Any rising genre ends up getting attacked after it gets to a certain level of popularity/notoriety. Remember all the debate about Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, and Vampires? Wait that is all still going on. But now it is Steampunk's turn apparently again. I've been feeling the tide coming against Steampunk recently and it was finally set to a fever pitch a couple weeks back by Charles Stross.
Stross set everything off with:
I am becoming annoyed by the current glut of Steampunk that is being foisted on the SF-reading public via the likes of Tor.com and io9.....Which made me go why pray tell? What has Steampunk ever done to you? He goes on:
Contemplating the numerous errors of the zombies'n'zeppelins fad in SF makes me twitch, for reasons that parallel China Mieville's denunciation of The Lord of the Rings (except that I have the attention span of a weasel on crack and am besides too lazy to anatomize the errors of a generation at length in such an essay: personally, I blame the internet). The romanticization of totalitarianism is nothing new (and if you don't recognize the totalitarian urge embedded in the steampunk nostalgia trip, I should like to remind you that "king" is a synonym for "hereditary dictator" and direct you to the merciless skewing Michael Moorcock delivered to imperial hagiography in his Oswald Bastable books). Nevertheless, an affection for the ancient regime is an unconsidered aspect of the background of most steampunk fiction: much like the interstellar autocracies so common in space opera (and again, let me cite Michael Moorcock on Starship Stormtroopers). The Science! in steampunk (which purports to be science fiction, of a kind ... doesn't it?) is questionable at best (Cherie Priest, I'm looking at your gas-induced zombies) and frequently flimsier than even the worst junk that space opera borrows from the props department, because, as it happens, the taproots of steampunk lie prior to the vast expansion in the scientific enterprise that has come to dominate our era. But that's just about forgivable, inasmuch as much modern SF doesn't even like to pretend that sometimes a spaceship is just a spaceship, and not a metaphor. That leaves the aesthetic ... which I can't find anything intrinsically wrong with, as long as steampunk is nothing more than what happens when goths discover brown. Viewed as a fashion trend for corsets and top hats, steampunk is no more harmful than a fad for Che Guevara tee shirts, or burkas, or swastikas; just another fashion trend riffing thoughtlessly off stuff that went away for a reason (at least in the developed world).So he goes on to lambaste Cherie because her science isn't right in regards to zombies. What kind of nonsensical comment is that? Maybe Stross should think about writing The Science of Zombies so all the writers out there can get it "right" according to him. Because writers need guidelines to work with if they're going to please Stross. That's what most authors want isn't it? To be told how their stories should have been?
Priest fired back:
OMG YOU GUYS it has come to my attention that SOMEONE on the internet is saying that my fictional 19th century zombies are NOT SCIENTIFICALLY SOUND. Naturally, I am crushed. To think, IF ONLY I’d consulted with a zombologist or two before sitting down to write, I could’ve avoided ALL THIS EMBARRASSMENT.I think she let it off a little lightly, but many others have taken up the cause to take on Stross. Scott Westerfeld came to the defense of Steampunk:
If you’ve been heretofore unaware of my EGREGIOUS CRIMES against reason and scientific probability, but you too would like to criticize my technique when it comes to MAKING SHIT UP about the pretend undead … then boy, have I got a proposal for YOU!
Yes, the current emblematic book of steampunk is totally Dickensian, but no one pays attention to that because it’s got zombies and airships, and therefore must be a madcap lark. Because this whole conversation has been about flap copy, not actual texts.Catherine Valente than entered the fray as a Steampunk detractor saying:
By the way, I think I’m the first person in this whole internet kerfuffle to quote text from AN ACTUAL STEAMPUNK BOOK. And thus I win.
Not to go flat out into Sturgeon’s Law mode here, but space opera is a subgenre of which an astonishing percentage is crap, both aesthetically and politically, and which gluts the bookshelves far more than steampunk. But no one will be declaring how much they hate it, because it’s been around long enough that old people aren’t bothered by it.
And yes, this is about YOU being OLD, steampunk-haters. (In spirit, not in years.)
THIS is why I don’t write for adults. Their heads are all full of genre cooties and “Taj Mahal? Nah, don’t like tombs.” Whereas a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks. That’s how kids read, and when something’s cool and fun and awesome (or weird and gnarly and thought-provoking), they don’t worry about how many times it’s been mentioned on io9, or whether it’s that-genre-Fortnight on Tor.com.
Steampunk is starting to look a lot like the endless dragons and maidens covers of old extruded product fantasy. Sameness is never exciting, and steampunkOthers have gone to bring up very good and pertinent points even if they aren't necessarily falling head over heels for the genre such as:
When I look at steampunk books and how they're marketed to us, all I see is surface. Look! The megasitesthings that either sparkle or blow up strung together on the hope that some kind of magic will happen and a zeitgeist will be capitalized upon.
The most interesting thing to me about steampunk (though I’m not really an enthusiast, more of a vaguely interested observer) is that it isn’t a literary movement at all. It’s very much a mixed media movement with a huge emphasis on artwork, craftsmanship and costuming. That’s where the greater passions of steampunk seem to lie, with the literary aspect desperately trying to catch up. There’s a flashmob sensibility to it, rather than a single line of influence. Many people in the comments of Catherynne’s post preferred to define steampunk as an aesthetic, rather than a literary movement or sub-genre.So it seems more people are upset by the dress-up factor of Steampunk than anything else. But Cosplay has been going on for decades. In fact it had its origin in modern culture with Sci-Fi. Star Trek conventions anyone?
Valente than came back with a good piece on what she actually likes about Steampunk:
I like how steampunk is a deconstructive genre, or at least has the potential to be so. I see this lately in costuming, where the insides of the bustles and corsets can be worn on the outside, (hell, corsets themselves were never meant to be worn on the outside), the workings of the clothes made explicit. That's one of the things I like best in books of any type, and I'll be interested to see how it trickles down--or up--into literary steampunk, showing the workings of the novel, the culture, the history, the insides on the outside. I love postmodernism, and sometimes it looks an awful lot like pre-modernism.So what does this all add up to? It all comes down to if you don't like it have you actually read it? Because it doesn't seem like most of the haters have actually read much of what is going on in Steampunk. Sure some is fluff, but there are a lot of amazing stories going on. And aren't fiction books for entertainment? For the detractors out there go out and read more in the genre to see what it is you "think" isn't good. I did the same a few years ago with Urban Fantasy and now I'm a big fan. Sure there is crap out there, but there is in every genre. I'm not in them for a history lesson and while that can be a nice bonus with some books it is not something I'm after as a fan and reader. If you actually want to find out what Steampunk is about than read Shweta Narayan's short clockwork bird stories, Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World, or Steampunk Reloaded edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer just to get a taste of what is out there beyond the zeppelins.
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