An example of early scifi horror fiction
July 6, 2011 6:46 AM   Subscribe

"The contemporary setting and concerns of "The Steam Arm" are a very great distance from the Gothic setting and tropes of much 1830s horror fiction, and its science fictional content makes it possibly unique."
posted by Brandon Blatcher (16 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
More fuel to the coalburner.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:59 AM on July 6, 2011

I bet Harlan Ellison is disappointed that he can't sue anyone over this
posted by Renoroc at 7:05 AM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

I bet this is bullshit.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:31 AM on July 6, 2011

It's not clear what you mean by "bullshit", but the song does show up up a book, Folk songs of middle Tennessee: the George Boswell collection. The book mentions of a recording of the ballad was made in 1984.

There's more information on the blog Leaves of Brass, which says the first mention of cyborg was of a real German Knight, Götz von Berlichingen. He lost in arm a strange accident and got quite technologically advance iron replacement.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 AM on July 6, 2011

If it is real, then it's interesting to tie the idea of the possessed limb to the spread of industrial labor. A seemingly beneficial thing that murders everyone you care about, and spirals out of control? That makes sense, I guess. What other famous possessed limb stories are there in English literature?
posted by codacorolla at 7:54 AM on July 6, 2011

BB, that second book reference is great; thanks for passing it on.

I feel like I should go ask my folkie nerd friends which, if any, Child ballad this song matches patternwise.
posted by immlass at 7:57 AM on July 6, 2011

I mean't "bullshit" in the sense that I felt it was a hoax. My apologies -I can't argue with your google book link.

It looked like a hoax to me because the accompanying article speculates unnecessarily how the unknown author may have himself lost an arm in some obscure colonial war, when the song simply says the protagonist lost his, " At Waterloo...". Also, the illustration looks to me like some weird combination of linoleum-cut and marker, rather that a wood or metal plate.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:36 AM on July 6, 2011

Kirstie Blair wrote an article for Neo-Victorian Studies last year - the article is available online in issue 3.1 of the journal.

Blair links to this image (among a handful of others) of an undated broadside which looks a whole lot more legit to me than does the image linked to in the io9 story.

So, it looks like the song itself is nonbullshit, though I'd agree that the "engraved" image on that io9 broadside is a wildly unconvincing bit of Victoriana.
posted by Hellgirl at 8:40 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Aargh - Kirstie Blair wrote an article about this song for Neo-Victorian Studies last year, is what I meant to type.

My own Steam Left-click Finger needs a bit of calibrating, clearly.
posted by Hellgirl at 8:42 AM on July 6, 2011

The woodcut appears to be original, unless the Library of Congress got hoodwinked. A fair number of the broadsides you can browse there or at the Bodleian have very ornate engravings, but which may have been used generically (like a stock photo); this one is obviously custom.

I'm disappointed it wasn't a worker's protest a la the Saboteurs or the Luddites. It would be an interesting early use of the clenched fist logo in that case.
posted by dhartung at 10:11 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nice find, dhartung! How'd you track it down?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2011

Amazing, dhartung! I stand happily corrected!
posted by Hellgirl at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2011

The reason I initially thought it may have been a hoax is that everything about it seems a little too pat and calculated to make Cory Doctorow types blow a hole through their pants with a hot, steam powered load.

Apparently it's very real. Thanks dhartung.
posted by codacorolla at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2011

Metafilter: Ri too ral, etc.
posted by lekvar at 11:46 AM on July 6, 2011

This rais'd in court a bit of a clamour,
The arm going like an auctioneer's hammer;
It fell in weight like a paviour's rammer,
And many with fear began to stammer.
Ri too ral, etc.
I would bet material wealth on the existence of contemporaneous filthy lyrics to this. Perhaps something on the order of The Big Fucking Wheel? [Verbally NSFW, naturally.]
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2011

I found it by noting the links to both libraries in the Blair article and searching there. If I hadn't found them that way I would have looked in a few other places as it was easy to surmise the version on display was archived somewhere. Just a few years ago, of course, it might have been more difficult to find images online.
posted by dhartung at 1:51 PM on July 6, 2011

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