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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 1: An Introduction
Slide 2: Jules Verne
Slide 3: The American "Edisonade"
Slide 4: The Rise of Modern Steampunk
Slide 5: The Role of
Slide 6: The Aesthetic Influence on Movies
Slide 7: The Role of DIY Fashion
Slide 8: Steampunk Art
Slide 9: Reimagining Technology Through the Maker Movement
Slide 10: The Future of Steampunk
Slide 3: The American "Edisonade"

Slide 3: The American "Edisonade"

In the last decades of the 1800s, an American can-do attitude and a period of industrialization led to stories called “Edisonades,” in which the inventor became a kind of artist or hero, at odds with Verne’s more pessimistic views. Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett’s Boilerplate (2009), recounting the adventures of a robot during momentous parts of American and world history, represents a modern form of the Edisonade. In a sense, Boilerplate provides a metafictional gloss on the traditional Edisonade, while dispensing with the more disturbing elements of the originals, which could be seen as nationalistic and perhaps even at times jingoistic.

The first Edisonade was published in 1868 by Edward S. Ellis and appeared in Irwin P. Beadle’s American Novels #45 (August 1868).  In the story, a hunchbacked dwarf inventor creates a steam man—literally a man-shaped steam engine—and goes off into the West to fight Native Americans, coming back rich and successful. Similar stories appeared throughout the late 1880s in various American pulp magazines. They reflected the national fervor for expansion and a belief in Manifest Destiny, while blithely overlooking the tragedy and consequences of those actions.

Contemporary riffs in this century include Joe Lansdale’s amazing mash-up of a story “The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel,” (The Long Ones, 1999) which mixes elements of the Edisonade with elements from Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) in an X-rated journey that makes a thorough mockery of its source material and debunks the false innocence of period pieces in general.

Lansdale’s story and the more innocent Boilerplate demonstrate direct ways in which the Edisonade still exerts direct influence.