I have been involved in the Steampunk movement for the past three years and when friends find out I have a newly released book, they immediately ask if it is a Steampunk novel.  I have to reluctantly sigh and say, “No, but I consider it to be ‘Steampunk adjacent.’”


Now I must confess my own definition of what I consider a Steampunk novel. I like the phrase originated by Mike Pershon, the Steampunk Scholar, which is  "a Neo-Victorian Retro-Futurist Techno-Fantasy." 


While Steampunk novels all tend to have a science fiction or fantasy element attached, I would like to make the case that the premise of SÉANCE IN SEPIA could and should be considered Steampunk, or at least a cousin of the genre, because its focus is spirit photography which represents, at its heart, the merging of two major obsessions of the Victorian era:  technology and the occult. 


With these two elements present in the novel, its sensibilities are definitely Steampunk in nature. However, since none of my novel is fantasy—all elements really happened or could have taken place—it probably does not qualify for the Steampunk moniker. Thus, I rely on calling my story “Steampunk adjacent.”


The novel begins in the present day with a woman named Flynn buying an old photograph at an estate sale. She takes it to an antique dealer who tells her he thinks it might be a “spirit photograph.” During the heyday of séances in the last half of the Nineteenth Century, some photographers claimed they could photograph the departed during a seance.


Flynn starts researching the history of the photo and learns that the three people pictured were involved in a notorious Chicago murder trial in 1875 that the press dubbed the “Free Love Murders.”  A young architect was accused of murdering his wife and his best friend in a love triangle gone very wrong.


Real life feminist, Free Love advocate, and practicing spiritualist, Victoria Woodhull, soon gets involved in the case when the husband asks her to conduct a séance to discover how his wife and friend really died.  Victoria quickly finds herself involved in a web of intrigue that will take much more than a séance to resolve and by the conclusion, both Victoria and Flynn find their views on love and life have changed.


If I have piqued your interest in Steampunk fiction, or better yet, Steampunk Adjacent fiction, you are invited to read the first two chapters of SÉANCE IN SEPIA found on my website: www.MichelleBlack.com


Better yet: win a signed copy of SÉANCE IN SEPIA offered by Goodreads. You can easily enter by visiting my blog: www.TheVictorianWest.com

Views: 140

Comment by Alan K Baker on November 5, 2011 at 11:38pm

Interesting post, Michelle. I think the term Steampunk Adjacent could be applied to quite a lot of material. For example, many people are describing the Robert Downey Jr. incarnation of Sherlock Holmes as Steampunk; but much as I love the film, I just don't think it is (notwithstanding the gadget at the end). Steampunk Adjacent may be a better way of describing it.

I'm wondering if it could also describe fiction that is set in a Steampunk universe, but which has few or no Steampunk elements. My novel The Martian Ambassador, for instance, is definitely Steampunk, since it plays with the Wellsian notion of interplanetary war in the Victorian period. However, the sequel, The Feaster from the Stars, is heavily influenced by the weird fiction of Robert W. Chambers and H.P. Lovecraft. After reading it, a friend of mine commented that it isn't really a Steampunk novel. Maybe it's Steampunk Adjacent!

Comment by Michelle Black on November 6, 2011 at 12:12pm

Dear Alan

I love seeing the relatively new genre of Steampunk pushed and stretched and explored. It will be fun watching it continue to develop. 


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