Oct 28, 2011

Victorian/Steampunk Monsters

Above model: Candace Miller Photographer: Richard Fournier
 At the end of this year's Airship Awards banquet at Steamcon III in Seattle, Diana Vick announced the theme for 2012's Steamcon IV: Victorian Monsters. Shortly after the announcement, I told Diana it was "dirty pool" to go having yet another fun theme for the fourth year in a row. That famous quote from the Godfather III is rolling around in my head, given I thought this was likely my last Steamcon: "Just when I thought I was out . . . they pull me back in."

Get yourself one of these Steampunk Vampire Slaying kits from Dr. Jubal at Deviant Art!

I don't know who Diana's planning to invite as Guests of Honor, but the website has further clarified the theme as "All the Classic Monsters born during the Victorian period." Arguably, we're looking at Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, the Martians from War of the Worlds, Dr. Moreau's hybrids, Varney the Vampire, Carmilla, and Dorian Gray. If I'm in attendance, I'll be bringing along a Wendigo from the Great White North, courtesy of Algernon Blackwood. Given steampunks' love for H.P. Lovecraft, I'll be shocked if we don't see the whole damn Whateley family in attendance, or at the very least, a copy of the Necronomicon.

Still, that's a whole year away, and in the meantime, Halloween is just around the corner, and I've been pondering the intersection of steampunk and horror for a week and a half now. To that end, here's a list, in no way meant to seem comprehensive, of books combining steampunk with monsters:

Obviously, Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century books immediately jump to mind, with the Dust-driven revenants of Boneshaker, Clementine, Dreadnought, and Ganymede. While they sometimes serve more as part of the setting than overt plot device, Priest's zombies are an interesting twist on the zombie as victim of addiction. Steampunk naysayers nonplussed by the anachronistic inclusion of these mutant offspring of the atom should remember that Priest was not the first to include zombies in steampunk fiction: that distinction goes to James Blaylock, who brought us zombies of a kind in the steampunk classic Homunculus back in the '80s. Gunslinger Johnny Ringo returns from the dead to shamble into Tombstone in Mike Resnick's Buntline Special, while other steampunk works that include the walking dead, or close cousins thereof are Tim Akers' Dead of Veridon and George Mann's The Affinity Bridge.  

Dracula, the king of all vampires, makes but a cameo in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula; yet the absence of the big-D is compensated by the sheer volume of nineteenth century vampires parading through the pages of this classic work of horror and alternate history. Titan books reissued Anno Dracula earlier this year, and it's the Halloween treat that will do the trick if you're a fang-fan.

While nowhere near as serious as Anno Dracula, Gail Carriger's paranormal romance series, The Parasol Protectorate, is the antidote to the viral spread of sparkling vampires for that teen who's tiring of Edward Cullen. Carriger's vampires don't lurk in the shadows: they cavort through London in bright coloured waistcoats, setting fashion trends. Her werewolves are an interesting study of machismo and alpha male stereotypes, and her protagonist is a preternatural, a woman without a soul who cancels out the supernatural. Don't let the laughs fool you, though: Carriger can write creepy when the occasion calls for it, from the waxen faced golem VIXI in Soulless to the poltergeists in Heartless 

 While it's not steampunk, fans of steampunk writer Tim Powers will do well to check out his The Stress of Her Regard, which combines a vampire of sorts with the story of how Frankenstein came to be written. Other steampunk novels with bloodsucking include Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam; while I haven't read these yet,  I'm excited to get around to Clay and Susan Griffith's Vampire Empire Series, The Greyfriar and The Riftwalker; finally,  Dracula makes another brief appearance in Joe Lansdale's Zeppelins West.

More Monsters!
China Mieville's Perdido Street Station provides us with monsters galore, and monster hunters in pursuit, in what is effectively a steampunk Aliens/Blade 2/Mimic tale: a bug hunt in a fantastic steampunk setting. Jonathan Green's Leviathan Rising fulfills our fear of giant monsters in the water abysses, and Canadian Arthur Slade takes Quasimodo's monstrous visage and renders it heroic in The Hunchback Assignments.

And finally, while I'd hesitate to call Mike Mignola's Baltimore: The Steadfast Tin Solider and the Vampire steampunk, it has the right look and feel for the steampunk crowd. It's a hybrid homage to classic monsters: a pastiche of Victor Frankenstein's obsessive pursuit of his creation, of the vampire hunters who stalk Dracula, and Lovecraft's Shadow over Innsmouth, with poetic prose references to Andersen's fairy tale of the Steadfast Tin Soldier. I haven't had an opportunity to read Mignola's comic series of Baltimore, but the original book was a joy to read. And if a certain con promoter is listening, I think Mignola's the man to have as artist GOH next year at Steamcon IV. Since his tale isn't particularly steampunk, it might fit the bill for "monsters birthed in the Victorian period."

Happy Halloween, everyone!


  1. AUGH. More books for my shelf! That Mignola book looks GOOD. The Amazing Screw-On Head vid still preys on my mind on occasion (thanks, dude) so Baltimore does look good....

  2. I wonder if it's any coincidence that the creation of such a plethora of now-iconic monster figures during the 19th century coincides with the popularization (and sanitization) of fairy-tales during the same period. With all of the capricious, alien, and outright malevolent creatures of the night from popular folklore being given what ammounts to a Disney make-over, it makes sense that the era would generate new monsters grounded in its contemporary concerns (accounting, perhaps, for the markedly human nature of most of the entities in you list above).

  3. I would posit that the greatest writers of this period wrote of ghosts, from Carnaki to m.p.Shiel - Winston Churchill wrote ghost stories, Violet Hunt, children's writers, Stephenson and the amazing work by the female writers of the period. Same of course were the supernatural elements of Detective Fiction, from scientists turned to super apes to White, the writer for the Stand whose obsession with Green London, or White London imagined fog as the great monster, whether otherworldly or poison (Not to mention his fiction work: the severed hand). Many small presses reprint illusive works including the great many warnings not to awaken Pan or the other wooded gods.

    As for me, any zombie outbreak would need be at the Southern Terminus of the Necropolis line, the unsanctified, perhaps those coffins which had been sent second or third class.

  4. Excellent additions, mpshiel. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

  5. I hope that you wil review Invention of Hugo Cabret, the film. It is a steampunk film, full of cogs, wheels, even steampunked leg prosthetics, as well as set in a steam train station in paris. I tried to so a small post recommending it on Screw Bronze, but I would welcome your view of this steampunked automoton version of Edward Scissorhands mets the start of film and fixing (Johnny Depp is the Producer, though this is not mentioned, odd that).

    I have thought more about monsters, and the mechanical man as both savoir and destroyer is common as well - as you refer to at the end of this piece.

  6. I'm looking forward to seeing Hugo Cabret, and will certainly post once I have. Thanks for the encouragement to do so!


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