Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gaslight Romance

There is a growing habit whereby almost every fantasy which deals with the Gaslight Period is labelled Steampunk. It is useful, though, to limit that term to what are in effect historical Technofantasies – to books which fit directly into the form developed by Tim Powers, K W Jeter and James P Blaylock from models derived by Michael Moorcock, Christopher Priest and others – books whose principal plot-driver is technological Anachronism. GR is accordingly our default term for Urban Fantasies (and other generic fictions) set in the high Victorian or Edwardian period, usually but not invariably in London; their tone is often melancholic and there is often an underlying sense of the transitoriness of imperial glory. Many GRs directly refer to the losses of innocence at the beginning of the period – through the American Civil War and the Indian Mutiny – or to the bloodletting of World War I at its end. Greyness, twilight and fog are more than local colour in GRs; they are its pervading metaphor.

Both Steampunk and the GR can easily be set in Alternate Worlds; both can represent Fantasies of History. Recursive Fantasies featuring iconic figures from the gaslight era – Sherlock Holmes, Jekyll and Hyde, Dracula, H G Wells's Time Traveller, G K Chesterton's Man who was Thursday, Fu Manchu, etc. – are GRs. There are also a number of books – like Kim Newman's Anno Dracula (1993), E L Doctorow's The Waterworks (1994) and F Gwynplaine MacIntyre's The Woman between the Worlds (1994) – which examine the period and its tropes with a modern or Postmodernist sensibility, rather than merely recycling the old tropes. [RK/JC]

see also: Jack the Ripper; Ruritania.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.