"Edisonade" is a term, coined in 1993 by John Clute in his and Peter Nicholls' The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, for fictional stories about a brilliant young inventor and his inventions, many of which would now be classified as science fiction. This subgenre started in the Victorian and Edwardian eras and had its apex of popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[1] Other related terms for fiction of this type include scientific romances. The term is an eponym, named after famous inventor Thomas Edison, formed in the same way the term "Robinsonade" was formed from Robinson Crusoe.


Usually first published in cheaply printed dime novels, most such stories were written to appeal to young boys. The Edisonade formula was an outgrowth of the fascination with engineering and technology that arose near the end of the 1800s, and a derivative of the existing Robinsonade formula.

Clute defines the word in his book:

As used here the term "edisonade"—derived from Thomas Alva Edison (1847–1931) in the same way that "Robinsonade" is derived from Robinson Crusoe—can be understood to describe any story which features a young US male inventor hero who uses his ingenuity to extricate himself from tight spots and who, by so doing, saves himself from foreign oppressors.[2]

and he defines it again in a column referring to "The Plutonian Terror" by Jack Williamson written in 1933:

It is an Edisonade, a paradigm kind of science fiction in which a brave young inventor creates a tool or a weapon (or both) that enables him to save the girl and his nation (America) and the world from some menace, whether it be foreigners or evil scientists or aliens; and gets the girl; and gets rich.[3]

One frequent theme in Edisonades was the exploration of little-known, "untamed" parts of the world. To that degree, the stories reflected the contemporaneous era of large-scale colonization and exploration.


  • The earliest example of the genre as expressed in young adult fiction is considered to be "The Steam Man of the Prairies" by Edward S. Ellis (1868), featuring fictional inventor Johnny Brainerd.[4]
  • The Frank Reade series first appeared in 1876, written by Harold Cohen (1854–1927) under the pseudonyms Harry Enton and "Noname." The first was "Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains". After four titles, the series was continued as the adventures of Frank Reade, Jr., written by ultra-prolific boys' fiction author Luis Senarens as "Noname".[5]
  • A series of stories featuring "Tom Edison, Jr." by Philip Reade were published between 1891 and 1892. The story "Tom Edison's Electric Mule, or, The Snorting Wonder of the Plains" (1892) is a parody of the earlier Frank Reade series.[6]
  • The Jack Wright series was created and written by Luis Senarens. The character first appeared in 1891, and was the subject of 121 stories.[5]
  • Thomas Edison himself was the main character in Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss (1898), a sequel to Fighters from Mars (in the form of a revenge fantasy) an unauthorized and altered adaptation of Wells's The War of the Worlds. Another real and famous inventor to appear in one of the stories was Nikola Tesla in To Mars With Tesla; or, the Mystery of the Hidden World.[1]
  • Five stories about the Edisonade character named Electric Bob were published in 1893, written by Robert T. Toombs,[7] which added a touch of wittiness and oddity to the genre.[8]
  • The original Tom Swift series of juvenile books are a continuation of the genre in the juveniles that followed dime novels.

See also


  1. ^ The Edisonade Archived 2006-09-02 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Notes on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #2". 2009-10-26. Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2016-05-21.CS1 maint: Unfit url (link)
  3. ^ Clute, John, Yore Is Us, column in Infinite Matrix, 2000
  4. ^ Beadle's American Novel No. 45, August 1868, "The Steam Man of the Prairies" by Edward S. Ellis
  5. ^ a b Everett Franklin Bleiler, Science-fiction, the Early Years, Kent State University Press, 1990; https://books.google.com/books?id=KEZxhkG5eikC&q=noname#v=snippet&q=noname&f=false
  6. ^ The Nugget Library No. 128, January 14, 1892, "Tom Edison Jr.'s Electric Mule; or, The Snorting Wonder of the Plans," by Philip Reade.
  7. ^ http://www.philsp.com/homeville/fmi/f23.htm#A1106 Archived 2009-10-31 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Fantastic Victoriana: E". reocities.com. Retrieved 2016-05-21.

External links

Against the Day

Against the Day is a 2006 historical novel by Thomas Pynchon. The narrative takes place between the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the time immediately following World War I and features more than a hundred characters spread across the United States, Europe, Mexico, Central Asia, and "one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all," according to the book jacket blurb written by Pynchon. Like its predecessors, Against the Day is an example of historiographic metafiction or metahistorical romance. At 1,085 pages it is the longest of Pynchon's novels to date.

