Monday, April 12, 2010
Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, a Hugo and Nebula Award nominee, includes creatures called "rotters," a form of zombie created when the Boneshaker drill of the title destroyed the underground of downtown Seattle and sent a heavy gaseous poison spewing into the air.
Bram Stoker's Urban Gothic novel, Dracula, was the preeminent late Victorian work to use the undead in a steampunk-esque fashion. The ancient vampire of the title traveled from the Transylvanian countryside to the middle of London and the abandoned Carfax near an insane asylum run by Dr. John Seward.
What's most interesting about Dracula is that it's organized as an epistolary novel -- the story itself is told through the journal entries and diaries of the several protagonists, interspersed with "news clippings" that Stoker includes to relate events not witnessed by any of the narrators.
Dracula, for those who might not know the story, tells the tale of the battle waged against the Transylvanian vampire of the same name, as he wreaks havoc through the urban fog of London. Stoker succeeds via his narrators of conjuring up a sense of the terror they face when they battle this ancient evil that threatens them and the rest of the "teeming millions" of London.
To Steampunk, the story of Dracula offers up noble heroes and implacable villains that use a blend of science and superstition to make their cases. Dracula depends on superstition and people's natural fear of the unknown to create terror in the people in London. Some later interpretations of Dracula present his evil as sensual instead of the sort of Gothic psychological terror that Stoker succeeds in crafting. Van Helsing uses science, after a fashion, to battle against Dracula and train the others to do the same.
Beyond that though, we Steampunk authors are also witness to the strong Victorian ethos that threads through this novel. The men and women are brave and socially conscious, with the "stiff upper lip" that seems to be the byword of British heroes and heroines (especially the Victorian ones). This hearkens to the Victorian-era heroes of traditional Steampunk, who act with courage no matter what the terror around them.
Tomorrow: Scientific Romances and High Victorian Technology