Steampunk Prime: A Vintage Steampunk Reader

Steampunk Prime: A Vintage Steampunk Reader

by Mike Ashley, Paul Di Filippo

Discover original steampunk tales in this anthology of stories written before there were actual rocketships, atomic power, digital computers, or readily available electricity. The modern day steampunk genre is a reinventing of the past through the eyes of its inventors and adventures, but this collection is from real Victorians and Edwardians who saw the future


Discover original steampunk tales in this anthology of stories written before there were actual rocketships, atomic power, digital computers, or readily available electricity. The modern day steampunk genre is a reinventing of the past through the eyes of its inventors and adventures, but this collection is from real Victorians and Edwardians who saw the future potential of science and its daring possibilities. Steam-powered automobiles, submarines, and robots are featured alongside great airships and spaceships in these bold and creative stories of hope, triumph, and disaster.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Prolific anthologist Ashley (The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy) digs deep into literary history to find 14 proto-steampunk stories written between 1880 and 1914. From these contemporaries of Wells, Verne, and Shelley come tales of robotic humanity ("The Automaton" by Reginald Bacchus and Ranger Gull) and exploration of the poles and center of the earth ("From Pole to Pole" by George Griffith). The future holds cold sleep, world government, and space travel in George Lathrop's "In the Deep of Time" and global catastrophe in Ernest Favenc's "What the Rats Brought" and George C. Wallis's "The Last Days of Earth." These tales have the pulpy goodness steampunk fans adore and a literary veneer of contemporary realism, but dated writing and simplistic plots will deter readers not already invested in Victoriana. (Nov.)
School Library Journal
Within this collection, readers will find romance, mystery, adventure, and, of course, the iconic steampunk airship.
From the Publisher
"These tales have the pulpy goodness steampunk fans adore and a literary veneer of contemporary realism."  —

"Within this collection, readers will find romance, mystery, adventure, and, of course, the iconic steampunk airship."  —School Library Journal

Library Journal
A fugitive automaton seeks help from a writer of popular fiction in "Mr. Broadbent's Information," written by Henry Hearing in 1909, while a man and a woman contemplate the end of their frozen world and their role in humanity's survival in George C. Wallis's "The Last Days of Earth" (1901). Compiled by a noted editor in the fields of sf, crime fiction, and the supernatural, the 14 stories by Victorian and Edwardian visionaries showcase themes familiar to today's steampunk authors: international cabals, mechanical men, and the wonders of electricity and scientific inventions. Other authors featured here include Fred C. Smale, Jean Jaubert, and George Griffith. VERDICT This anthology should have greatest appeal among fans of Victorian and Edwardian literature, with its stylistic attributes, as well as those interested in the history of the steampunk genre.

Product Details

NonStop Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
15 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Steampunk Prime

By Mike Ashley

Nonstop Press

Copyright © 2010 Mike Ashley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-933065-21-2



Henry A. Hering

The idea of the mechanical man or automaton is as old as myth. Jason, in his quest for the Golden Fleece, encountered Talos, a bronze giant made by the god Hephaestus to protect the island of Crete. It walked around the island three times each day making itself red hot and embracing any strangers it encountered. Mechanical toys, usually of clockwork, were made throughout the Middle Ages though the first genuine life-like bio-mechanical toy was that of a flute player made by the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson in 1737. These toys became very popular and were also represented in fiction, one of the earliest being the Talking Turk in "Automata" by E. T. A. Hoffmann, published in 1814.

It was the idea of creating man that really launched science fiction with the creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), and it was the "steam man" featured in the popular dime-novel adventures, starting with The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward F. Ellis that brought the dawn of steampunk.

We should not call these steam men or automata by the name robots. That word did not pass into the English language until the translation of Karel Capek's 1920 play Rossum's Universal Robots in 1923 and it soon caught on. For the steampunk period they were automata and, as the essence of steampunk, they feature in our first two stories.

Henry A. Hering (1864-1945) wrote quite a few stories that qualify as science fiction for the pSopular magazines of his day. Most fell into the crazy invention category that was popular at that time, several featuring his eccentric American inventor Silas P. Cornu. The most intriguing is "Silas P. Cornu's Dry Calculator" (Windsor Magazine, January 1898) which includes an interesting description of a proto-computer. Although born in Yorkshire, Hering was of Prussian descent which may explain why in "The O.P.Q. Rays" (Windsor Magazine, March 1908) the German army finds it easy to invade and defeat the British. Hering is probably best remembered for his collection The Burglars Club (1906) but in later life he collected together his early stories as Adventures and Fantasy (1930), which includes the following story, first published in 1909. — M.A.

