For most folks, the names of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are frequently referenced when it comes to the steampunk genre. And while I certainly appreciate their contributions to science fiction, I must admit to a complete and utter fascination with Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer who is most often thought of as a mystery/detective writer or a horror writer. But for me, he’s high on the list of examples of writers who fit easily into the steampunk style and voice.
For an advanced writing class I took in college, I remember writing an extensive paper on Poe that required me to read just about every story and poem he’d ever written. It’s dark stuff… and very good. Poe died at age 40, and much of his life reads like a tragedy with the early loss of his mother, being abandoned by his father, and his wife dying at a very young age. It should come as no surprise that much of his writing leans toward macabre story lines with death being the central subject.
I chose mid- to late-1800s fiction as a focus for much of my studies and papers for my English degree, and while I often wandered from Wells to Verne to Doyle for my subject matter, I often returned to Poe whenever I needed to compare and contrast one or more authors (such as comparing Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Poe’s Dupin). Even Poe’s poetry was easy to read and decipher and made for excellent subjects for short papers on the period’s interest in things dark and disturbing.
I tell you all this so you’ll understand just how happy I was to receive a review copy of Steampunk Poe. When I first heard rumblings about the book, I had very little information on what exactly the book was going to be about. Would it be stories inspired by Poe that contained steampunk themes? Or would it be some of Poe’s stories altered slightly to incorporate steampunk elements such as the overly-used goggles, dirigibles, and automatons? Thankfully, once more information was made available, I realized that the publisher had made the right choice and not attempted to modify or create new content. Instead, Steampunk Poe simply provides some of Poe’s best works, both short story and poetry, along with some beautiful custom artwork created just for the book by illustrators Zdenko Basic and Manuel Sumberac.
The book is broken into two sections — short stories first followed by poems. Scattered throughout the book are a series of full-color images that capture some element of the story or poem that surround them. The publisher is Running Press Teens, so I’m assuming the book is geared towards a younger audience — the imagery will certainly be useful for teachers or parents who want to introduce Poe’s writing to a younger crowd as the number of illustrations is just enough to set the mood of a particular story or poem without stealing the thunder.
And the publisher has made a great selection for the content as listed below:
1. The Masque of the Red Death
2. The Tell-Tale Heart
3. The Fall of the House of Usher
4. The Murders in the Rue Morgue
5. The Balloon Hoax
6. The Spectacles
7. The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
1. The Raven
2. To Helen
3. The City in the Sea
4. A Dream Within a Dream
5. The Conqueror Worm
6. The Bells
If you’ve read little to nothing of Edgar Allan Poe, this hardback collection is a nice introduction to a good mix of his styles (comedy, horror, detective). And the text has not been edited — you’ll find Poe’s typical style of writing that often involves sentences that can run into almost complete paragraph-length descriptions such as this opening sentence for The Fall of the House of Usher:
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
Or this bit of explanation on the skills of observation from The Murders in the Rue Morgue:
I am not now writing a treatise, but simply prefacing a somewhat peculiar narrative by observations very much at random; I will, therefore, take occasion to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game of draughts than by all the elaborate frivolity of chess.
(I’m providing these examples only because I feel a bit of warning must be issued regarding Poe’s stories — the language can be a bit difficult to parse at times. But there are simply few writers that write like this anymore, and I just love it.)
Maybe you’ve read some stories but little of his poetry. You’re really missing out. While The Raven is probably one of his most famous poems, if you’ve not read A Dream Within a Dream (very short) or The City in the Sea, give them a try. All the poems were still enjoyable to read even now, years later, and the matching illustrations that accompany them just make me love this book that much more.
My steampunk library grows constantly, and while there are many books on my shelf that I’ve enjoyed over the years, only a small number exist that I’ll reach for in years to come for a re-read. Steampunk Poe is one of those. Every few years I dive back into Verne… or Wells… or Doyle… or Poe. I’ve enjoyed my visit with Edgar and I look forward to visiting again one day soon.