop loving steampunk just because a bandwagon has or hasn’t rumbled by. They’ll always be on the look out for a good erotic steampunk romance. So in that sense, yes, these types of stories will have staying power.
Erotic steampunk romance sure is shiny. We risk tarnishing it by treating it as just another bauble. But, with a little spit and polish, we can keep its luster going indefinitely.
- Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express.
- She’s also an author: Her forthcoming sci-fi romance is The Watchmaker’s Lady (Clockpunk Trilogy #1), coming April 2012 from Red Sage Publishing. To learn more about her published work, visit www.heathermassey.com.