"By specializing it may be possible for science to create a type of animal capable of doing the heavy work of the world — creatures of vast physical strength, coupled with a higher form of intelligence than has been evolved as yet in any animal, excepting man."

— PROFESSOR OSTWALD, Leipzig University.

I AM JAMES BROADBENT, the author. I hold the record for fiction production — forty-eight novels in twelve years, each one turned out with clockwork regularity in three months, and each one consisting of precisely one hundred thousand words. I don't write masterpieces, but I have a reputation for good, solid, sensational stuff, and I keep my contracts to the letter. What with serial, volume, American, and occasional continental rights, my books bring me in an average of £200 apiece. In other words, my income is £800 a year. It is my ambition to make it a thousand. For this purpose I agreed to produce five novels this year, but I could not do it in London. I was good for four books a year there; and not a chapter more. An extra stimulus was necessary for the production of a fifth, and I thought I should get it in Devonshire from the moors, the sea air, and the sunshine. There, at any rate, I should have perfect quietude.

In this I was mistaken. The month after I took possession of my cottage a dangerous criminal escaped from Dartmoor. He had plenty of choice of habitations in which to seek a temporary refuge; and it was distinctly annoying that he should make a bee -line for mine. You no doubt read the account in the papers, and may remember that he was captured in my study by the police after a desperate struggle, in which I, an interested onlooker, was injured. I had to wear my right arm in a sling for a month, and for a literary man this is a drawback.

However, by daily practice, I found I could attain considerable dexterity on the typewriter with my left hand. I compose direct on to the machine, rarely altering what I type; and last Monday I was working against time in order to make up for the hours I had lost, when a figure walked through the open French window. I finished my sentence and swung round on my chair.

A less reassuring object I have never seen. It was apparently a very short man, dressed in an ill-fitting coat which reached nearly to the floor, and a cap brought down low over his face. His chin was buried in his collar, and I only saw an ugly nose and a swarthy cheek.

I stared at him in surprise and annoyance. "Well?" I asked.

"Forgive me for not taking off my cap," he said. "There are reasons."

He spoke in a high falsetto, stopping once in the middle of a word, then giving a curious catch, and continuing. There was a singular artificiality about his voice. It reminded me of a gramophone. He added: "I throw myself upon your mercy. I am an outcast."

He spoke these words without feeling, mentioned his position in the universe as a mere matter of fact, and again there was the curious catch in his voice.

"I suppose you're another escaped from Dartmoor?" I said, mentally resolving to leave the neighborhood forthwith.

"Oh, no," he replied. "I come from Baxter's. I'm one of his creations."

"The deuce you are!" I exclaimed, and I have no doubt my voice expressed the annoyance I felt. Bad as it was to be saddled with an occasional visitor from Dartmoor, it was worse to be within the reach of Baxter's abortions.

Baxter, as all the world knows, has created life artificially, and he is now developing the process. I remember his speech at the last Academy dinner, when he responded for Science. "What I aim at producing," he said, "is an automaton endowed with strong vitality, great muscular strength, and a rudimentary brain, an automaton capable of doing the work of an unskilled laborer or artisan. I will anticipate the criticism that such a production will have a profound influence on the labor market by stating that I shall never rest content until I have placed it within reach of the pocket of every working man, who will then have a mechanism in his house capable of doing his work for him at a minimum of cost, and enabling its owner to walk into the country, take part in his favorite sport, or spend his time in the public library — whichever course he may deem to be the best for advancing his immortal destiny. That is how I intend to employ my discovery for the benefit of the human race."

Of course his speech was received with applause, but some thought he was going a bit too far. I think it was the Herald that said he ought to be content with having created life artificially before a committee of international scientists. It was certainly impious, and ought to be illegal, to create entities possessing rudimentary brains; and only a President of the Royal Society, an ex-president of the British Association, a man with a dozen high university degrees and an international reputation, who, moreover, had the Order of Merit, and was a peer of the realm, would have been allowed so much latitude. Lord Baxter was no doubt the master-mind and the superman of the twentieth century, but there was no reason that he should be put on the same level as the Law of Gravitation.

