Some say Steampunk started with KW Jeter in 1979 with Morlock Nights. But did it?
Now I’ve read Jeter, Morlock Nights and Infernal Devices. They are readable, but as often with books that are considered the first in their genres, not the very best. I’d give them 3 out 5, which isn’t the recommendation it should be.
When I was at a convention in October, I was introduced to Pavane by Keith Roberts. This was first published in 1966, it was a teenager before Morlock Nights hit the scene. And it is definitely steampunk.
But is that even the first?
I think there’s an argument that it’s not.
Back on 1st January 1818, Frankenstein was published. Mary Shelley wrote about a man who used technology to control life. This is often quoted as the first science fiction book, but was it also the first steampunk book? Okay, this isn’t Victoriana, but Steampunk is a broad church. Frankenstein could be classed as Powderpunk, if only because of the setting.
So what of the elements of steampunk?
- A story set within a world using a real or imagined version of the technology of the 19th century
Well Frankenstein is set in a real world, and the technology used to bring the ‘monster’ to life is not a hundred percent different from a mix of modern technology, think limb transplant, defibrillator, iron lung. You’d need all these to sustain a body, bring it back to life.
- Victorian-era class and economic structures
Well, it’s Georgian class and economic structures, but what else would the Victorian-era class and economic structures be built on.
- Implicit or explicit social critique
Oh definitely. The way Shelley portrays the role of women in society is actually quite shocking to this modern reader. Then there is the way that society condemns the monster on nothing more than his looks
- An adventure-oriented plotline
Well, what more adventure do you want than an outcast running from the society that shuns him through no fault of his own. There’s running and hiding and travel to inhospitable regions. That sounds like an adventure to me.
- An emphasis on the empowerment of individuals in the face of industrial standardization and the advance of modern bureaucratic government
If the monster is anything, he’s an individual and he does find his way to empowerment in the end. Though even I have to admit that this is possibly the one Frankenstein doesn’t fit.
This is a definitive statement, just a personal opinion, feel free to disagree. If you’ve never read the books I’ve mentioned, they are all worthy of a try. But so is Shades of Aether, and that’s a good introduction to the genre too.