I'm still trying to figure out steampunk. I haven't, obviously, so here's what some other people say instead.Steampunk Abstractions: The Inevitability of Imperialism
"My question, then, is this: beyond critique in some literature today, how are steampunks performing anti-imperialism, if at all? Is imperialist imagery inevitable, or can they be visibly subversive?"The hard edge of empire
Charlie Stross doesn't like steampunk. He says, "We know about the real world of the era steampunk is riffing off. And the picture is not good," and argues that steampunk doesn't engage the dark side of the Victorian era (among other things). Some commenters pop up with counter-examples of works which do engage with the problems. He also complains about the science in steampunk, although I don't see anyone complaining that HG Wells didn't explain his time travel technology well enough. Not everything wants or needs to be hard sf!"Get off my side"
Part of a discussion about steampunk, in which most of the commenters don't like it either, but think Stross dislikes it for the wrong reasons. For instance, "complaining about the technology is just daft." And, "One of the many, many wanky tropes of Steampunk is *exactly* the kind of excessive grittiness that Stross insists people would never ever write about." Plus a correction to Stross's definition of "totalitarianism." Maybe once you get to the point where people disagree over the right reasons to dislike a literary fad, it really is a subgenre?Blowing Off Steam
Catherynne Valente says, "think, for just a precious second, about what punk means, the rage and iconoclasm and desperation, the nihilism and unsentimental ecstasy of punk rock." (And lest anyone worry that her insistence on having seriousness in fantasy means she wants books that are no fun, let me reassure you that The Orphan's Tales
has plenty of fun.) She also argues that without steam-powered technology, it's more accurately gearpunk or clockpunk.Here I Stand, With Steam Coming Out of My Ears
Valente again: "I'm not going to talk about what a joke it is to call something so inherently nostalgic, conservative, and comfort-oriented 'punk.'" She will
talk about how "steampunk isn't really alternate history and it isn't really science fiction. It's adventure stories wrapped up in a very slight veneer of common tropes. And adventure stories, historically, have never even tried to be very good." (For the record, she knows of a few steampunk stories she likes.) Other noteworthy quotes: "Most of the books are not just part of a genre, they are just a bag where airships, goggles, 19th century England, 19th century America, gears, corsets and zombies are shaken and pulled out at random [...] Steampunk is starting to look a lot like the endless dragons and maidens covers of old extruded product fantasy."Toward a Steampunk without Steam
And now from someone who likes steampunk! "I love what I see at steampunk’s core: a desire for the beautiful, for technological wonder, for a wedding of the rational and the marvelous. I see in it a desire for non-specialised science, for the mélange of occultism and scientific rigour, for a time when they were not mutually exclusive categories." When you put it that way, it does sound fun! She has an interesting point about our steampunk being equivalent to the Victorian fetish for medieval stuff, too. And she uses her experience writing a story for Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories
to raise the question, is steampunk only possible in England? Because her story is set in Syria, which "you may be aware, is a fairly arid country. There are better things to do with water than make steam." Finally, "I submit that the insistence on Victoriana in steampunk is akin to insisting on castles and European dragons in fantasy: limiting, and rather missing the point." I'd love to see a discussion on steampunk between her and Valente.
And as a bonus, here's the China Mieville essay about Tolkien which Stross mentioned, since it's about the same nostalgia for past-ness without the dirty bits.( Collapse )