Thanks to a bit of prodding in the right directions, I’m finally discovering how heavily steampunk is based in literature. The five authors that have come to my attention are H.G. Wells, Jules Vern, K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock.
Now, there are a few connections and distinctions to be made here.
Firstly, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne were both alive and dead before Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter ever even existed, and neither Jules nor Verne created the term steampunk. The term steampunk is thought to first have been used by author K.W. Jeter when referring to a few stories with Victorian settings.
Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are thought by many to be the first steampunk authors. Each has one story that is primarily responsible for this. For Verne, it is 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and for Wells it’s The Time Machine. Each is set in the 19th century and involves extraordinary technology that far surpasses the capabilities of inventors of the period or is even possible at all in the case of The Time Machine.
Powers, Blaylock, and Jeter on the other hand, refer to themselves as steampunk authors and often write in worlds that are very much entirely steampunk rather than simply having steampunk elements.