In 1841, Edgar Allen Poe wrote "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," in which he introduced Dupin and logical detection to the world. This story is the archetype for innumerable detectives since then -- Holmes, Poirot, and Nero Wolfe among them -- where the narrator of the story is a personal friend of the detective and the solution to the case is presented before the reasoning that lead up to it. Dupin was also the archetype of the brilliant, logical detective.
Dupin was the founding character of what would eventually become common tropes of detective fiction: the eccentric but brilliant detective, the bumbling constabulary, the first-person narration by a close personal friend. Contrary to some later detectives, Sherlock Holmes included, Poe sets up the Paris police as a foil to the detective -- law enforcement very much does not want Dupin's help in this tale. Poe himself called his Dupin stories "tales of ratiocination" as opposed to detective fiction, a term that would come into being later.
Across the pond in England, Charles Dickens added a mystery subplot to Bleak House, where a lawyer is murdered in his office and Inspector Bucket of the Metropolitan Police Force has to solve the crime. However, it's Wilkie Collins, a protege of Mr. Dickens, who's The Woman in White is considered the first great mystery novel. T.S. Elliot called Collins's The Moonstone (1868) "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels ... in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe."
Where Poe crafted the brilliant detective that's such a fixture of the genre, Collins added in several other characteristics that mark many twentieth century mystery novels:
- English country house robbery
- An "inside job"
- red herrings
- A celebrated, skilled, professional investigator
- Bungling local constabulary
- Detective enquiries
- Large number of false suspects
- The "least likely suspect"
- A rudimentary "locked room" murder
- A reconstruction of the crime
- A final twist in the plot
And then, in 1887, we come to one Mr. Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street, London. If anyone can be said to rocket detective fiction into the stratosphere, then Holmes is it. The brainchild of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes has become a by-word for the part of the brilliant outside detective who assists the police with solving crimes via his brilliant deductive reasoning. Conan Doyle stated that he based Holmes off Dr. Joseph Bell, for whom Conan Doyle worked as a clerk at the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary. Dr. Bell was apparently famous for drawing large conclusions from the smallest of observations.
What does this all offer to Steampunk? Well it depends on what you're looking for. In the case of George Mann's The Affinity Bridge, Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes use their deductive reasoning skills to discern the whereabouts of a missing automaton, investigate the strangulations attributed to a glowing policeman, and battle a zombie plague in London's slums. The Affinity Bridge is Steampunk wedded to Detective Fiction in the tradition of Holmes and Dupin.
Much of Steampunk has a devotion to logic inherent in the tale. Victorian sensibilities abound with logical deduction and reasoning, at least in fiction, and stories like The Affinity Bridge carry it forward into Steampunk tales. Alexia Maccon, nee Tarrabotti, the heroine of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, is also highly devoted to logical reasoning when it comes to the underpinning conflict of the stories.
Logic and science fiction go hand-in-hand in other words. Logical underpinnings to the world, mystery subplots, and all sorts of clues and puzzles included in a story are the hallmarks of Detective Fiction and the class of Steampunk that owes its roots to the great detectives of Victorian fiction.
Tomorrow: A special guest blogger writes on Steampunk Fashion
Monday: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles