I will not touch the culture that is called Steampunk it is something very different to the books and real steampunkers would be very offended if I pretended to know everything there was to know about steampunk. So I'm only going to talk about Steampunk as it relates to novels. It is classed as science fiction but really it doesn't fit in there. Like I'm writing steampunk and it is actually an alternate history story which falls under fantasy as it never happened and it isn't set in the future. People think because you are highlighting the technology that it automatically falls under science fiction. I even have dragons in mine, if that doesn't say fantasy I don't know what does. There are a few big names in the Steampunk genre who don't technically write steampunk-set-in-victorian-times-has-lots-of-steam kind of way. Because I think steampunk is actually bigger than science fiction or anything like that. There are plenty of list out there about the best steampunk books out there and I will put some of my favourites at the end of this article but what I wanted to speak about it what every steampunk should have.
1. Discussions/themes about class, politics or equality
The first steampunk novels were actually quite dark and they were rebellious against the status quo so I think a good steampunk needs to give a nod to their origins and have a look at class structure and how it works.
2. Steam-powered stuff
You really can't have steampunk without something that puffs away with steam. It doesn't have to be obvious but it should be there in the background as a foundation to your world creating. Some people throw in airships as the only token to this need for steam-powered stuff but you can have automaton and automobiles as well.
3. Girls that kick butt
I've written about this before and why it is so important but one of the rebellious stand outs of the genre is that they have women who refuse to be meek little mouses who wear clothes that don't allow them to run. The Victorian time was the time of the suffragette and the blue stocking. we can honor the really difficult uphill battle they fought by continuing to perpetuate a freedom for women to be who they want to be. That can be feminine but that doesn't mean they can't kick butt as well.
4. Impossible gadgets
Like the steam-powered part you really do need to take it to the next level. Your gadgets should be amazing from nano machines to AI creatures. This is a fantasy after all. Actually fantasy has a genre for magic like things that are based in science it is called Hard Fantasy. You would be surprised by how many sub genres there are.
So these books all have these and I just love them. Read them all at least twice so well written with a bit of romance as I like that kind of thing.