This list is not exhaustive, and I’d recommend the Brass Goggles website at brassgoggles.co.uk for more comprehensive lists of Steampunk data. This is just a list of books, comics, movies and ephemera that inspired your humble author during the writing of this game. Please peruse at will and take any commentaries with a grain of salt!
Modern Novels written with the Victorian Era as a setting
1901 by Robert Conroy (1995)
This short novel supposes a hypothetical war between the United States and Imperial Germany over the refusal of the USA to relinquish control of the colonies the republic recently took from Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War. The tension was quite real, and Conroy does an interesting job of portraying a sudden German attack upon a relatively unprepared America. It portrays both American and German politicians and generals in a historically convincing manner and is a fun war story to boot.
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (1992)
An alternate ending of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where Dracula defeats Van Helsing and his fellows is the center of this novel. It is three years later, and Dracula has become Prince Consort to Queen Victoria and rules Britain with an iron fist. Victoria, much of the British aristocracy, and many common folk are now vampires and vampirism is considered a mark of refinement in this dark England. News is censored, opponents moved to concentration camps, and Dracula’s Carpathian Guard are given free reign to hunt at will throughout London. Though more supernatural than Steampunk, this book gives a fascinating view of how Victorian society might react to supernatural forces being revealed in their midst’s.
Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter (1993)
Another scientific what-might-have-been, with English scientists discovering nuclear power in the 1850s. This invention led to the nuclear destruction of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, and later a plot to use the weapons against the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. The main character, a rugged Englishman in the typical Scientific Romance mold, travels with the nuclear inventor into space and even to the moon; claiming it for Queen Victoria of course.
The Boneshaker by Kate Milford & Andrea Offermann (2010)
This book has it all, Steampunk, airships, a decades long American Civil War still going on near the tail end of the century…and zombies. That’s right, zombies; a dreadful gas has turned the residents of 1880s Seattle, Washington into the living dead. The city has been walled in to keep the dead in, but the gas is gathered (by those brave enough) for industrial uses. The tale involves a boy looking for the truth about his dead father, a mother determined to save her son from that truth, and air pirates and flesh-eaters galore!
Capes & Clockwork volumes 1 and 2 edited by D. Alan Lewis (2013)
This anthology is a collection of various stories with the theme of Steampunk Superheroes as its format. Not only ideal for anyone wanting to read about the concepts presented in Victorious, but also has a story from your humble author in volume 2; “To Catch A Unicorn” which is set in the Victorious universe!
Flashman Series by George MacDonald Fraser (1969 onwards)
A bawdy but engaging series that stars Harry Flashman; the bully from Tom Brown’s School Days. Flashman, a coward and lascivious fellow, rubs shoulders with the famous and infamous of the mid-late Victorian era. Despite his yellow streak he somehow manages to be acclaimed as a great British hero; something that constantly befuddles him but doesn’t prevent him from taking full advantage of at need.
Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (2011)
Ostensibly written for young adult readers, this work encapsulates much of the specific genre of Victorious and SuperMankind. Though the protagonists don’t wear costumes, they are a secret group of supers who use their unique powers to defend Britain against all sorts of threats. The Steampunk aspect is very strong, with various machines acting as replacements for modern items (1890s motorcycles, automobiles, computers, the Internet, etc.), which can be a bit jarring for those wishing a more traditional Victorian era. Very four-color in its plot and personalities, its worth a read if you want a novel that hits on several of the tropes within these rules. The sequel Girl in the Clockwork Collar continues their adventures fighting villany, but this time in 1890s New York City.
Goodnight, Mr. Holmes by Carole Nelson Douglas (1990)
This work is a retelling of the story of “A Scandal in Bohemia” where Sherlock Holmes matches wits with the beautiful and brilliant Irene Adler, but from Irene Adler’s perspective. Or rather, a friend of hers; Nell Huxleigh who is to Irene what Watson is to Holmes. A good series, and Douglas is very evocative with her descriptions of locales and fashion. There are currently 11 books in the series, and perhaps more in the future.
Leviathan, Behemoth, Goliath by Scott Westerfeld (2009)
A trilogy involving another alternate history; this time at the beginning of World War I. The Darwinist powers of England, France and Russia stand poised to go to war with the Klanker powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. The Darwinists use bio-engineering to fabricate creatures instead of machines. For instance, the airship that gives the first book the name is a giant hydrogen beathing whale-type creature. The Klanker powers use steam and oil powered machinery, inclusing ‘Stormwalkers’ (giant walking machines armed with artillery and machine guns) and believe the Darwinists are godless and corrupt. The bok follows the adventures of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to enter the air service and serve abourd the Leviathan. While there she meets the son of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand (killed in Sarajevo and starting the war) as he tries to avoid German agents and Darwinists alike.
