Jeanette Bennett

The Blog of JEANETTE M. BENNETT - Indie Author from the Scablands of Eastern Washington

Friday, March 15, 2013

What is Steambunk?

In my book Walking a Fine Timeline I have a character named Dr. Wendell Howe. When Dr. Serendipity Brown and her assistant, Sherman Conrad, get stuck in the year 1851, they run into a gentleman in a top hat and frockcoat calling himself Dr. Howe. They assume he is a native, until he recognizes Serendipity as the inventor of time travel. She has not announced her invention to anyone, save Sherman. How could Howe know who she is unless he himself is from the future?--Serendipity’s future!

Wendell tells them he is a Temporal Anthropologist from the 27th century. Temporal Anthropologists are trained to fit so well into their chosen time period of study that they no longer fits in their own. Wendell can’t stand 27th century clothes and wears a frockcoat in 2660. He even shaves with a straight razor. What necessary future technology he has with him is carefully disguised to look Victorian.

A lot of people have told me Wendell is steampunk. Purists would beg to differ. Steampunk is Victorians with futuristic things like computers and rockets created with Victorian technology. Think H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Wendell is just the opposite. He is a man from the future with Victorian things like pocket Bibles and glasses that are really a computer and camera using 27th century technology. He is faux-Victorian. Wendell is what I call “steambunk.”

I wrote a story called “The Spirit of Tea,” which features Wendell throwing a tea party for the Wild Bunch (the real Wild Bunch, not the warm fuzzies of popular culture) and living to tell the tale. I was surprised when it was accepted into Gears & Levers 2: A Steampunk Anthology. So I guess steambunk is now an “official” subgenre of steampunk.

I invented the term just as I invented Temporal Anthropology. I have since learned a few other people who never heard of me have also invented Temporal Anthropology. Let’s face it, it’s a no-brainer term. What else would you call someone who travels into another time to study another culture? And even though Wendell is from England, Victorian England is a totally different culture than 27th century England (or even 21st century England.)

Perhaps all those folks who show up to steampunk conventions in carefully recreated period Victorian garb and not the pseudo-Victorian that is true steampunk are really steambunk.

Now here is the kicker. After I wrote my book I ran across a forgotten novel called The British Barbarians by Grant Allen. Published in 1895, the exact same time as H.G. Wells The Time Machine, it is also a time travel story. While Wells has a Victorian inventing a time machine and traveling into the future, Allen has a man from the 25th century travel back to the Victorian Age and try to pass himself off as a native. By the way the time traveler, Bertram Ingledew, talks he appears to be an anthropologist. He later admits he has come back in time to study the barbarians of Victorian England. Allen never uses the term Temporal Anthropologist but that is what his hero is. (Just goes to show you, no matter how clever you are, someone else has already came up with the idea.)

So if H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is steampunk, then Grant Allen’s The British Barbarians is steambunk. There you go, my newly invented term has a long and illustrious history.

Grant Allen - the first steambunk author?
(He stole my idea 113 years before I invented it.)


  1. Well, obviously Mr. Allen came across one of Wendell's colleagues and decided to write a story about it! ;)

  2. Haha! That's crazy! It still amazes me at how cyclical ideas are.
    Looking forward to reading your book AND the short story! ^_^

    1. Yes, and If you want to go REALLY far back, read the ancient Irish myth of Ossian and Niamh, perhaps the world's earliest recorded story with Time Travel (not to mention other dimensions.) Apparently the Iron Age Celts are the ones who first invented science fiction!

      Also thank you so much for your support. I hope you will like the book.