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Steampunk: An Overview
Posted August 26, 2009 to photo album "Steampunk: An Overview"
In anticipation of the release of Shane Acker’s steampunk-influenced animation 9, Jeff Vandermeer presents a primer on the fantasy subgenre.
Slide 2: Jules Verne
The mechanical elephant that forms the centerpiece of the “Machines of the Isle of Nantes” exhibit in France gives physical form to a central image from an early example of proto-Steampunk literature. This vast and whimsical creation—the crew actually enters through an aperture beneath the tail—is taken from the pages of Jules Verne’s The Demon of Cawnpore, Part I: The Steamhouse (1880), a novel in which four Englishmen travel across India on a huge steam-powered mechanical elephant. Verne’s use of such inventions in his fiction, including the famous Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869), would prove a potent influence on Steampunk creators in the 20th century. Verne’s motif of the mad inventor whose invention poses a threat to the world first made its debut in the person of 2000 Leagues’ Captain Nemo and in his novels about the mad aerialist inventor Robur. In such works, Verne also had begun a form of imaginative extrapolation about technology—in which elements of art and the decorative mesh with the functional—that would fascinate members of the modern Steampunk subculture, regardless of whether they also took from Verne’s work the cautionary message.
But at the same time Verne was imagining dangerous inventors, advanced submarines, and impractical steam-powered elephants, a second source of Steampunk influence was becoming popular in American pulp magazines: the “Edisonade.”