Steampunk: A Lament

I’ve been too busy lately to do much but contemplate the luxury of having spare time in which to blog or, say, scratch myself. Not that I’m really complaining — last Sunday was Halloween, which was also my Birthday, and much of the busy-ness that day had to do with Signing Books, going Horse Riding, eating Fine Food Cooked by Someone Not Me and watching The Social Network. All of which made for a Most Awesome of Birthdays.

And just now I’ve read a brilliant lament by Cat Valente concerning the (de)merits of Steampunk — look! cogs! — as a genre. It pretty much sums up most of my feelings on the subject and covers a lot of the ground I’ve been bitching talking about with friends in past year:

In the end, maybe steampunk is giving us the 19th century in some subtle way. A glut of cheap, mass-produced products that are identical and bland instead of cottage-made and rough-edged, forged by underpaid workers who must smile and pretend everything is perfect when the foreman comes to visit. A world where fashion covers up all sins, where you don’t have to look at brown people if you have enough money to avoid them, and authenticity is defined as looking and acting just exactly like all your friends.

Nice. And now I don’t have write my own damn post. Except maybe I will. Because, as much as the aesthetics of the genre appeal, the politics — or lack thereof — is really starting to shit me. And possibly, the focus on the aesthetics is at the core of the problem. But no, I don’t want to write a Steampunk novel. Or even a Steampunk story. Not even the kind of story that that I kind of hoped the genre would start to spawn once it got over its obsession with the aesthetics — look! goggles! — and actually peeked beneath its own soot-stained skirts to see what was really going on in at the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Mostly, I don’t want to write Steampunk — hang on, why am I capitalising this damn subgenre? I don’t capitalise horror or fantasy or science fiction or even cyberpunk for goodness sakes; how did that capital S lodge itself in my subconscious?

Step back, rinse and repeat:

Mostly, I don’t want to write steampunk because I have very little creative interest in nostalgia or alternate history. Especially when the alternate is more impossible fantasy than what might’ve-could’ve-should’ve happened. I don’t mind reading AH from time to time, if a particularly good work comes highly recommended, but my creative mind tends to work in the here and now. (Okay, the here and now with tweaks.) Nostalgia actually gives me hives. The past should be viewed with spectacles of only the sharpest clarity, in my opinion. Those rose-coloured glasses are just too damn dangerous, let alone the brown-tinted shades a lot of steampunkers seem to don.

Anyway. Read Cat’s post in full. She says clever things in far more clever ways than I am capable of today.

But wait, look: I’m on a horse!

Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott, with ponies

PonyPunk ... a new subgenre is born!

ETA: Tansy Rayner Roberts also wrote a post in response to Cat’s, providing a neat overview of the genre. Also, she reminded me of Worldshaker by Richard Harland, which is an unashamedly steampunk novel that does address a lot of the underlying nastiness of a steampunk world.

8 Comments

  1. Charlie Stross has some interesting things to say on the subject also: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/10/the-hard-edge-of-empire.html

  2. I dare you! Ponypunk could have a huge market.

    And where did you get to ride?

    • Alas, I fear that Ponypunk would somehow need to have unicorns involved. *shudder*

      We went down to place just outside Rosebud. Probably going back for a beach ride one weekend. Jason has re-awakened The Girl Who Loves Ponies, and shall probably live to regret it. That photo is about the only time I saw him smiling on the entire ride … probably because it was taken at the end, just before he got off the horse.🙂

      • Can you remember the name of your horse? It looks remarkably like the one that ditched me on the beach when it wanted to race all the other horses! Then again, all I can remember about my horse was that it was brown, and didn’t like being at the back of the group. I think I wore Jason’s same smile when I got back too. I did have blood gushing (or at least dripping) out of my head though…

        • Of course I remember her name! What do you think I am, some sort of one-day-stand, fly-by-nighter? ;-P

          Jordon. She was called Jordan.

          And I can’t believe the ponies are getting so much of the attention in this post. Oh wait. Yes I can.

          Ponypunk!

  3. Thanks for the link! Absolutely worth checking out Scott Westerfeld’s take on the topic too, which is very pro-steampunk. http://scottwesterfeld.com/blog/2010/11/genre-cooties/

    • Genre cooties! I love it! Scott makes a very good point about YA being more fluid and open to genre, and indeed cross-genre, and kids as readers being a lot less boxed-in when it comes to reading choices. Genre cooties is part of people deciding they are grown ups now and should therefore put away childish things. Me, I’m all for childish things … when childish means full of wonder and joy and openness and acceptance and imagination. How on earth can you grow out of that?


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