I thought of these words as I watched the little object in its ill -fitting clothes as it wandered casually about my room. I had no objection to Baxter making his brainy automata so long as he kept them to himself; but when they became a nuisance to others it was certainly time to stop him.

Still I will admit I was curious to see what sort of a thing my visitor was. "Won't you take off your coat?" I said.

"I'll take it off, if you'll give me shelter till to-night," it replied.

"All right," I answered. "You can stay till to-night." It was sheer curiosity that impelled me to say this. I could never make use of the incident in my work. I deal with the universal, and not the abnormal.

With a little giggle it threw off its coat and cap, and stood revealed. A feeling of repulsion came over me when I saw the build of the thing. It was about five feet high, and had the body of an animal, with human legs and arms, an animal head with a prodigious cranium, on the sides of which two animal ears stuck grotesquely upward. It was a species of Faun.

"Then you're one of Baxter's automata," I said after a pause.

"I'm not," it replied indignantly. "I'm one of his special experiments. He's keen on animals with human brains just now, and I'm the biggest success he's had so far." It spoke with ridiculous complacency.

"Well," I replied, "if you're satisfied with Baxter, and he's satisfied with you, what the blazes are you bothering me for? What are you doing in this direction at all? Baxter lives fifty miles away, doesn't he?"

"I wish you wouldn't speak so crossly," said the Faun. "A very little makes me cry. I've run away from Baxter's to see the world. I knew perfectly well he'd resolve me into my elements when he'd done with me, and I determined to run away some day. But it's a big thing to do, for Baxter's a difficult man to circumvent. I don't think I should ever have got away but for Billiter.

"Who's Billiter?" I asked.

"His assistant. He has a shocking record — was knocked off the medical register, and has all sorts of things against him. I'm sure he tortures — I've heard yells from his room. But Baxter doesn't interfere. He generally has his frog singing to him at the time, and Billiter reckons on it."

"Frog singing!" I exclaimed. "Croaking, you mean."

"I don't. He's made a frog with a voice like Tetrazzini's. You don't know what Baxter does. He can graft brains or voice on anything. He's got a ferret with an intellect bigger than Kant's. The frog sings to him by the hour — never tires — and the ferret is always working out problems in mentality that neither Baxter nor any other man could do. I don't know where Baxter will stop. He doesn't know himself. He was very pleased when he made me from my nucleus, and developed me in the oxilater. Did the whole thing in a fortnight, and grafted my brain on afterwards. I'm the biggest all-round success he's had so far. The ferret has a larger brain for problems, but no common-sense.

"And what about the automatons? He said he was going to make an automaton that could — "

"Oh, I know what he promised," interrupted the Faun. "He rehearsed his speech to me in the lab till he knew it. He doesn't care a hang for the human race, and he was laughing at you all the time. He's made a couple of automata — great lumbering things as ugly as sin, with a lot of muscle and a pin's head worth of brains. He's stuck 'em up in corners, and doses 'em with phosphates when they're hungry. He's got 'em ready if anyone calls to see what he's doing, but they're no good for work — their mentality is too low. That's why the ferret is working out problems for him. Baxter can't hit on a medium brain. Gosh! What a business it is. He never knows what his spawn will hatch into till he opens the ox Hater. I've known him cultivate a thousand nuclei with only two per cent of moderate successes. He freezes the others and destroys them, or lets Billiter do it, who always keeps a few for himself. Billiter cultivates dwarf freaks — bulls with six legs, more or less, and men's heads — satyrs, you know-dwarf elephants with fins, flying camels, and sports like that. He has an amazing collection. Baxter says he oughtn't to keep such things, but he lets him all the same. He has to. He daren't go against Billiter for fear of his laying information with the authorities. He'd never be allowed to do what he does if the nation knew it. Oh, I've sized them up."

"How old are you?" I asked.

"Nine or ten months, I reckon," it replied.

"You know a lot for your age," I remarked.

"I know I do. My brain is the smartest ever made." Here the Faun smirked with its irritating complacency. "Baxter has just crammed me with knowledge ever since I was made, to see how much my head will carry, and he can't fill it. In addition to all the scientific stuff I have to read for him, I always go through the daily paper," it said proudly.

"What about neighbors and visitors?" I asked. "Isn't Baxter afraid of anything leaking out?"

