c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule


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This, honestly, sounds analogous to the anti-fantasy rants that go "Fantasy is all dragons and elves. I know, there are exceptions (some of my best friends write fantasy!) but seriously guh dragons! elves! Oh I know Tolkien did good things with it but really nobody has since!"

I wonder if you realize just how erasing this is of People of Color who use steampunk to pull apart the inevitable-colonialism narrative? Pull our stuff apart, by all means, but please don't handwave over the fact that we exist. I mean, your examples of The Genre are a) novels mostly written by white people, and b) cons, which we know misrepresent the diversity of the field.

The short fiction has rather more diversity. (And nisi_la's Tor.com post is about a novel quite different from the ones you're talking about.)

I agree with this, and with Jaymee's post above.

Cat, I think you're conflating two things that are trying desperately to be different from each other: people who are trying to expand the definition of "steampunk" by subjecting it to postcolonial deconstruction in order to reclaim it, and people who are all about the shiny and don't want fiction to make them feel guilty. But by dismissing the subgenre entirely (and relegating the good things to exception-status), you're also dismissing the people who NEED to talk about it -- who need the Steampunk Fortnights and the panels at cons and the essay-invitations and the themed anthologies -- in order to lay out the framework in which they can write novel-length steampunk that does what you say you wish it did.

It takes time, and it takes effort, and I get that you're sick of the glut in the meantime, I do -- but there's a baby in that bathwater, and I think you're throwing it out just as it's making noise and poking its head above the surface.

(Edited for grammar.)

Edited at 2010-11-03 08:47 pm (UTC)

Oooh, yes, this!

people who are trying to expand the definition of "steampunk" by subjecting it to postcolonial deconstruction in order to reclaim it

This is what I am dreaming of when I try to find good steampunk. It just hasn't turned up too often for me yet.

tithenai said what I was thinking, better.

I can't throw anything out with a blog post. When and if I find that baby I'll change my mind and retract it all, I promise. And you can talk about it all you want--so can I, and it seems odd to once again reiterate that I said there were exceptions.

I wonder though, why is steampunk so important that we should all be spending our energy helping it along? Why does no other subgenre get that treatment?

I wonder though, why is steampunk so important that we should all be spending our energy helping it along? Why does no other subgenre get that treatment?

It's a good question, and I have been pondering it. I think it's honestly that no other subgenre has had the same combination of wide, multi-pronged appeal + INCREDIBLY PROBLEMATIC, such that it has an almost equal number of people going GOGGLES COGS BRASS ZOMG on the one hand and "hang on a minute, that's really shitty imperialist nostalgic bullcrap" on the other. I actually see this particular subgenre as a space in which serious discussions of how we think about genre and the stakes of desiring diversity can take place, and am wary of the kind of exhaustion that comes through your post, because I worry it means the Important Conversation isn't of interest anymore.

But, heh, academic over here. I see value in parsing things at tiresome length in order to say one very tiny new thing, even if it means repeating a great deal of material in order to position that new thing correctly.

It's a good question, and I have been pondering it. I think it's honestly that no other subgenre has had the same combination of wide, multi-pronged appeal + INCREDIBLY PROBLEMATIC,

This. For me, this is exactly it.

And it focuses on an era where that INCREDIBLY PROBLEMATIC is front and center and is still affecting us today but it cognitively distant enough that I can showcase it and break it down without being utterly depressing* because LOOK SHINY.


* Not that I object to depressing literature, just that I can't write it at novel length because what I'm writing affects my mental state like woah.

I may be white, male, straight and privileged as all hell, but your post and tithenai's makes me all happy inside. You go, and keep going. We need you.

A spoonful of sugar does in fact make the medicine go down, and this is medicine that I (and my wicked, socialist humanist heart) want as many people taking as can be managed.

This; in terms of deconstructing what it is on the surface, I think it's coming into its own.

Can you suggest to me a novel-length work you think does this?

Have you tried Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon?

I wish I could - I fail at novels and only have been able to read short fiction this year, and little enough of that.

But Nisi's novel isn't finished yet. When it is, I'll judge it on its merits. Her article was on my mind because she at least is writing something from her complaints. As I've said, I kind of suck because I'm not.

