Steampunk was the brainchild of three friends–James Blaylock, Tim Powers, and K.W. Jeter–who were students at the university. Jeter coined the term in Locus magazine (Carrot 55). Yet, surprisingly, many sources seem to leave these three authors out when discussing what steampunk is and where it came from. Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology attempts to trace the history and future and only mentions the three Cal State Fullerton alums in passing while outlining a discussion they had with Cory Doctorow. Doctorow notes that this reason might be because it was William Gibson’s The Difference Engine that made steampunk take off into the mainstream, not the works of Blaylock, Powers, or Jeter.
“There had been other steampunk books before then…by James Blaylock, Tim Powers, and K.W. Jeter…But it wasn’t really the kind of thing that the average person who came into the science fiction book store said, Have you got the new K.W. Jeter steampunk novel? It was still too obscure” (55).
Yet while they may have been more obscure in the beginning, compared to the likes of Gibson, they were nonetheless fundamental to steampunk’s existence.
Jeter, Blaylock, and Powers’ Connection to Cal State Fullerton
In our interviews with our alum authors, we wanted to discover not only how steampunk was founded and flourished, but at its specific connection to Cal State Fullerton. It is clear from their works that the university has been an influence. The University commonly makes cameo appearances within the pages. An example of one featured in Powers’ The Anubis Gates is featured to the right (click to view larger).
Is it just an arbitrary location? Or could the aspect of place–especially in regard to Fullerton, California–be fundamental to the very foundation that makes up steampunk? Blaylock would say no, but that does not mean it is necessarily arbitrary. In our interview with Blaylock, he claims
Orange County didn’t influence our Victorian stories in any way that I can see, although, as I said previously, what we studied at Cal State Fullerton certainly did. I was born and raised in southern California, as was my father, and I hiked and camped in local mountains and deserts and spent way too much time on southern California beaches. It’s a simple fact that I came to know the place uncommonly well, and that it had (and still has) a sort of luminous aura in my mind. Places very often inspire my writing. When a character comes into my mind, I envision that character moving around in a particular setting. And so setting comes to define or influence many elements of the stories and novels: it’s inseparable from plot and character and atmosphere. I’m a southern California creature, I suppose, and so are many of my books. Also, my understanding of California comes entirely from experience, whereas my understanding of Victorian London is a product of reading and research.
So while Blaylock does not think SoCal itself had much influence on steampunk, CSUF was, indeed, fundamental to its creation. And while he does not see place as having much to do with the foundation of steampunk (as far as California is concerned), it did at times play a part in the development of character. This certainly seems to be the case for Powers, with his creation of Brendan Doyle. We will have to wait to see what he has to say on the matter once we have the opportunity to interview him as well.
Baron, Jaimie. The Archive Effect : Found Footage and the Audiovisual Experience of History. New York: Routledge, 2014. Ebooks Corporation, 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Blaylock, James P. “Blaylock Interview.” E-mail interview. 27 Apr. 2015.
Carrott, James H., and Brian David. Johnson. Vintage Tomorrows. Farnham: O’Reilly, 2013. Print.
Powers, Tim. The Anubis Gates. New York: Ace, 1983. Print.
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