Over the course of his lifetime, he wrote several hundred Dime Store novels. The exact number will likely never be known, due to the sheer number of books written as well as the number of pen names he employed. In , Ellis dipped his pen into science fiction for a novel called The Steam Man of the Prairies , about the adventures Johnny Brainerd, a teenage inventor who created a massive steam-powered man, taking its creator on a number of adventures around the American Midwest.
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Ellis was writing technological stories around the same times as another famous science-fiction author, Jules Verne, who was writing about similar themes and topics from across the Atlantic Ocean. This fascination with technological stories came at a time during a massive expansion of the United States as well as the rest of the industrial world. The Louisiana Purchase had just about doubled the size of the country over a half a century earlier, and further expansion to the West Coast was ongoing.
At the same time, the country was experiencing a massive boom in technological and infrastructure advances to support the growing country.
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Ellis, in writing about adventures on the American frontier, was exploring the lives of people living on the edge of the unknown, much like modern stories set far out in the solar system or in deep space. Other technological advancements in transportation, such as hot-air balloon and rail travel, helped to open up access to parts of the world previously impossible to reach, such as the Arctic and the depths of Africa, Asia, and South America.
With significant drawbacks to the locals. Ellis' works serve as a good window into the attitudes of the time, and provide some context for how the future was viewed, as well as how much the world was changing. Ellis' novels involved concepts that were readily available to copy by any other Dime novel author.
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Harold Cohen published his own version of The Steam Man in , titled Frank Reade and his Steam Man of the Plains , which was eventually expanded into a longer, popular series of books. Despite that setback, Ellis continued to write up to the point of his death in , creating many more stories of technical advances, particularly flying machines. John Clute of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction notes that Land of Mystery , published in , Monarch of the Air , published in , Flying Boys in the Sky and Flying Boys to the Rescue , both published in , and The Dragon of the Skies , published in , are notable entries in his body of work.
The Dime Novels that Ellis helped to pioneer were futuristic in some ways—they were cheap and readily available for a growing class of readers, while a growing economy of scale allowed for demand to be met. Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont.
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