A Discussion About Steampunk Horror
Good afternoon! A fellow steampunk author recommended a post about steampunk horror. I'm always thrilled to talk about steampunk, but the horror version isn't my expertise. So, I had a Q&A session with a steampunk author who recently released an anthology titled DeadSteam. Bryce Raffle is a Canadian author who has a passion for vivid storytelling and retro futurism. He also works on projects in the film and video game industries as well. Bryce gave me several great answers about steampunk horror and I want you guys to check it out. I'm sure you'll learn a valuable lesson from this post. Have fun!
Q: What are the major differences between steampunk horror and other versions of steampunk?
A: I think it would be useful to first define what “steampunk horror” means, as I think there may be some ambiguity to the term. In this age of independent publishing and with a lot of authors pushing the boundaries of genre fiction, you tend to get a lot of genre mixing across the board. Steampunk horror, the way I see it, is any piece of fiction that features strong elements of both steampunk and horror. Some works may borrow more heavily from horror, and others may borrow more from steampunk, but in any work of steampunk horror, there are recognizable horror tropes, which distinguish it from general steampunk.
Q: Steampunk horror seems to take a lot of influences from 19th Century gothic fiction. Would you say this situation is true?
A: I’d say this is absolutely true, whether consciously on the part of the author or subconsciously. Steampunk pays homage to the science fiction authors of the 19th century: HG Wells, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, among others. General steampunk tends to pay a bit more attention to the science fiction elements of those influences, while steampunk horror is perhaps a bit less interested in that gadgets and inventions and more focused towards some of the darker themes that form the undercurrent of those authors works. The monster himself in Frankenstein, therefore, may be more important in steampunk horror than the devices used to engineer the creature.
A lot of my own writing draws from penny dreadfuls, which were the pulp fiction stories of the 19th century. They tended to draw inspiration from the gothic stories that preceded them (works like The Castle of Otranto, for example), but also drew audiences towards the urban gothic, with stories like The Mysteries of London, which explored horror themes set in the city, where resurrectionists dug up bodies from graveyards to be sold to anatomists. Other stories tended towards the supernatural, like Varney the Vampire, which introduced audiences to the idea of vampires having prolonged, sharpened teeth. Werewolves, witches, ghosts, and ghouls are found roaming the pages of these stories, which were called dreadfuls due to the violent and horrific nature of the stories. These same themes can be seen in steampunk horror.
Q: I haven’t encountered many examples of steampunk horror. Notable examples are the Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest, the Penny Dreadful television show, and your DeadSteam anthology. Can you think of more examples?
A: Cherie Priest’s writing makes a perfect example, and Penny Dreadful certainly has hints of steampunk, especially where Victor Frankenstein’s storyline is concerned. A few other tv shows and films explore similar territory, such as The Frankenstein Chronicles, Dickensian, The Alienist, The Limehouse Golem, and Crimson Peak, although steampunk may be a bit of a stretch where some of these are concerned.
George Mann, in his Newbury & Hobbes series, introduces readers to a pair of investigators dealing with a mysterious glowing policeman while the slums are overrun by a zombie plague. It’s not overtly horror, but it’s familiar territory for horror fans. There’s also Jonathan Fesmire’s Bodacious Creed, a steampunk zombie western crossover.
Even Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series borrows elements of supernatural horror (zombies, werewolves, etc), while remaining lighthearted and humorous enough that it won’t likely make any serious horror reader’s list any time soon. Speaking of horror with a humorous angle, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and a few similar titles, may also warrant a read, although again, we’d be stretching the definition of steampunk if we include those examples.
Q: Would you say steampunk horror is a relatively new subgenre?
A: Yes and no. Yes, because until recently, I don’t think it’s really been recognized as a proper subgenre. On the other hand, if we consider works that were written prior to the genre being defined, it’s clear that today’s writers aren’t the first to explore the same themes seen in what I’d define as steampunk horror.
As I touched on earlier, even the Victorians were exploring similar themes, with Mary Shelley penning her mad science horror Frankenstein, and HG Wells exploring a frightening future with The Time Machine. Steampunk horror isn’t necessarily exploring new territory. It’s revisiting the past but from a modern perspective.
Q: Overall, the horror genre is having a big Renaissance in pop culture. Do you believe this phenomenon will boost steampunk horror?
A: If we’re lucky! I think if more people are reading horror, more people will be interested in writing it, and vice versa. But where steampunk horror is concerned, I suspect that what drives people to read or write it is an interest first in steampunk, and second, a desire for fiction that pushes the limits of what steampunk means. Readers have grown tired of steampunk that repeats the same territory time and time again and expect authors to try new things. The horror elements inject new life into steampunk.
Q: I find steampunk horror very similar or identical to another genre called dreadpunk. Are they separate genres?
A: Definitely! There’s a lot of overlap between the two genres, but where it might be a stretch to think of Penny Dreadful, Crimson Peak, and The Alienist as steampunk horror (there’s a notable absence of cogs, gears, airships, and the like, which you’d get in your typical steampunk), dreadpunk fits the mold perfectly.