Edison's Conquest of Mars

Edison's Conquest of Mars is an 1898 science fiction novel by American astronomer and writer Garrett P. Serviss. It was written as a sequel to Fighters from Mars, an unauthorized and heavily altered version of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. It has a place in the history of science fiction for its early employment of themes and motifs that later became staples of the genre.The book features Thomas Edison as the primary character, though neither Edison nor H. G. Wells were involved in its creation. Set after the devastating Martian attack in the previous story, the novel depicts Edison leading a group of scientists to develop ships and weapons, including a disintegration ray, for the defence of Earth. Edison and company fight the aliens in space and on Mars, eventually causing a flood that defeats the enemy and forces an end to hostilities. Serviss wrote himself into the story as a professor whom Edison consults; also appearing are scientists such as Edward Emerson Barnard, Lord Kelvin, Wilhelm Röntgen, and Silvanus P. Thompson, and heads of state such as Queen Victoria, U.S. President William McKinley, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Emperor Mutsuhito.Serviss' first attempt at fiction, the book was published serially in the New York Journal. Serviss went on to write other science fiction stories, arguably making him the first American to write science fiction professionally. An early example of what would later be called space opera, Edison's Conquest of Mars was also a particularly literal "Edisonade". The book contains some notable "firsts" in science fiction: alien abductions, spacesuits (called "air-tight suits": see Spacesuits in fiction), aliens building the Pyramids, space battles, oxygen pills, asteroid mining and disintegrator rays.

Frank Reade

Frank Reade was the protagonist of a series of dime novels published primarily for boys. The first novel, Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, an imitation of Edward Ellis's The Steam Man of the Prairies (1868), was written by Harry Enton and serialized in the Frank Tousey juvenile magazine Boys of New York, February 28 through April 24, 1876. The four Frank Reade stories concerned adventures with the character's inventions, various robot-like mechanisms powered by steam.

A very long series of juvenile novels followed which featured the son of Frank Reade, Frank Reade Jr., as its teenaged inventor-hero. These stories were written by Luis P. Senarens (1865–1939) with the pseudonym Noname. Extremely popular during their time, they were often reprinted and new stories have been created as recently as 2011, in the pulp short story collection, Wildthyme in Purple.

His inventions included airships of the dirigible-balloon and helicopter type, submersibles, steam-driven and electrical land vehicles, and steam- and electric-powered robots.

The Frank Reade stories are perhaps the best known of the many boys' invention fiction series published in America during the later 19th century. Frank Reade Jr. has appeared as an older man in Alan Moore's Nemo: Heart of Ice, and the Reade family as a whole has also been featured in Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's Frank Reade: Adventures in the Age of Invention.

Jack Wright (character)

Jack Wright was the hero of a popular series of Victorian science fiction dime novels and story papers written by Luis Senarens, the so-called "American Jules Verne". A few stories are also credited to Francis W. Doughty. Jack appeared in original stories from in 1891 to 1896 in 120 novels. He first appeared in The Boys' Star Library No. 216, July 18, 1891, "Jack Wright, the Boy Inventor; or, Hunting for a Sunken Treasure".

Senarens also popularized the Frank Reade dime novel series, having taken the reins from Harry Enton (real name Harold Cohen). Jack Wright appeared in Frank Tousey's Boys of New York and Boys' Star Library, and then migrated to Golden Weekly and Happy Days story papers. These stories were later reprinted in the dime novel Pluck and Luck. Jack Wright is one of the so-called Edisonade characters. The stories were reprinted by Aldine in the UK first in the Cheerful Library and then in the Invention, Travel & Adventure Library.

M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales

M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales, also known as Pals in Peril, is a series of children's novels by M. T. Anderson. They are part satire of, and part homage to, classic science fiction and action comic books and children's mystery and adventure series like The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew or Tom Swift. The black-and-white interior illustrations in the series are done by Kurt Cyrus. They are written for somewhat younger readers than Anderson's other books.The stories follow the bizarre, exciting, and hilarious adventures of three close friends, Lily Gefelty, Katie Mulligan, and Jasper Dash. Each of these friends is very different from one another. They constantly find themselves solving dastardly mysteries and preventing madmen from gaining control of the world.

The first book in the series, Whales on Stilts, was published by Harcourt in 2005. Parts of it were inspired by the work of H.G. Wells and also by John Christopher's Tripod series.

Mad scientist

Mad scientist (also mad doctor or mad professor) is a caricature of a scientist who is described as "mad" or "insane" owing to a combination of unusual or unsettling personality traits and the unabashedly ambitious, taboo or hubristic nature of their experiments. As a motif in fiction, the mad scientist may be villainous (evil genius) or antagonistic, benign or neutral; may be insane, eccentric, or clumsy; and often works with fictional technology or fails to recognize or value common human objections to attempting to play God. Some may have benevolent or good-spirited intentions, even if their actions are dangerous or questionable, which can make them accidental villains.

Mars in fiction

Fictional representations of Mars have been popular for over a century. Interest in Mars has been stimulated by the planet's dramatic red color, by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life, and by the possibility that Mars could be colonized by humans in the future. Almost as popular as stories about Mars are stories about Martians engaging in activity (frequently invasions) away from their home planet.

In the 20th century, actual spaceflights to the planet Mars, including seminal events such as the first man-made object to impact the surface of Mars in 1971, and then later the first landing of "the first mechanized device to successfully operate on Mars" in 1976 (in the Viking program by the United States), inspired a great deal of interest in Mars-related fiction. Exploration of the planet has continued in the 21st century on to the present day.

Scientific romance

Scientific romance is an archaic term for the genre of fiction now commonly known as science fiction. The term originated in the 1850s to describe both fiction and elements of scientific writing, but has since come to refer to the science fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, primarily that of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle. In recent years, the term has come to be applied to science fiction written in a deliberately anachronistic style, as a homage to or pastiche of the original scientific romances.

Space warfare in fiction

Space warfare has served as a central theme within the science-fiction genre. One can trace its roots back to classical times, and to the "future war" novels of the nineteenth century. An interplanetary, or more often an interstellar or intergalactic war, has become a staple plot device in space operas. Space warfare has a predominant role in military science fiction but is not believed to be a realistic possibility because of the distances involved and the logistical impracticalities.

The Future Eve

The Future Eve (also translated as Tomorrow's Eve and The Eve of the Future; French: L'Ève future) is a symbolist science fiction novel by the French author Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. Begun in 1878 and originally published in 1886, the novel is known for popularizing the term "Android".

The Skylark of Space

The Skylark of Space is a science fiction novel by American writer Edward E. "Doc" Smith, written between 1915 and 1921 while Smith was working on his doctorate. Though the original idea for the novel was Smith's, he co-wrote the first part of the novel with Lee Hawkins Garby, the wife of his college classmate and later neighbor Carl Garby. The novel starts as an edisonade, but turns into a space travel adventure when the characters goes into deep space. The Skylark of Space is considered to be one of the earliest novels of interstellar travel and the first example of space opera. Originally serialized in 1928 in the magazine Amazing Stories, it was first published in book form in 1946 by the Buffalo Book Co. The novel was followed by three sequels, beginning with Skylark Three.

The Steam Man of the Prairies

The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis was the first U.S. science fiction dime novel and archetype of the Frank Reade series. It is one of the earliest examples of the so-called "Edisonade" genre. Ellis was a prolific 19th century author best known as a historian and biographer and a source of early heroic frontier tales in the style of James Fenimore Cooper. This novel may be inspired by the steam powered invention of Zadoc Dederick. The original novel was reissued six times from 1868 to 1904. A copy of the first 1868 printing with its cover intact is owned by the Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.

Thomas Edison in popular culture

Thomas Edison has appeared in popular culture as a character in novels, films, comics and video games. His prolific inventing helped make him an icon and he has made appearances in popular culture during his lifetime down to the present day. He is often portrayed in popular culture as an adversary of Nikola Tesla.

Tom Swift

Tom Swift is the main character of five series of American juvenile science fiction and adventure novels that emphasize science, invention, and technology. First published in 1910, the series total more than 100 volumes. The character was created by Edward Stratemeyer, the founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a book-packaging firm. Tom's adventures have been written by various ghostwriters, beginning with Howard Garis. Most of the books are credited to the collective pseudonym "Victor Appleton". The 33 volumes of the second series use the pseudonym Victor Appleton II for the author. For this series, and some of the later series, the main character is "Tom Swift, Jr." New titles have been published as recently as 2007. Most of the various series emphasized Tom's inventions. The books generally describe the effects of science and technology as wholly beneficial, and the role of the inventor in society as admirable and heroic.

Translated into many languages, the books have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Tom Swift has also been the subject of a board game and several attempted adaptations into other media.

Tom Swift has been cited as an inspiration by various scientists and inventors.

Travis S. Taylor

Travis Shane Taylor (born 24 July 1968 in Decatur, Alabama) is an aerospace engineer, optical scientist, science fiction author, and star of National Geographic Channel's Rocket City Rednecks. Taylor has written more than 25 technical papers, 14 science fiction novels and two textbooks, and has appeared in multiple television documentaries, including NGC’s recently highly rated special When Aliens Attack.

Voyages extraordinaires

The Voyages extraordinaires (literally Extraordinary Voyages or Extraordinary Journeys) is a sequence of fifty-four novels by the French writer Jules Verne, originally published between 1863 and 1905.According to Verne's editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel, the goal of the Voyages was "to outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format ... the history of the universe."Verne's meticulous attention to detail and scientific trivia, coupled with his sense of wonder and exploration, form the backbone of the Voyages. Part of the reason for the broad appeal of his work was the sense that the reader could really learn knowledge of geology, biology, astronomy, paleontology, oceanography and the exotic locations and cultures of world through the adventures of Verne's protagonists. This great wealth of information distinguished his works as "encyclopedic novels".

The first of Verne's novels to carry the title Voyages Extraordinaires was The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, which was the third of all his novels.

The works in this series included both fiction and non-fiction, some with overt science fiction elements (e.g., Journey to the Center of the Earth) or elements of scientific romance (e.g., Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea).

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