Lesbian Steampunk Is Guaranteed To Make You Want To Date An Inventor

Your favorite lesbian romance expert is back to introduce you to a new genre: lesbian steampunk. Let’s dive in and explore these steamy sapphic stories.

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steam punk back ground with 3 lesbian steampunk book covers

Steampunk is a relatively new genre that utilizes retro-futuristic technology. The aesthetic incorporates industrial steam-powered machinery from the 19th century. Even though this is a subgenre of science fiction, it often incorporates elements of other genres, such as romance, horror, or fantasy. Lesbian Steampunk is a subgenre within the steampunk umbrella that focuses on the romantic relationship between two women.

Steampunk is an exciting genre, but how much do we really know about it? Most people are aware of the gears-and-goggles aesthetic, but how did the genre start? Why do authors write steampunk? Most importantly, what lesbian steampunk should we be reading? I’ll answer all these questions and more as we deep dive into the lesbian steampunk genre.

What’s it all about?


Steampunk is a speculative fiction genre. As such, it explores alternative pasts or futures while still addressing real-world issues. Often steampunk is a hybrid genre, and can incorporate elements of romance, horror, fantasy, or historical fiction. Japanese steampunk, in fact, is one of the most popular types of steampunk. It blends the steampunk aesthetic with the insanely popular Japanese manga. This allows freedom for authors to take their steampunk stories in a variety of different directions. They could be about anything from an outlaw rescuing an inventor to an alien invasion horror story. No matter what you like to read, chances are there’s a steampunk novel for you.


Lesbian steampunk stories are typically set in England during the Victorian era or the American “Wild West,” when the use of steam-powered machinery was prevalent. Recently, however, steampunk authors and artists have taken to creating entirely fictional fantasy worlds rather than basing their stories on real-life time periods. This allows them to incorporate retro-futuristic technology without needing to be accurate to the time period. Admittedly, this is a huge benefit as the technology in steampunk is anachronistic. The inventions themselves are futuristic but designed how someone from the 19th century might have envisioned them, hence the term “retro-futuristic.” This technology could be analog computers, lighter-than-air airships, or steam cannons.

Queer themes in steampunk

Lesbian steampunk specifically puts romance between two women at the forefront. Like most lesbian literature, this often comes with the social stigma around homosexuality, and like most lesbian literature, this often involves the relationship being kept a secret. The romance aspect of the story can also take different forms. The relationship could be friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, or love at first sight, just to name a few often utilized tropes. However the relationship develops, it plays an integral part in the plotline and the story as a whole. All of these elements make steampunk a fascinating and versatile genre.

How did this genre begin?

The term “steampunk” originated in the 1980s. It was coined by science fiction author K.W. Jeter in a letter to the sci-fi magazine Locus. Steampunk was used to describe stories that took place in the 19th-century Victorian era and imitated actual Victorian-era speculative fiction, like H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. Though the term was coined in the 80s, stories that fall into the steampunk genre were written as early as the 1950s.


Steampunk was shaped by 19th-century scientific romance stories. Most notably, works by H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, and Jules Verne acted as precursors to the genre. A number of books and works of art fell into the steampunk genre before it had an official name. However, Mervyn Peake’s Titus Alone is generally regarded as the first true steampunk novel. In art, paintings that combined Victorian-style dress and techno-fantasy helped shape the aesthetic of the genre.

Why do authors write lesbian steampunk?

An author’s passion for lesbian steampunk can spawn in different ways. For author Elizabeth Watasin, she states in an interview with Ray Dean that the characters in her Dark Victorian series started out as a gothic depiction of a Victorian woman that gothic readers would enjoy.

I began haphazardly illustrating some aspects of Wit’s World: Never Was and the advertising poster for ‘The Dark Victorian Society’ was one of them. What kind of mythology would Goth kids like in such a poster? I came up with a ghostly Victorian woman holding a talking skull.”

Elizabeth Watasin, 2013

In a separate interview, she explains she writes stories and characters she herself enjoys reading and can relate to.

