The Edisonade Literary Genre: a Steampunk Perspective

The 1868 cover of 'The Steam Man of the Prairies' by Edward S. Ellis.

The 1868 cover of ‘The Steam Man of the Prairies’ by Edward S. Ellis.

Edisonade – definition gleaned from Wikipedia

‘Edisonade’ is a modern term, coined in 1993 by John Clute in The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, for stories based around a brilliant young inventor and his inventions, many of which would now be classified as Science Fiction. This sub-genre started in the Victorian & Edwardian eras and had its apex of popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, circa 1875

I don’t know about you, but that sounds suspiciously like something I would write about the Steampunk genre. In fact, you could almost classify my current Work-in-Progress as sitting in the Edisonade genre. Almost … except my protagonist is a female inventor, and I am writing in the 21st century. Does this mean I write in the Neo-Edisonade genre?

 At this point, let’s take a deep breath. Genre is all about labels, and labels are nothing more than a way of organising. And I know I said I was looking for a better term for Steampunk, but Edisonade isn’t the label I am looking for! Neo-Vicwardian Retro-Futurism is still out in front.

The perfect example of the Edisonage genre hero would be Frank Reade (and Frank Reade Junior). The four Frank Reade stories concerned adventures with the character’s inventions – robot-like mechanisms powered by steam. The first book,  Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, is frankly a rip-off of The Steam Man of the Prairies, even to the illustrations (see the examples above). Frank Reade Junior was a cog that didn’t fall far from the engine. This teenaged inventor built airships, submersibles, steam-powered and electrical vehicles for getting about on land, and steam-powered robots (proving that he was just as able a plagiarist as his father). He has been the protagonist in many a story and novel, even to this day, by an assortment of authors.

Tom Swift is a slightly more modern example of the boy inventor genre. These books were also written by more than one author. They made famous the ‘Tom Swifty’,  in which a ‘spoken’ sentence is linked by pun-ish adverb. For example:

“I find the interior of this submarine very roomy,” said Tom, spaciously.

“The lava is hot,” said Tom magnanimously.

“We have to move, right now!” exclaimed Tom, swiftly.

(Gosh, I can hear you all groaning. I’ll stop.)

What I find sad is the lack of girl inventor fiction. Thank goodness for ‘Girl Genius’ webcomic and Michael Pryor’s ‘The Extraordinaires’!!

Joking aside, the term Edisonade was only ‘recently’ been coined in 1993, well after the term Steampunk was coined in 1985. Because of this, I would argue the Edisonade could/should be considered a subgenre of Steampunk. As well, Steampunk is a much broader genre.

 

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Filed under Genre, Genre Markers, Steampunk, Subgenres of Steampunk

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