01/03/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Abrams Image. 175 page illustrated large hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN), GBP 15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-8109-9661-8).
check out websites: www.abramsbooks.com and www.frankreade.com
Before reading this book, the most I knew about ‘Frank Reade’ is a beautiful picture of a steam-powered robot man with steam coming out of his top hat attached running and pulling a covered wagon full of people. As I discovered from reading this book by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, there was more than one Frank Reade as the early dime adventure mags play out in real time with new generations. There were actually three Frank Reades in the end. Grandfather, father and grandson and the second’s action daughter, Kate. The men folk were all wealthy inventors who kept their devices out of the public domain by not going after patents to protect them. The logic being that if no one could see how they were designed no one could copy with a variant. Not only did they come up with robot men but also exotic tanks, cars, submarines and flying craft. When steam was over-taken by that new thing called electricity by some chap called Tessla, their inventions were updated to take advantage of this new power source. Essentially, as the book back cover proclaims, Frank Reade was the original steampunk hero although I do wonder how many of today’s steampunk writers have ever seen any of this material.
This book combines a fabulous stack of illustrations and, occasionally, more modern takes of photos, with short stories from the original dime priced series as it recounts the history of the Reade family and their associates. Their tales blend in and out of our reality, with particular events and people that makes for a fascinating alternative history that you can often occasionally wonder, ‘Did that happen that way?’, and how much was kept out of the history books.
Originally first released in 1892, ‘Frank Reade’ predates all those new kids on the block like Jules Verne and HG Wells. There was no term for Science Fiction and Steampunk is more of a modern invention and name, these dime books were seen as adventure stories with some fantastic inventions to propel (sic) them along and fulfil the adolescent imagination. I suspect the parents got hooked as well considering how many generations it covered in its nine year existence. In historical context, they thus fall neatly into our genre.
If you bought this book purely to enjoy the artwork you would be jaw-dropping. Added to that the text in context and occasional tongue-in-cheek reference then you have a complete book and reference that will be a delight for any of you interested in alternative histories. A true gem and truly breathtaking.
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