Saturday, July 2, 2011

Steampunk's Origin in Dime Novels: A Teaser

I've never been accused of being ahead of my time and I tend to be the least trendiest person in the room. I still haven't figured out why iPods are so popular and even how to use one.

So it's no surprise that I've only just now started to get interested in Steampunk, that wildly popular movement of fashion/literature/design/art and whatever else it can influence. Of course I've heard of it, and have seen photos of these mysterious and eccentric costumes. I have a good friend who has been into costume design and through her I've become interested in Victorian costume. But I didn't know anything about steampunk in general nor its origins.

So when I heard that Garyn Roberts was going to be speaking at PulpFest about Steampunk in the Days of Dime Novels and Pulp Magazines, I thought, this is going to be way cool.

So I've started to do some reading and came up with some good Web sites and also a great book that Bobbi Jean Bell at OutWest lent me. Here are some excerpts from them.
says of the Steampunk literary genre:

To me, Steampunk has always been first and foremost a literary genre, or least a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy that includes social or technological aspects of the 19th century (the steam) usually with some deconstruction of, reimagining of, or rebellion against parts of it (the punk). Unfortunately, it is a poorly defined subgenre, with plenty of disagreement about what is and is not included. For example, steampunk stories may:

* Take place in the Victorian era but include advanced machines based on 19th century technology (e.g. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling);
* Include the supernatural as well (e.g. The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger);
* Include the supernatural and forego the technology (e.g. The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, one of the works that inspired the term ‘steampunk’);
* Include the advanced machines, but take place later than the Victorian period, thereby assuming that the predomination by electricity and petroleum never happens (e.g. The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling); or
* Take place in an another world altogether, but featuring Victorian-like technology (e.g. Mainspring by Jay Lake).

In the introduction to the anthology STEAMPUNK (Tachyon, 2008) Jeff Nevins writes:

A proper history of steampunk must begin in the 19th century with dime novels, for it is there that steampunk's roots lie, and it is dime novels which the first generation of steampunk writers were reacting against.

....The term "Edisonsade" was coined by John Clute after the "Robinsonade," or stories about lone stravelers stranded on remote islands, in the vein of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. An Edisonade is a story in which a young American male invents a form of transportation and uses it to travel to uncivilized parts of the American frontier or the world, enrich himself, and punish the enemies of the Unites States, whether domestic (Native Americans) or foreign. The Edisonades appeared in dime novels as both serials and as complete novels.

The first Edisonade was "The Huge Hunter, or the Steam Man of the Prairies." "The Huge Hunter" was created by Edward S. Ellis, a New Jersey schoolteacher and principal, and appeared in Irwin P. Beadle's American Novels #45 (August 1868.)

This is just the beginning of a fascinating introduction into the history of Steampunk, followed by a collection of stories, excerpts, and essays on the phenomenon.

STEAMPUNK is available through OutWest (which, by the way, also has a great collection of western and steampunk-inspired clothing). Check out this coat, for example.

I think it's pretty cool when something I've been interested in for such a long time, in particular dime novels and pulp magazines, have had a direct influence on one of the hottest popular culture movements around. Makes me feel like a little less of a nerd.

If you're interested in going to PulpFest to hear Garyn's talk Saturday night, go to PulpFest 2011 and go to the programming page.

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Deka Black said...

Steampunk is something i never read before. But seems pretty fun.What i didn't knew was the edisonades. Fun thing is some years ago i saw a book with steam powered robots.

David Cranmer said...

Steampunk is such fun and I've even asked a writer to craft a steampunk series for BEAT to a PULP.

If I had more time I could dress up and attend conventions. Like I said, lots of fun.

Top post with great pics, Laurie.

Barry Traylor said...

I could be wrong but I think the term Steampunk came about because of William Gibson's novel "Neuromancer" which was such an influence on Science Fiction and the term Cyberpunk came from that type of SF. I think that films like The Matrix were influenced by Cyberpunk. The work of Jules Verne was pretty much Steampunk many, many years before the term came into use.
As I also collect daggers and swords I get the catalog from Museum Replicas Limited based in Georgia. This months catalog has six pages of Steampunk clothing and weapons.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have this collection you show at the bottom and was just looking at it yesterday thinking I might start it. This piques my interest in it more.

mikechomko said...
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mikechomko said...
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mikechomko said...

Barry, you are incorrect about the Steampunk genre coming out of William Gibson's NEUROMANCER. Gibson's work was the start of Cyberpunk, a genre you site in your comments. The term Steampunk was, I believe, coined by K. W. Jeter who, along with such authors as Tim Powers and James Blaylock, was writing stories set in a version of the 19th century where the technologies suggested by authors like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells had actually been realized. Gibson's work is set in a future dystopian world where people can link their brains to a worldwide computer network. Really, the only commonality between Steampunk and Cyberpunk is the "punk" at the end of each word.

If you keep watching the PulpFest website, there will be a longer post on Garyn Roberts' Steampunk presentation in just a few days. I believe the post will go online sometime on Wednesday of the coming week. The website's address is

Barry Traylor said...

Gee Whiz Mike! Always the nitpicker. 8-)
I don't think I phrased myself correctly. I am pretty certain that Cyberpunk predated Steampunk, but of course I could be wrong. I often am.

Laurie Powers said...

Mike is so sure about this that he posted it 3 times -- ha ha. Anyway, I'm glad you all enjoyed the post and thanks for all the additional information. David, I would love to see that in a new BTAP collection. Deka, if you google "steam punk machinery" you can find lots of photos of Victorian robots, etc.
Charles, I'd like to keep this book and read the rest of it too.