OK, this has nothing to do with anything apart from the fact that working on NanoWriMo tends to tune your brain into slightly different frequencies and you pick up on connections that you maybe wouldn’t normally notice.
Also, that you write in run-on sentences more. They normally get cut in half in the edit. But anyway.
Charlie Stross recently wrote a wonderful, curmudgeonly piece on steampunk (here it is). He made the point that the innovations of the early stories have devolved into mere set-dressing. If steampunk authors took the time to look at the worlds they were building, there would be very little glamour to be had, and a great deal of poverty and deprivation. He also cracked the joke that steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown, which made me snort tea back into my mug through my nose. He called out SF sites Tor.com and i09 as being particularly to blame for the spike in interest in the genre.
This is pretty nicely timed, as Tor have just been running a Steampunk fortnight. A lot of the critical thought and articles have been on the reinvention of the genre. Amal El-Mohtar’s piece, Winding Down The House is especially good in this regard, and successfully makes the point that steampunk’s tropes and conventions really are holding things back. If steampunk is to grow and stay interesting, it needs to move away from the Victoriana/Old West/Ruritanian bit, and find new directions.
Amal points out her frustrations neatly here:
I wrote a story in what, to my mind, would be a steampunky Damascus: a Damascus that was part of a vibrant trading nation in its own right, that would not be colonised by European powers, where women displayed their trades by the patterns of braids and knots in their hair, and where some women were pioneering the art of crafting dream-provoking devices through new gem-cutting techniques.
Once I’d written it, though, I found myself uncertain whether or not it was steampunk. It didn’t look like anything called steampunk that I’d seen. Sure, there were goggles involved in gem-crafting, and sure, copper was a necessary component of the dream-device—but where was the steam? My editor asked the same question, and suggested my problem could be fixed by a liberal application of steamworks to the setting. Who could naysay me if my story had all the trappings of the subgenre?
Syria, you may be aware, is a fairly arid country. There are better things to do with water than make steam.
Both articles are worth a read, not just as criticisms of the subgenre, but as roadmaps to a new future past.
And I have an unfinished steampunk book that could use a little attention…