I don't believe I'm erasing anyone. I could be wrong. I specifically said I wasn't going to discuss the cultural issues because I feel like I've screamed myself hoarse about it and few people care. Mainly, I'm reacting to the culture of megasites that keep shoving steampunk down everyone's throats. I have also said there were exceptions and some good work--though you know I'm picky even among the picky. As others have said, because people are flinging money at steampunk, it's not getting the same evolution that the other subgenres have.

I was VERY deliberately not making a list of The Genre because its SURE to offend someone. Short fiction does have more diversity but also simply doesn't have the impact of novels nor the readership.

The issue is that you're claiming it's possible to talk about Steampunk without discussing the cultural issues.

The way I see it, this is exactly what's wrong with it in general -- the sense that the underlying cultural conflicts are optional, can be ignored, can be left out of discussion.

The other problem I have is that you're saying you're disccussing Steampunk. You're not. You're discussing currently-out Steampunk novels, and claiming that's The Genre is erasing the rest.

I'm saying that I've discussed cultural aspects before but want to say something else right now because, well, I've said those things before. And how can I discuss anything bit currently out novels? I can't read anything not out! I'm confused!

But please, it hurts me to think that you don't know how often I e talked about the cultural conflicts. At some cons it's all I talk about, and I'm the only one talking. This essay is about something else, but all my others on sp are about that, so too my story.

But please, it hurts me to think that you don't know how often I e talked about the cultural conflicts.

Granted, I haven't been at the cons you're talking about, but I do know. I read what you write here, I read your fiction, I know you care. .That is why this is hurtful.

Look, being erased is something I just expect in most of the genre. People in this larger-community still ask me how I can think Hinduism is underrepresented, when Zelazny used it? It's the sort of thing I normally wince over and move on; it's not something I'd normally bother to engage on. What's bothering me is that you are doing it in this post, and you are someone I trust not to.

I know it's not your intent. Or I'd have just moved on.

The problem is not that you're talking about something else. It's that you're talking about something else in terms that strongly say 'this is the whole of it, barring a few exceptions'.

And your having talked about other facets, elsewhere, doesn't help that.
Is that clearer?

Lemme try that again...

Thing is, I share the frustration and irritation you're expressing.

It's just that the categorical way you're expressing it (e.g. Steampunk sucks) implies that exceptions are a scattershot of "other stuff", and the majority can be pretty much generalized to the whole. Which erases the existence of this ... I dunno, counter-movement, maybe? I don't even know what it is yet. This thing that Aileen and Jaymee and Nisi and Amal (and I) and others are doing.

Re: Lemme try that again...

I tried to respond on my phone last night but it got eaten. Let me try again.

I think it's also unfair to claim that the material that is out in the world and being critiqued doesn't represent the genre, but a small group of people who variously haven't finished their novels or have only done a short story or two DO. You said you guys (and I would fit there too, as I've done a story) are the counter-movement--well, you have to be counter to something and I'm talking about what you're counter to.

If you don't even know what it is yet, how can I include it in a critique?

Re: Lemme try that again...

We're talking past each other.

I don't have anything against you ranting about the novels; I fully agree that they are rant-worthy, and in general I find your rants glorious.
I have a probem with you not calling it that, with using the cover term to refer to only one privileged-majority within that term.

That usage relegates POC to "optional extra", because that's what general cultural usage of cover terms does. (e.g. "women" to mean "straight cis middle-class white women" or better yet, "people" to mean "straight cis middle class white men", or, as you have mentioned in the past "American novels" to mean "books written by straight cis middle class white men"....)

So. All I am objecting to is your decision that Steampunk is just the novels, because, given the timing (and the upswell of POC-conversation that was happening with the Tor.com blogs) that is incredibly erasing of the work that's being done right now, in the barrage of posts you are complaining about.

In a few years, when this post-colonialist coming-together is not brand-new, it may well be much more reasonable. Right now it's harmful to us.

Re: Lemme try that again...

Then for that I apologize.

I don't think I'm saying half of what you think I'm saying, but I suspect you're right and we're talking past each other at this point.

Re: Lemme try that again...

Apologies for putting words in your mouth; what I meant was not "you're saying X" but "you're communicating X here given the cultural norms we're working with."

And insofar as any apology's needed on your part, totally accepted, though I don't think you need to -- working out hard things is hard.

And I need to figure out how to say what I'm thinking in a way that communicates it better.

I wonder if you realize just how erasing this is of People of Color who use steampunk to pull apart the inevitable-colonialism narrative?

THIS.

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