Ministry of Peculiar Events: Phoenix Rising, The Janus Affair, Dawn’s Early Light (etc) by Pip Ballantine and T. Morris (2011)
This series describes the adventures of two members of the aforementioned ministry, Mr. Wellington Thornhill Books and Ms. Eliza Braun. Though set in the late 1890s, this ministry seems to have existed as long as Queen Victoria had ruled, and protected the empire from threats mechanical, alien and supernatural. Though more of a Steampunk world than true history, it’s based just enough in the ‘real’ 19th century to keep surprises in store for one and all.
Morlock Night by W. Jeter (1979)
A modern sequel to Wells’ Time Machine, this story involves the Morlocks from the original book creating a time machine of their own and planning a subterranean invasion of Victorian London. The story involves several steampunk tropes of excess industrialization, poverty among workers, and even rat-hunting to survive (!)
The Nomads of Time series by Michael Moorcock
The Warlord of the Air (1971), The Land Leviathan (1974), and The Steel Tsar (1981)
This series involves a British soldier’s travels through time and space, occasionally traveling to alternate realities. In The Warlord of the Air, he encounters a 1973 where the colonial empires never collapsed because there were never any World Wars and are apparent utopias. In the Land Leviathan, he finds another timeline where World War I never ended and the world is a post-Apolcalyptic wasteland of accelerated technology. The final book The Steel Tsar, is another world where the ‘Great War’ never happened but Britain and Germany are allies against the rising imperialist Japan. Lots of alternate technology and odd political justapositions; fodder for any game of Victorious!
The Return of Moriarty, The Revenge of Moriarty, and Moriarty by John Gardner
A trilogy of books that show the ‘Napoleon of Crime’ – Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis – Professor Moriarty as the protagonist. A splendid view of the London Underworld of the time and full of ‘Thieves Cant’ and other idiosyncrasies of the period.
Those Who Hunt The Night by Barbara Hambly (1988)
A turn of the century story involving a British secret agent who is approached by a vampire to investigate murders; namely of his undead brethren. Not Anne Rice-ian, these vampires are of a different stripe and the hero must constantly find clues while avoiding the fate of all mortals who truck with the vampires.
W.A.R.P. series: The Reluctant Assassin and The Hangman’s Revolution by Eoin Colfer (2013)
In this series for young adults a Victorian magician turned assassin and his teenage assistant come through a time tunnel to the 21st century and have a run-in with a junior FBI agent as well as modern London. Then, they are all back in 1898, where the trainee now has joined forces with the FBI agent to stop his former master from killing them both. Chevron Savano, the federal agent, is a perfect example of a “fish out of water” as she tries using her few modern artifacts in Victorian London to stop a murderer. The second book ends with the pair permanently stuck in the 19th century, and changes that start reforging history around them, much as a game of Victorious will tend to do.
Novels from the 19th Century
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, and others by Jules Verne (1866)
The grandfather of Victorian Sci-Fi, Verne’s works epitomize the marriage of science and Victorian style and sensibilities. In 20,000 Leagues he brought forward the idea of the submarine, as well as the idea of the brilliant inventor who despises the rest of the world; a topic visited later by other authors.
Angel of the Revolution by George Griffin
A good adventure yarn, even if a bit preachy at times. In this work a brilliant British scientist solves the problem of heavier than air flight (before the Wright Brothers) with nigh-inexhaustible fuel. Instead of selling such to the government or making himself rich, the inventor gives the secret to an Anarchist group who use the power of airships to bring a Socialist utopia to mankind. Its a nice view of the social problems of the era, both with industrial life and absolute monarchy; though the solution Griffin provides is rather dubious.
Annals of a Doss House by Sidney Hallifax (1900)
Though technically fiction, Annals provides a glimpse into the typical doss house of London and brief character portraits of its residents. Excellent for use if a doss house full of NPCs are needed.
