Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guest Post: A Is For Automaton by Heather Massey

Heather Massey is taking over Book Den today to discuss a really cool steampunk topic - automatons!  Don't forget to check out her generous giveaway!

Automatons are a big staple of the steampunk genre. They have their roots in real life automata, which are “non-electronic moving machines” and have a history dating back to the ancient Greeks. Automata were made into a variety of forms, but what I’d like to focus on is the idea of steampunk automatons fashioned after the human form.

These characters are, in a word, spooky.

The idea of Victorian-era robots driven by steam or clockwork power (or other sources, depending on the story) is one of steampunk’s most powerful and riveting manifestations. Automatons play a variety of roles in steampunk, from servants to soldiers to laborers. In some stories, they are part of the backdrop; in others, they play more key roles.

While often simple in design and purpose, it’s dangerous to underestimate them. They are often controlled by a nefarious villain intent on taking over something or someone. Not all automatons are deadly, but I’d keep a close eye on them all the same.

A huge part of the appeal is that automatons are just so…primitive. Scary. Unpredictable.

For one thing, they don’t always have a streamlined appearance like modern robots. That, of course, is where the Victorian aesthetic comes into play. Despite their rough-hewn nature, they’re larger-than-life and pretty to look at—well, some of the time. But even an automaton that has a patchwork appearance and/or is a downright mess of cogs and oversized rivets possesses a unique type of beauty.

Because automatons are so primitive, they often move slowly, in a clunky sort of fashion. They are the steampunk cousins of zombies, only without the dripping blood and guts. Unlike zombies, automatons are hard to punch, since they’re usually made of metal. And they’re intrepid. As long as they don’t run out of power, they’ll just keep coming at you if so ordered.

Let’s face it—automatons made in the human likeness are creepy. Often, they have an eerie, vacant stare that is deliciously unnerving. Seeing but not seeing, if you see what I mean. They leave a person wondering how much they actually know about the world around them. In that sense, they are a great way to process our fear of the unknown and/or to explore the Other. We can project so much of our feelings onto them because they make wonderful blank slates. Fear of the unknown. Fear of technology. Conversely, hope for an exciting future or the triumph of science.

I hope you’ll acquaint yourself with an automaton or two if you haven’t already. A few notable books featuring automatons include:

The Bookman (Tidhar Lavie)
The Affinity Bridge (George Mann)
Whitechapel Gods (S.M. Peters)
The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel (Joe R. Lansdale)
Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel (Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett)
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Mark Hodder)
Steamrolled (Pauline Baird Jones)
Like Clockwork (Bonnie Dee)
Soulless (Gail Carriger)
The Narrows (Alexander Irvine) (Actually, this story features golems, but who’s counting?)

Now for a giveaway! Leave a comment for this post and be entered for a chance to win DREAMSPELL STEAMPUNK, Vol. 1, a steampunk anthology from L&L Dreamspell.

(Hint: three of the stories feature automatons!). Winner chooses format (PDF, Mobi, or ePub).

Update: The contest is now closed.

To make it more fun, here’s a question for you: If you could design an automaton to do anything you desire, what would that be?

Be sure to leave contact information (blog address or email address or automaton serial number...) along with your comments so Heather has a way to contact the winner!

About the Author

Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard The Galaxy Express. She’s also the author of Once Upon a Time in Space, an erotic sci-fi romance. Her latest release is “Steambot Rampage,” a steampunk romance short story. When she’s not reading, she’s watching cult films and enjoying time with her husband and daughter.

To learn more about her published work, visit


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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. With endless possibilities for function, I'd start at the domestic scene and create a nanny automaton. It'd be limited to the school room and NOT the nursery - who wants cold metal hands on a baby's bum? But, as "governess" it would ensure assignments are done and no fighting. Wow. I wouldn't have to listen to "he/she said/did blah blah blah!" I might have to design one that did household chores too. Like grocery shopping. Ugh! Pretty much anything mundane would be included in it's function. And they'd be BIG, like 8 feet tall, and super clunky just to make a don't mess with me! I guess I don't have ambitions for world domination or any nefarious tendencies. How boring!

  3. Hmmm, the perfect automaton! Intriguing idea. I am divided between a household one that does laundry or one that rides on the front of my car and scoops annoyingly driven cars out of my way. (grin)

  4. Pauline that's too funny!! If you had one for a hood "ornament," you could make it clear a lane for you all the way home!

  5. My automaton would do three things:

    1. Clean up the dog's business out of the yard.

    2. Take all the empty cans in the house to the recycling center and bring back the money.

    3. Collect any money laying around the house and put it in a jar, and at the end of the week, deposit it all directly into my bank account.

    Guess I'm not nefarious either :P

    YA: Cheat, Liar, Coward, Thief
    Adult: Shackled

  6. Heather, thank you again for a most excellent post!

    Pauline - there is no question here. Like Sage I would have a household automaton. Mine would clean for me!

    J - our automatons would come from the same maker for sure!


  7. My automaton would clean my house, with emphasis on dishes and laundry. Cliché, I know, but I have a special hatred for dishes and laundry that transcends clichés.

  8. My automaton would be a gargantuan monstrosity the size of the CN Tower and would stand guard against alien invasion. It would crush my enemies and destroy any who apposed me.

  9. Or any who opposed my use of "apposed"!!! ;D

  10. Sage Creek Woman said: "I wouldn't have to listen to "he/she said/did blah blah blah!""

    LOL! Very inspired.

    @Pauline Hey, why not both?!

    @J.E. Medrick Would also be surreal to see an automaton out walking a dog. :P

    @Jennifer Thanks so much for letting me play here!

    @Super Happy Jen LOL!

    @Peter Andrew Leonard Go on with your bad self!

  11. Hi again, and thanks so much to everyone who entered the contest, and to Jenner for hosting it.

    The winner of DREAMSPELL STEAMPUNK Vol. 1 is...Sage Creek Woman! I'll be in touch with you shortly.

  12. Oops, Jennifer, sorry! My fingers operate faster than my brain, apparently. :P

  13. LOL. No problem! Thanks again, and congratulations Sage!

  14. I just finished reading the whole book - in one sitting! It was way fun!! I enjoyed each of the different stories - the style, the places, the characters were all very different from each other and very fun. I really enjoyed the humor and am looking forward to Volume 2 in a big way! Thanks again Heather!!


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