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Steampunk Reloaded
c is for cat
Yeah, so, not feeling quite as great about that steampunk post on the other side of a good night's sleep. Possibly was a little rough.I was just so tired of talking about practically nothing else, whether it was positive or negative. A little voice in the back of my head said do not post this, there is no way your friends will not think it's about them and their books even though it isn't, and well, angel on the right shoulder FAIL.

I think the most important thing for me to come out of that conversation for me was asking tithenai  why steampunk was so important that it, unlike any other subgenre, deserved all the specially-created space to work itself out. We aren't worried that if vampire fiction doesn't get lots of devoted time on every website, it won't mature as a genre and find its way--and dissing vampire fiction is like the internet's hobby. Ditto with almost anything I can think to slot in there. Some of it is that 24/7 internet news cycle, which is what I really meant to talk about and went off message a bit. But some of it is that steampunk IS being treated specially.

Her answer was that no other genre has so much potential yet is so very problematic. I can almost agree. I'm sure one more potetial-stuffed and problematic will come along. It is perhaps that the other ones that fulfill those needs, like cyberpunk (I think it has equal race, class, and gender issues) is not cool anymore, so people aren't engaging with it the same way they do with the Current Big Thing.

Because there is this underlying idea that steampunk is Important. I am hardly the first to spill ink on it, even this week. And I wonder why.

(It's been asked that we talk about something else now. Like space stations. Comments are, in addition to replying to this post, an open thread for spaceship/station/pony talk.)

I wound up deleting my comment, but I am with you on the frustration, and the desire for more substance. I think that the big deal with steampunk is that because of the baggage (empire, genocide, colonialism) a lot of people are holding their breath and treading carefully, waiting for the fail to blow up. It's a time bomb that a lot of people are trying to figure out how to defuse...

That said, as much as I like steampunk, I am hoping it will cool a little, so that other things I love also have room to breathe.

Can we talk about something else? Do you think space stations might be like islands, in the ways in which they view community and outsiders?

Edited at 2010-11-04 03:12 pm (UTC)

Oh, I think so, yes. I mean, it doesn't even take an island for humans to start acting like that. Our island is barely a mile from the mainland and we are very wound up in our islander not portlander identity.

Who is saying that Steampunk is Important? Because I am missing this conversation.

I'm into Steampunk. I'm into Steampunk because it's fun and frivolous and I can put together awesome and creative costumes, and I like long full swishy skirts and have a great figure for Victorian corsets. I read some of the fiction, but generally only the stuff that looks interesting in addition to being Steampunk. I'm baffled by the idea that ANYONE thinks it's Important.

Well, some people do. But as I said, no other genre gets the special treatment right now, so it must be important somehow.

Because there is this underlying idea that steampunk is Important. I am hardly the first to spill ink on it, even this week. And I wonder why.

Last night you alluded to the "maker" culture that arose and has been concurrently arising with SP, and I think that has a lot to do with it. There is this sense that steampunk, at its absolute best, can provide you with a way to make a world into the shape that you want it, with your own hands, knowledge, and friends. That the world can be fantastical, and adventurous with just a little push, and it has the cool fashion, and the re-imagined history, without all the problematic bits like slavery and brutal class disparity and women being relegated to an abominable societal place.

But when we get past all that (Yes, I know), it's just so full of hope and Promise. Promise that we can remake the world, that we can be the Inspiring Speculative Fiction that we were meant to be, and that finally-- Finally!-- the whole world will recognise us for what we are.

That would be my guess.

I wish I had just waited for you to write this and cosigned it than made my own clunky comment, because you hit a lot closer to the heart of what I wanted to say than I did.

Well, it might be difficult allocating enough living space and resources to have a pony on a space station.

OTOH, way back in the last millennium, I read a book about a generation ship(?) where instead of dogs and cats as pets, they used miniature horses because of the added benefits that they could crop the grass, lived longer, and didn't eat meat.

So, you know, we can have ponies on space stations, but you have to tweak the setting details just right.

Hey, in 3001: The Final Odyssey there was a genetically engineered velociraptor on a space station. (Bad novel, and I say that as a near-lifelong lover of the work of Arthur C. Clarke, but hey! Dinosaurs!) So I'm fine with ponies on space stations. cleolinda could have them on The Secret Life of Dolls: The Next Generation. :-D

I remember when goth was the up and coming thing, it seemed to go through the same thing, going from grass roots to mainstream to Final Topic or whatever it is and then sort of settling. It was everywhere, cheap, commercial, annoying.

Just write what you want to write. It's fine by me if steampunk is overdone for you. I came here for the fantasy, and fantasy has a lot of different facets beyond steampunk. ;)

And me, personally, I put dinosaurs and fairy folk on space station because I like to make people ask my mother if I was ever dropped on my head. (...Yes)

I missed tithenai's contribution to the discussion, and, as per usual when missing and tithenai are involved in the same sentence, am sorry I did. I think her point was really insightful and your counterpoint equally so.

I also empathize with blogging hangover.

Cyberpunk isn't cool anymore; I think the reason for that is that we largely got to that future. Sure, no head-jacks, but the parts that were important to the culture (at least for the consumers of the fiction) - corporate ubiquity, 24/7 media cycles, social connections over electronic media.

I think the other thing is that steampunk has a stronger aesthetic than cyberpunk ever did. It's got a lot more potential as a visual medium, as a costuming medium, as a craft medium than cyberpunk, even if, as a literary medium, it hasn't borne the fruit that cyberpunk did (and it may not - and no, I'm not helping either). As a visual aesthetic I can see it aging to kitschy, where cyberpunk just got dated. To my eyes, anyway.