Bohemian Paris of Today by C. Morrow (1900)
This book tries to promote itself as an objective view of the “Bohemian lifestyle” of Paris in the late 1890s. Instead, it’s a view of alternative lifestyles, bizarre clubs and saloons, parades of decadence and other things that are surprising even to the jaded 21st century reader. The “Heaven” and “Hell” clubs are most interesting, even having people dressed as angels fly by on wires over the tables.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Perhaps the most well known piece of literature from the period, Stoker’s Dracula gives a good overview of a ‘modern’ (i.e. Victorian) Englishmen and his encounters with ancient evils in the most barbaric (of the time) part of Europe; Transylvania. It further includes various aspects of 1890s London life and how an ancient evil might use a people’s disbelief in the supernatural against them. Slow reading at first but rewards the reader who soldiers onward to the action.
Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss (1898)
This book was an unauthorized sequal to H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. After the Earth begins to recover from the Martian attack, the inventor Thomas Edison creates a range of inventions so that the humans can launch a counterattack before the Martians can recover from their defeat. Shades of Jules Verne in the devices and vehicles; a source for any inventor in Victorious.
Fantomas by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain
This series is unusual in that it not only gives a French point of view regarding the era, but the main character is arguably the villain. Fantomas, The Lord of Terror, rules the underworld of France and commits heinous crimes with apparent impunity. Inspector Juve, Fantomas’s nemesis, is brilliant but is always one step behind Fantomas. Though no time period is specified, the turn of the century is likely. This series, providing the villain the French apparently loved to hate, went for 35 books and 4 silent movies, and each novel more unusual and extreme than the last. A good read for a view of French life during the period.
Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells
The well known author of War of the Worlds turns his thoughts toward a rather Victorious-style concept. What if some strange invention or event caused numbers of children to grow up as Super Beings? How would Victorian society react to such? Welles portrays his society in a not very flattering light in their prejudice and what might result from such.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
A classic that deals with the creation of a formula that creates the evil Mr. Hyde as the negative image of the upstanding citizen Dr. Jeckyl. Based on the real story of a noted physician who had a secret life as a criminal, this story is a perfect example of the ideas of ‘Science gone wrong’ that epitomizes Victorious.
John Carter, Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1911)
Though published after the turn of the century, borough’s Earth-born hero of Barsoom (Mars) departs Earth in the 1870s and is certainly a person of the Victorian period. While very little of the novel is based on Earth, John Carter’s mindset and morays are very Victorian and in his reactions to an alien world the reader can glimpse the era’s point of view on strange and odd creatures and events.
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)
The author who brought us Sherlock Holmes takes a step beyond pure logic and gives us The Lost World, the novel which gave its name to a genre of writings. In this book the protagonist Professor Challenger, a brilliant but violent scientist whose keen mind belies his hulking frame gathers an expedition to South America to discover an isolated plateau full of the life forms of the prehistoric world. While mostly emphasizing the adventure itself, there are several descriptions of Victorian London and the society’s reactions to apparent inconsistencies of science.
The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, in two volumes by Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by William S. Baring-Gould.
A two-volume set in a slipcase, containing several commentaries by several ‘Sherlockian’ scholars on all the great detective’s stories. A must for anyone looking to create a Victorious campaign steeped in the lore of 221B Baker Street!
Tin Types by Lemuel Ely Quigg (1890)
The term ‘Tin Types’ refers to the older method of creating photograph negatives, with tin being used because it was much cheaper than copper or silver. In this context, this book provides ‘cheap photographic negatives’; namely vignettes of individuals living in the poor parts of New York City in the 1880s. Each short story has a main character of very dubious repute and manners and the tale provides a look into their poverty-stricken world. Like Annals of a Doss House, this work is excellent for the GM looking to create the ambiance of pre 1900 New York in its seedier aspect.
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897)
Another inventor who uses a serum to become invisible. It doesn’t wear off, and so the book covers his determination to force the main character to assist him in finding a cure. One gets the impression that the serum also caused some kind of insanity, for the invisible man varies between nasty bouts of temper to maudlin self-pity.
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells (1896)
This book deals with yet another brilliant inventor (this time a doctor) who isolates himself and carries on experiments to create man-animal hybrids. Discovered by some Americans shipwrecked on the island’s shores, there is the inevitable conflict of morals and mores with the argument of advancing science.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1898)
An iconic story of the brilliant inventor creating a time machine to travel to the far future. While there he battles the evil underground Morlocks and the beautiful surface-dwelling Eleoi who are the Morlocks’ food source. This was a bit of sarcasm to English city life of the time but was (and is) still a thrilling adventure story. Look for the copy with the missing chapter showing the time traveller’s advance into the end of the Earth; it was originally left out because the publisher thought it was too dark and depressing.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
The first of the alien invasion stories, and created the tropes for all future style novels. Strange alien tripod machines emerge from a recent crater to wreack destruction in their path. Humanity’s weapons seem helpless before the Martians, until the Earth’s more common diseases lay the invaders low. Based on the British story ‘The Battle of Dorking’, it substitutes Martians for Prussians and also comments on colonial policies of the era.
Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury (1921)
Though written in the 1920s, the urban legends and ‘histories’ of the criminal element are most detailed in the 1870s-to the 1910s. Some of the claims are quite exaggerated (for instance one criminal could pull up a telegraph pole and use it as a club!) but will fit neatly into the Supermankind of the Victorious Age. It also gives a detailed list of New York gang slang used in the period.
The Proud Tower: The World Before the War by Barbara W. Tuchman (1962)
The author of the work Guns of August gives an excellent historical narrative of the people, places and events of the world from the 1890s to World War I. She also does it in a very readable manner, without getting bogged down in footnotes, end notes, and academic jargon. A strong recommendation for someone who has little knowledge of the period and needs a readable starting point.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (2004)
This is the story of Dr. H. Holmes, the first serial killer in American history. He struck mostly at women, had an entire hostel built with secret passages and a crematorioum in the basement specifically for entering his victim’s rooms and disposing of the evidence. Dr. Holmes called himself ‘The Devil’ with a total lack of remorse when finally caught by authorities after the Columbian Exhibition of 1893. A truly evil villan for any game.
The Fascination of London (in 10 parts) by Sir Walter Besant and G. E. Mitton (1902)
This is a fine collection of facts about every suburb of London. The maps are quite detailed, and the books go into the history of each block in surprising detail; even individual buildings! If the Gentlewoman Magistrate is unfamiliar with Victorian London, I cannot recommend this series strongly enough.
Secrets of the German War Office (1914), Secrets of Hohenzollerns (1915) by Karl Aarmgard Graves
Allegedly non-fiction, but Dr. Graves comesup with some truly bizarre stories for his time in the German Secret Service at the turn of the century. Though highly unlikely as truth, these two works give a wealth of possible scenarios and conspiracy theories for the Gentleman Magistrate needing some ideas for Anglo-American-German events.
London’s Underworld by Thomas Holmes (1912)
This is a treatise on the author’s investigation of the East End of London and the poverty-stricken residents who frequently turn to crime to deal with their circumstances. Very good for creating the ambiance of London’s underworld.
Role Playing Games
Cthulhu by Gaslight by William A. Barton (Chaosium, Inc.)
Playing off their successful game Call of Cthulhu (set in the 1920s), this game places the investigators in Victorian England to fight the dread minions of the Elder Gods. It is very Sherlockian in tone, with the introductory adventure involving the Great Detective and his nemesis Moriarty in a scheme to unleash the mythos on British soil.
Forgotten Futures by Marcus Rowland (Heliograph)
A science fiction roleplaying game, but unlike others in the Sci-Fi scene this game portrays the future as imagined by authors in the late Victorian era. Several settings are available free online, including one (“Czar Wars”) based on Griffin’s Angel of the Revolution setting. This and more can be found at www.forgottenfutures.com.
GURPS Steampunk by William H. Stoddard (Steve Jackson Games)
A voluminous work detailing both the historical Victorian era as well as providing many Steampunk technologies and arcane secrets for any GURPS campaign world. Dry and almost encyclopedic in tone, it nonetheless provides a lot of data on a host of Victorian topics for the interested gamer, even if you don’t play GURPS.
Age of Wonder, Vol I. by Adisakdi Tantimedh (DC Comics, 2003)
An expansion of the concept introduced in Gotham by Gaslight (see following) this takes the various heroes of the DC universe such as Superman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, plus others and place them within the 1880s. They do their best to be heroes, but find themselves facing the social unrest and technological advances of the age. These inequalities provide much plot grist for the heroes to pit themselves against, and on occasion pit themselves against each other. Volume II is also excellent, but deals more with the post World War I era than the period covered by Victorious.
Gotham By Gaslight by Mike Mignola (DC Comics, 1989)
A Victorian era Bruce Wayne uses Steampunk-style technology to fight crime in the Gotham of the 1890s. His nemesis in this graphic novel is Jack the Ripper; who has relocated his atrocities to Gotham City and is framing Batman for his gruesome deeds.
Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio (Foglio Studios, 2001)
A light-hearted romp through an alternate Earth where Steampunk science is the norm and “Sparks” are inventors with the paranormal ability to create super-devices that help (and frequently harm) the normal people around them. Currently in 11 graphic novels and shows no sign of ending anytime soon!
