The Birth of Steampunk

Writing to science fiction magazine Locus in April of 1987, author K.W. Jeter responds to Faren Miller‘s review of his new novel, Infernal Devices, and in the process coins the term ‘steampunk‘ to describe the sub-genre of work then-written by just a trio of authors that included, alongside himself, Tim Powers and James Blaylock. As we now know, Jeter’s tongue-in-cheek twist on the word ‘cyberpunk‘ soon caught on.

Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by Locus Publications; reprinted with permission. To read the entire section from which Jeter’s letter was cropped – including a missive from an irked Arthur C. Clarke – click hither.

Image: Locus Publications; reprinted with permission


Dear Locus:

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it to Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of that era; like “steampunks,” perhaps….

–K.W. Jeter

[Thanks for the book! Capsule critique: Morlock Night combines H.G. Wells, Arthurian fantasy, and Victoriana in a strange, entertaining mixture — less antic than Infernal Devices, perhaps, but a clear forerunner. “Steampunks”? I like it….

–F.C. Miller]