I probably write the kinds of stories I do because those are the stories I want to read. There are lots of kick-ass heroines out there, but I’m doing truly uncanny ones with personalities I enjoy who happen to be lesbian or same-sex sympathetic.”

Elizabeth Watasin, 2013

Author Elizabeth Bear explained in an interview with Bookish Lifestyle that the inspiration for the setting of her lesbian steampunk series Karen Memory came from visiting similar towns in the pacific northwest.

It takes place in the fictional Gold Rush town of Rapid City, which is loosely inspired by the cities of that era in the Pacific Northwest, notably Seattle and San Francisco. Seattle, Vancouver, and San Francisco really captured my imagination when I visited them! And then there’s the history of the area. There was a real Seattle madam named Mother Damnable, for example. She’s not my Madame Damnable—and my Rapid City isn’t Seattle—but there’s definitely inspiration there.”

Elizabeth Bear, 2015

In a separate interview with TBPL Off the Shelf, Bear explains her choice of writing queer women in her stories.

Gay, bisexual, asexual, poly, intersexed, and trans people deserve to be the heroes of stories as much as anybody else does, and it shouldn’t be any barrier to entry for anyone else to read them. People are people. If I can read a book by and about a straight white man and gain something from the experience, then it stands to reason that I can also gain something from the experience of reading a book by and about a black transwoman.”

Elizabeth Bear, 2015

What lesbian steampunk stories should you be reading?

The Dark Victorian series by Elizabeth Watasin


The Dark Victorian: Risen and the sequel, The Dark Victorian: Bones, bring goth to Victorian steampunk. In Risen, the ghost of Artifice, a Victorian woman with a criminal past she can’t remember, partners with Dastard, an animated skull. They are tasked with stopping a re-animationist from bringing murderous children back to life. As the pair seek out the man, Artifice discovers clues about herself from her previous life. After meeting several intriguing women, she learns where her heart lies.

The sequel sees the pair try to stop a black arts surgeon from removing the bones and organs of healthy poor citizens to give to the afflicted and wealthy. They learn he’s targeting a woman over six feet tall, and that Artifice might just be that woman.

Karen Memory series by Elizabeth Bear


Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory series is an incredible Jack the Ripper story set in the American old west. The first in the series introduces us to Karen Memory, spelled Memery, who works in a bordello in the Seattle underground called Rapid City for a woman named Madame Damnable. She gets to know the eclectic group of women that pass through. One evening a badly injured woman shows up seeking asylum, followed by a man holding her indenture. The next night they find a body left in the trash.

Stone Mad sees Karen and her partner Priya celebrating Karen’s retirement from the bordello and the purchase of their ranch. They meet the Arcadia Sisters, spiritualists who stir up the tommy-knocker, a magical creature from the Alaskan gold mines that’s been kidnapped and brought to Rapid City. It’s up to Karen to save everyone she can.

Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger


Imogene Hale, a parlourmaid, finds work at a local vampire hive. Imprisoned there is an inventor named Genevieve Lefoux. Imogene begins to fall in love with Genevieve, but the lady herself is set against the match. Imogene must overcome all obstacles set against her and win Imogene’s heart before the vampires can get to them. Carriger’s lesbian romance takes place in her steampunk Parasolverse, and is bound to make you want to fall in love with an inventor.

The Towers of the Earth series by Nita Round


Nita Round’s Towers of the Earth series brings pirates to steampunk. From book one: Three women aboard the airship Verity venture out to discover the cause of a string of disappearances. The only thing left behind is blood and a single silver brooch. Magda, captain of the airship, enlists the help of Lucinda, a witch and truth sayer, and Ascara, a warrior hired to protect them as their journey to solve the bloody mystery becomes more and more dangerous. As they venture closer to discovering answers, the three women’s lives change forever.

Lesbian steampunk is a rich and versatile genre most readers might not initially consider. However, steampunk stories and artwork are full of style and wicked cool subject matter. It’s a genre inspired by science fiction, romance, horror, and history, so there’s a steampunk novel out there for everyone. For more steampunk book recommendations, read our article here!