It has been suggested that Tucker’s Monster is an entry in the steampunk sci-fi/fantasy universe. In truth, while the novel was published in 2010, I actually began writing it in the early 1970s, before steampunk officially evolved. (I got waylaid by a career in screenwriting, and it was some 30 years before I got around to finishing the book.)
That said, I could argue that I’ve always loved steampunk. I love steam engines in all forms, seeking out locomotives and going to steam tractor meets. As a kid, I devoured H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, A. Conan Doyle and their ilk. I’ve always wanted to make a movie based on Verne’s The Steam House, just for the thrill of creating that marvelous steam-powered elephant. The Greatest Adventure, by John Taine (Eric Temple Bell) with its enormous scale, had a big impact on me. More recently I was dazzled by the beautiful Art Deco-and-steampunkish video game, “Bayonetta.” And, while only fragments of our screenplay for The Wild Wild West made it into the final film, one was the uber-punk mechanical spider.
Ironically, despite all the above, Tucker’s Monster was borne of something else -- my obsessive watching of 1930s, 40s and 50s horror films. In the days before VHS and DVD, they were America’s Saturday late night TV staple, and I stayed up everySaturday.
What I noted as a young viewer were the oft recurring themes and scenes in these old classics. Soon (like any fan these days) I could often predict what was going to happen even in films I’d not seen. I began to think it would be fun to devise a character who has been on so many horror-movie adventures that he’s become almost bored with them. That’s how my protagonist, Harry Tucker, came to be. It was my way of having fun with old movie clichés without openly makingfun of them.
But I needed a world for Tucker to inhabit. The story is set in the early 20th Century because I didn’t feel it would work in modern times. Too many mysteries and legends have been debunked and/or endlessly hashed-over. The average Joe today is more cynical even than Tucker. The Congo is less mysterious when any couch person can cruise it on Google-Earth. But the world of 1900 was full of wonder and exuberance. Science was cool. Invention was the game of the day. Exploration was still exotic. Tucker, though almost always disappointed in his searches, is a product of that energy.
So, I guess the real answer is that I inadvertently backed into a steampunk setting, which I could then fill with all the things I love anyway -- old guns, old gear, steam stuff. It is no coincidence that both the movie Tremors 4 (which I directed) and Tucker’s Monster prominently feature steam traction engines. Really, when I think of it, most stories would benefit from adding a steam traction engine.
copyright 2011 S.S. Wilson