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore (America’s Best Comics, 1999)
The British government gathers a group of Victorian characters that include the Invisible Man, Mr. Hyde, Captain Nemo, and Allan Quartdrmain to battle villains threatening the peace of the empire. A second series follows the group as they try to fight the Martians of Wells’s War of the Worlds. Dark and crude at times, Moore has done his Victorian homework and provides a plausible set of characters; even if they’re hardly heroes of the normal stripe.
Steam Detectives by Kia Asamiya (Viz Graphic Novels)
Another Japanese creation, this one in Manga-style black and white comic books. The Steam Detectives chronicle the adventures of a young boy Narutaki, an orphan being raised by his butler who has his own detective agency (Batman, anyone?). He lives in Steam City which is a generic steampunk-style metropolis, and in the first volume rescues a pretty young nurse named Ling Ling who soon becomes his assistant in solving crimes. Narutaki has a special gun which serves a multitude of purposes and Ling Ling has a giant robot protector. No obvious historical period is given, although the appearance and dress of the characters suggests a pseudo-Victorian setting.
Films and Television
Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1927)
One of the truly classic films, this film is a look at a dark future where the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ have reached extremes of wealth and poverty. The main character is an affluent scion of privilege who nonetheless experiences the oppression of the poor and for love of a teacher leads an eventual revolution to overthrow the wealthy elite.
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water by Hideaki Aunts (1990)
An Anime feature in a Steampunk Victorian era where two French teenagers are caught in a web of intrigue over the ‘Blue Water’ in Nadia’s possession. At one point a version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’s Captain Nemo makes his appearance as the captain of a submarine, and with followers determined to better the world.
Time After Time by Nicholas Meyer (1979)
This 1979 film has a young H.G. Wells as the actual inventor of a time machine, but that machine is stolen by a old friend of Wells’…who is actually Jack the Ripper. Wells takes the (now returned) machine to follow his erstwhile friend into 1979 in an effort to see him face justice.
The Wild Wild West (CBS, 1965)
This television show (and later movie) was based in the 1870s American West but with many Steampunk-style inventions and equipment to allow the heroes to foil villains, confederates, and foreigners alike. Originally broadcast in the late 1960s, the later movie version with Will Smith was even more campy than the original series…but had a giant steam spider at the end.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (20th Century Fox, 2003)
The film version of the critically acclaimed comic series stars Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain. The plot is only tangentially similar to the first comic series, and the various characters are less damaged than their versions by Alan Moore. Still, it’s a high-action movie that gives the viewer Steampunk-style carnage and battling of evil.
Legend (UPN, 1995)
This TV adventure series is set in the wild west with an author of dime novels frequently being mistaken for his fictitious hero Nicodemous Legend. Much like the Flashman novels, in truth he is the exact opposite of his heroic character, being a coward and lecher, though his conscience wins out in the end. A Hungarian inventor named Bartoc provides Legend with many Steampunk style inventions to aid his fight against villainy.
Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Brothers, 2009, 2011)
Robert Downey Jr. is surprisingly good in this retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic Consulting Detective. The friendship of Holmes and Watson is less of the usual “genius and loyal if dull-witted friend” and more of a ‘Bro-mance’ in which Watson gets as much screen time and action as Holmes. Not completely faithful (what movie/TV version is?) to Doyle’s work but a lot closer than many and gives the modern viewer all the action and one-liners one can handle!
Van Helsing (Universal Studios, 2003)
Like in Dracula, there is someone named Van Helsing in this film. There is also a vampire named Dracula, and he has 3 vampire brides. Any similarity to Stoker’s book ends with that. It’s great eye-candy and full of action, but not much Victoriana. Some Steampunk tropes make an appearance, and there are cameos by Mr. Hyde and Baron von Frankenstein that are amusing; but for the most part it’s vampire-killing action! An extra with the DVD set is an animated bit called Van Helsing: The London Assignment that has Queen Victoria as part of the story, but is mostly a prequel to the live action film.
This group of musicians have created a truly outstanding collection of songs that epitomize the Steampunk genre.Their sound is a true fusion of modern and old-world styles, and I can’t recommend them enough. You can find more of their work at their bandcamp site.
Marquis of Vaudville
An excellent and imaginative group of musicians in the North Texas area, their various works are great to set a properly Steampunk mood. Do give their creations a listen, you won’t be disappointed!