"We don't have many visitors. If anyone comes Baxter shows them round the laboratory, and trots out his automata under promise of secrecy. I and the frog and the ferret are shoved into Billiter's museum till they're gone. And as for neighbors, our nearest lives five miles away. We get on all right as a rule while Baxter is there, but he has to go to London sometimes, and then there's trouble. We've had a sickening time just now. That's why I am here. Billiter got drunk, fixed up the automata like prize -fighters, and made 'em pound away at each other. They were hitting out like mad when I saw 'em last, and they'll be hopelessly damaged by this time. The frog had been singing to him for twenty-four hours on end; and he'd given the ferret the deuce of a calculation to work out. It was phosphate time for both of 'em, but Billiter wouldn't give it. It made me cry to hear the frog sing so imploringly about her food; She was singing flat, too, and the ferret had gone wrong with his additions, all for want of food; but Billiter only raved at them. I told him he ought to be ashamed of himself, but he only swore he'd do for me, and tell Baxter it was suicide. He'd have kept his word if he'd got me; but I tripped him up, ran out of the room, and locked him in."

Here the Faun stopped to snigger at the recollection of its smartness. "If those automata had the slightest sense they'd have started pounding away at Billiter," he continued. "As it is they'll only do for themselves, and I don't expect either the ferret or the frog will be alive when Baxter gets home. Anyway, I've got clear of the place, and I shan't go back in a hurry. I found a coat and a cap of Baxter's and these boots, and slunk out in the evening. I walked all last night, and I've been mostly hiding since daybreak. I saw your door open, and came in. Now you know all, and you've promised to give me shelter for the day."

It was uncanny in the extreme to hear these words proceed from the great mouth of the Faun. They came glibly enough, but in every sentence there was the little "click" which betokened a fault in the machinery, and the voice itself was hard and metallic. It was no doubt amazingly clever of Baxter to have got so far in his creations, but it was obvious that he would have to go a good deal further before the general public would be disposed to welcome his progeny into their households. I resolved to get rid of my visitor as soon as ever possible.

"What time do you propose to move on?" I asked.

"At dusk. I think I'd better continue to travel by night. If people saw me it might get into the papers, and then Baxter would read it. I'll go at sunset."

"Where to?"

"I don't know," said the Faun. "I want to see the world immensely. I've quite taken to it from what I have read in the Encyclopaedia and the newspapers. An awfully active place, I believe — rather different from Baxter's, although, of course, he's busy in his way. And so are you, no doubt," it added politely; "but I want to hear the roar and rumble of the never-ceasing traffic of our great metropolis, as the Daily Tinkler puts it. I want to see a play, I want to see the aristocracy in the Park on Sunday morning, and I should like to go to a boy and girl dance."

"Yes, that's all very well," I said; "but you've got to earn your living, you know. How do you propose to do it?"

"Oh, I shan't require much," said the Faun. "I judge from what I've read that food costs a great deal. I only want a little phosphate now and again. Tuppence a month will feed me. Then I notice from the advertisements that beds cost a great deal. I never go to bed, so that's another item off."

"Well, anyway, you'll want a shakedown," I remarked — "a bit of straw in a corner somewhere."

"Please don't confound me with the lower animals," said the Faun stiffly. "I do not want either straw or linen. I do not sleep at all."

"What!" I exclaimed. "You never sleep!"

"None of Baxter's creations sleep. That's one of his great points. He's got ahead of nature in that. No, we just go straight along with a bit of phosphate now and again for a pick-me-up. That's where we have our pull over regular folk. I can work twenty-four hours a day if you like. Think what a lot I could do in that time. Couldn't you employ me temporarily — just till things are a bit settled, and I've got accustomed to the world?" It pleaded.

"In what capacity could I employ you?" I asked.

"As secretary; if you like. You don't know how invaluable I should be. I remember everything I see, hear, or read. I've gone halfway through the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and I remember every word of it. Shall I recite you the first page? 'A. The first symbol of every Indo-European alphabet, denotes also the primary vowel sound. This coincidence is probably only accidental. The alphabet ...'"


Excerpted from Steampunk Prime by Mike Ashley. Copyright © 2010 Mike Ashley. Excerpted by permission of Nonstop Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mike Ashley is the author and editor of more than 90 books in the fields of science fiction, crime fiction, and the supernatural. He won an Edgar Award for The Mammoth Encyclopaedia of Crime Fiction, a Stoker Award for The Supernatural Index, and the Pilgrim Award for lifetime contribution to science fiction research. Paul Di Filippo has over twenty-five published books to his credit. He lives in Providence, RI, USA, with his mate of three decades, Deborah Newton.

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