What the Heck is Steampunk Dystopian, Anyway?

This week I am very happy to host a post from my fellow writer, Kate M. Colby, who resides in New Haven, USA. Kate’s first novel is being published by Boxthorn Press this month – grab an early copy and get money off (see below). Her book, ‘The Cogsmith’s Daughter’ is a steampunk dystopian, and (being over fifty) I had to ask, what the heck is that? Read on for Kate C’s response…

Kate C photo Oct15Picture this: after nearly fifteen years of dreaming about writing a novel, you finally finish your first one and decide to publish it. You’re thrilled—nay ecstatic! You can’t wait to tell your friends and family about it. The moment comes. Someone asks you, “So what’s your novel about?” Your eyes light up, you lean over and say, almost conspiratorially, “It’s steampunk without steam.”

And all you get in return is a “deer in the headlights” look. This, dear readers, is my struggle.

I’ve never been a huge fan of “single genre” books. For example, I rarely read “just romance” (except for the occasional guilty dip into Nicholas Sparks), and I’m not a fan of straight crime fiction. Now, throw another genre in there—paranormal romance, historical crime fiction—and I’m all over it. I read to escape reality, and I like high-concept, complex books to get me out of my day-to-day and into my imagination.

Knowing this, it’s probably no surprise that my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1), is somewhat of a genre mashup. I call it “steampunk dystopian.” What the heck is that? Well, let me tell you how I see it.

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction. It has close ties to alternative history and fantasy as well. At the simplest level, conventional steampunk relies on the idea that steam power evolved to be the dominant power source (as opposed to fossil fuels and the other power sources we have today). Standard steampunk takes place in the Victorian era, typically in London or wider England. As a genre, steampunk mixes heavily with mystery, crime, paranormal/supernatural, and romance. In a steampunk novel, you’ll find corsets and cravats, all kinds of cool gadgets and gizmos (lots of cogs), and sometimes a hint of magic or alternative science (think Alchemy). For more on Steampunk, here’s trusty Wikipedia.

So that’s the steampunk part. Now for dystopian.

Luckily for me, dystopian fiction has exploded in popularity lately, making it much easier to explain. In short, dystopian fiction features a society that is reminiscent of our reality, but in which something has gone horribly wrong, causing it to be a dystopia, rather than a utopia. Common features of dystopian novels are a corrupt, controlling government, oppressive religious or ideological beliefs, and technology-gone-bad. Popular examples include The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Brave New World. Again, here’s Wikipedia for more.

Got it? Good. So what is steampunk dystopian?

In my world, it’s like the “traditional” steampunk world has morphed into a dystopian society. Long story short, roughly two hundred years before my novel begins, there is an apocalyptic flood (á la Noah’s Ark). The steampunk ancestors of my characters build a steamship (think Titanic) to carry them through the flood. Eventually, the water dries up, and they’re left in a desert wasteland they name Desertera. Without excess water, they can’t power any of their steam technology, and they stagnate. The society evolves under a questionable religion (in which adultery is punished with execution) and corrupt monarchy (in which the king abuses the adultery law to trade out queens whenever he likes). Today, the world is pretty much a poverty-riddled disaster.

As you’ll see, there’s traditional steampunk stylings (cogs, mechanics, Victorian-esque clothing), with all the trappings of dystopian (evil government, unethical religion, social stratification, etc.). There’s also a healthy portion of post-apocalyptic (with the preceding flood and the wasteland), a bit of conspiracy, and the subplot is a romance. Genre mashup? I think so.

Now what exactly drew me to this mash up of genres? Well, when I was thinking about this kingdom, my original idea was not steampunk (more on that later in the blog tour). However, the more I learned about steampunk as a genre, the more I was drawn to the styling, and I decided I wanted to put my own twist on it. As for dystopian, it’s a genre I’ve always enjoyed, so most of my ideas naturally work their way in its direction in one form or another. Same with post-apocalyptic. I’m a total sucker for the end of the world. The story just seemed to demand these genres, so I incorporated them all. Hopefully I did a decent job!

If you’re the gambling type, you can enter my Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win one of three signed copies of The Cogsmith’s Daughter HERE.

Don’t like leaving things up to chance? Me either. You can pre-order your copy of The Cogsmith’s The Cogsmith's Daughter - Ebook SmallDaughter at these fine retailers. Note: when it officially releases on Thursday, October 15, the ebook price is going up! Grab yours today.

Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon AU, etc.

Barnes & Noble





Two-hundred years ago, the steam-powered world experienced an apocalyptic flood. When the waters dried up, the survivors settled around their steamship in a wasteland they named Desertera. Believing the flood and drought were caused by a scorned goddess, the monarchs demanded execution for anyone who commits the unforgivable sin—adultery.


Today, King Archon entraps his wives in the crime of adultery, executing each boring bride to pursue his next infatuation. Most nobles overlook King Archon’s behavior, but when Lord Varick’s daughter falls victim to the king’s schemes, he vows revenge.


When Aya Cogsmith is thirteen, King Archon has her father executed for treason. Orphaned and forced to turn to prostitution for survival, Aya dreams of avenging her father’s death. When Lord Varick approaches Aya with plans for vengeance, she agrees to play the king’s seductress—even though it puts her at risk for execution.

Packed with high-society intrigue, dappled with seduction, and driven by revenge, The Cogsmith’s Daughter is a steampunk dystopian novel with the perfect mixture of conspiracy and romance.

Kate M. Colby is an author of cross-genre fiction and creative nonfiction. Her first series, Desertera, consists of steampunk dystopian novels with themes of socio-economic disparity, self-empowerment, romance, and revenge. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children. You can learn more about Kate and her books on her website: www.KateMColby.com.


16 thoughts on “What the Heck is Steampunk Dystopian, Anyway?

  1. Pingback: “Special Edition” Mid-Month Check-In: October 2015 | Kate M. Colby

  2. Pingback: The Cogsmith’s Daughter Book Launch Blog Tour Recap | Kate M. Colby

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