Dreadpunk is essential the gothic horror of a bygone era, and it’s easy to think of it as dark steampunk but with more of the supernatural and less of the gadgets. I know, this sounds a bit like my earlier description of steampunk horror, but the difference is that steampunk horror still has those elements; it just has them as well as the horror elements. Dreadpunk, on the other hand, has done away with those elements entirely.
So if you want a story about an airship overrun by vampires, you’re looking for steampunk horror. Don’t care for the airships but still want the vampires? Then dreadpunk it is for you.
Q: Let’s talk about DeadSteam. Who contributed to your anthology?
A: A whole slew of talented authors! Let’s start by mentioning that Leanna Renee Hieber, one of the founders of the term dreadpunk, wrote the foreword. I edited and contributed a story.
Jen Ponce (The Bazaar, Demon’s Cradle), Jonah Buck (Carrion Safari), David Lee Summers (Owl Dance, The Brazen Shark), Karen J Carlisle (Viola Stewart Mysteries), CC Adams, Ross Smeltzer, and Wendy Nikel also contributed stories, and there is a long list of others. To learn more about the authors, I’d encourage interested readers to visit deadsteam.wordpress.com/about-the-authors/ or to read my interviews with the authors on the DeadSteam blog. deadsteam.wordpress.com/blog
Q: Why did you create this compilation?
A: I’m still trying to find my audience. I write steampunk that falls a little on the darker side of the spectrum, and like the stories in DeadSteam, my writing is very influenced by the Victorian gothic. I knew that there were other authors writing stories in the same vein, and I knew that there was an audience for it. I find that anthologies are a good way for authors to work together on something and share their respective audiences with one another.
I had helped put together a few other anthologies (Den of Antiquity, Denizens of Steam), so I had some experience with anthologies, and I had a few solid connections to some talented authors writing in the genre already, so putting together an anthology just seemed like the right idea.
Q: What’s the general flavor of DeadSteam? Spooky, gruesome, mysterious, or a combination of many elements?
A: Because this is a multi-author anthology, I do think it’s a combination of all those elements. Some of the stories are scarier than others, some more mysterious, and some are a bit more gruesome. What sets it apart from other horror anthologies is the gothic Victorian flavor, but that can mean different things to different authors.
To quote from a reviewer (Publisher’s Weekly), “[the anthology] includes several stories that hover around a similar idea or theme (there is a glut of vampire fiction in this anthology), the standout tales are those that break from conventional horror. The nature of human frailty and propensity towards violence is underscored in all of the collected tales, making it more than just full of good scares.”
Q: Would you say each author contributes something unique to this anthology?
A: Definitely. Each author brings something different to DeadSteam, even while there are common threads running throughout the anthology. Not only does each author have a different take on the supernatural creatures that appear in their stories, but they also have unique authorial styles. Some stories are a bit more steampunk than others as well, and some are a bit lighter on the horror side of the spectrum and heavier on the mystery side of the scale.
Q: How long did it take to finish DeadSteam?
A: It was a labor of love that I spent about a year working on. Planning and conceptualizing, recruiting authors to submit stories, narrowing down the submissions and sending out acceptance and rejection letters, editing, formatting, designing the cover, preparing marketing materials, it all took a lot longer than you’d think. It was definitely an ambitious undertaking, but I’m very proud of how it turned out.
Q: Be honest. Should the faint of heart avoid this anthology?
A: Honestly, no. The anthology is marketed towards adults and in particular towards horror fans, but that may be a misstep in some ways. It is certainly lighter on scares than most fans of horror might be used to; a lot of the horror is psychological. Since the anthology is gothic Victorian inspired—and since modern audiences might be a bit immune to the antiquated scares of that bygone era—most of the stories are about as scary as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In other words, not that scary. That said, there are some gruesome scenes (the opening story describes a creature scooping the brains out of a young boy’s skull and shoveling them into his rotting mouth). However, I’ve been told that the anthology is being enjoyed by young readers.
Q: It’s not easy for any form of steampunk to reach mainstream appeal. How can we make steampunk horror and steampunk in general more accessible to the public?
A: There is a glut of indie fiction being published lately; it’s all too easy for writers to churn out material and at the click of a button get that book into the hands of their readers. That puts the onus on the writer to ensure that their work is of the highest quality possible. If first-time steampunk readers pick up a well-written book, they’re likely to return to the genre again and again; conversely, if their first experience with steampunk is poor, they’re unlikely to pick up another steampunk book. The best way to reach a mainstream audience is to write good stories, to proofread thoroughly. Put out books of the highest quality. That is our responsibility as indie authors.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts about steampunk horror and/or DeadSteam?
A: I’d like to encourage anyone who’s interested in learning more about DeadSteam to visit the official website and to check out the trailer. Readers can find out more about the anthology and the authors at deadsteam.wordpress.com
That's the end of our discussion about steampunk horror. I learned a lot of information from Bryce and you probably did too. What are your thoughts about steampunk horror? Tell me all about it in the comment section. I'm going to leave a couple of links. You can purchase DeadSteam on Amazon and check out Bryce Raffle's official website. Thanks for visiting my blog and happy holidays!
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