Fantastical Steampunk Prosthetics
One of the endlessly fascinating fantasies that steampunk romance offers is the concept of prosthetic limbs and how they intersect with the couple’s relationship.
The creepy-cool nature of pre-modern prosthetics lends the fictionalized versions in steampunk romance a “can’t look away” aspect. Primitive mechanical limbs often have an unsettling and sometimes horrific nature because they can only roughly approximate the real thing (e.g., an oversized iron hand). Plus, authors of steampunk/steampunk romance often cook up some really bizarre ones (a boiler for internal organs, anyone? See: Whitechapel Gods by S.M. Peters and “The Blushing Bounder” by Meljean Brook).
Characters with prosthetic limbs are refreshingly unique, but they actually serve various purposes across steampunk romance stories. They include but aren’t limited to:
* Diversity (e.g., characters with physical disabilities)
* Exploration of the “Other”
* sexual/kink fantasy
* “sense of wonder” with regard to the fantastical nature of a prosthetic
* prosthetics can imbue a character with superhuman abilities
In steampunk romance, prosthetic devices often create physical and interpersonal challenges for the characters. For example, heroine Kalindi MacNeil from Zoe Archer’s Skies of Gold has a prosthetic leg. When the story opens, she is moving to a remote, desolate island. The rough terrain she must navigate in order to survive challenges her physically. She’s an engineer used to working indoors, so activities like hiking require a big adjustment. She also experiences internal conflict regarding her identity and self-esteem in the context of intimate relations. Is it possible for a lover to look upon her prosthetic leg without disgust?
Stories like Skies of Gold challenge our assumptions about people with disabilities (e.g., that a person with a prosthetic limb isn’t whole, or is ugly/inferior compared to an able-bodied person). These tales also deliver a heroine made extraordinary by virtue of her prosthetic. This aspect can translate to superhuman abilities or simply be another way of adding an intriguing layer to her characterization.
What other types of prosthetics can a reader expect to find in steampunk romance?
Meljean Brook’s The Iron Seas series features a plethora of characters with prosthetic limbs and other body parts. In Here There Be Monsters, the novella that launched the series, heroine Ivy Blacksmith has two prosthetic arms and hands that are identical to real arms and hands except for their color. Captain Machen, the hero of that story, has a prosthetic foot. And David Kentewess of Riveted has a prosthetic eye in addition to his artificial limbs.
Nico Rosso’s Nights of Steel, Sheryl Nantus’ Wild Cards and Iron Horses, and Christine Danse’s Island of Icarus all feature heroes with prosthetic arms. Callie, the heroine in J.K. Coi’s Far From Broken, has prosthetic legs and mechanical organs. It’s a challenging transformation for a ballerina who is highly dependent on her limbs.
I’m keen to keep reading steampunk romances featuring characters with prosthetic limbs and other body parts. It’s an entertaining way to diversify steampunk romance and there are certainly more types of prosthetics—and themes—to explore.
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 in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com.