And while I'm dispensing uninformed opinions, in a way, I would argue vampire fiction did sort of get its space and aesthetic ... I don't know, boost in the late 80s to the mid 90s; it just escaped the **the full force of the** used-up feeling because it wasn't contingent on anything that ever became a reality in our world. Also, it jumped fully from goth to romance, which was, as problematic as that is, probably a smart move.

All that said, there is definitely an element of faddishness in there that drags on what innovation you can find and could drown the whole thing. Also, I am totally post-zombie.

Edited at 2010-11-04 03:38 pm (UTC)

Vampire fiction has baggage, sex and violence, but I think people realize it is possible to tell stories about vampires without glorifying death, rape, violence and torture.

Medieval reenactment comes with baggage, too, but very few people worry that medieval reenactors think that we ought to have another Inquisition, or that another Crusade would be a super-awesome idea. (and the medievalists have had some time to play at genre... a 100 or so years)

Victorian fail is recent, the wounds inflicted by Victorian people have barely been treated, let alone had time to heal. The worst ideas, about race, about gender about who should be considered "people" are still in current usage, so a genre that calls back to them is something a lot of people are wary of. There's a lot of concern about how do we do this right... how do we talk about the love and wonder of exploration, without acknowledging what happened to the people who lived in lands that were "discovered" and "explored". How do you talk about how wonderful machines are, when factories run on the work of children and made a few families rich while keeping thousands in desperate poverty (and still do). How do you play at being a naturalist or engineer, when you are working in a culture in which education is a sign of privledge. It would be so easy to do this badly.... and there is tension, because many people think the best way to deal with all of this is to pretend it isn't there.

Ponies on space stations!!! Yay!

The feeling that it is Important comes in large degree from the magnification of its images, spurred on by the aesthetic and its embrace by a very demonstrative community. And to me, the fact that it is in many ways so surface-oriented, so bundled with escapism and idealism simultaneously, and yet full of potential for subversion is what makes it, well, not worth embracing, but worth interrogating.

That said, space ponies are vastly underrated. While in some ways impractical in space, they would be quite the status symbol and perhaps even a moneymaker as every kid on the station would want it at their birthday party,and even adults struggling with the complications of living in space might find comfort from one. What space station would not benefit from a small petting zoo?

AND you could play with ideas of suburban ideals, the bourgeois notion that all kids WANT a pony at their birthday party, etc.

In fact, it might be fun to write a story about the kid who did not want the pony at their party and the weird scandal that follows.

Keep it in Perspective, Lady Scrivener: You didn't suggest that the Googled-Ones are second class citizens or get any Con invites rescinded. You're well on the safe side. :-D

The thing that I thought of when I read "space ponies" was, more or less, "single-person ships with horse-like AI, i.e. a bit ornery and needing to be persuaded/tamed and perhaps, since this is Space, they are semi-self-replicable so that you get herds of wild spaceships running around and Space Cowboys capture and tame and breed them and OMG I WANT TO READ THAT BOOK"

And then I looked at the other comments and felt weird.

I think Space Ponies would be the great glamrock fantasy novel. Imagine-Bowie, feminism, gender fluidity, massive amounts of drugs and glitter (or just glittery drugs), amazing makeup, undermining heteronormative culture...

Now I really want to read this.

I'm not sure it has all this untapped potential. It has a strong (but very narrow) visual style, and that's it. Everything else is colonialism or gung-ho adventure, but there's nothing that is an indivisible part of Steampunk. The characters could be in any genre, as long as they are airship captains.

What is it going to bring that Cyberpunk doesn't? A setting where there are still parts of the planet left to explore, reigniting our sense of wonder and discovery? Not really - half the stories are set in the future with the planet fully known.

I just don't see it as a story with anything to say, beyond the conflicts you could put humans into in any other setting. I *like* the nostalgia, the cogs and the brass portholes... but I'm not expecting a definitive work, because I can't imagine what new things about the human condition it might include. At least cyberpunk had machine/human interface and ultra population density tropes to explore.

(Help me out, LJ - what have I missed in the current Steampunk fiction?)

My Little Space Station
My Little Space Station

ahhh I love it!

It's Biggles without the Imperialism...

Cool inventions, derring do in a world where you can't just pick up a satellite phone. What's not to like?

But if you didn't lock the post and vape the comments, you are so far ahead of the game it ain't funny.

Me? I'm still chortling over the comment waaaay back in the day about how bad Star Trek fan fic was because some bright penny wrote horses onto the Enterprise! HORSES! OH DEAR GHAAADS.

And then Next Gen comes along and oh look - Captain Picard on a horse. Whoda thunk it.

I think the comment about it having a lot of potential but being highly problematic at the same time is very perceptive - I don't know if I'd go so far as to say "no other genre..." but I do think there's a valid point there.

As you've said, the Victorian era was far from ideal, and it's way too easy for people to romanticize it in a way that glosses over its ugly side. But at the same time, the whole point of an imagined alternate history is that you can recreate it the way you think it should have been.

Obviously, this can go in multiple directions. On the one hand, people can recreate it in a fairly shallow way, wherein all the unpleasantness is just sort of conveniently not there, and everything is fun and fabulous. This basically turns it into (relatively) harmless escapism, much as the SCA does with the mediaeval era, which also had a lot of distinctly un-fun elements to it in actual history. (The reason I added the "relatively" is because I think that if said escapism causes people to forget completely about the oppressive aspects of the period, some of whose effects are still with us, it ceases to be harmless.)

But on the other hand, it's possible to reimagine it in ways that are subversive and challenging, that empower some of the people who were disempowered in the actual historical period. One way in which that seems to be happening is in the prevalence of women in steampunk, taking a much more active role than most women would have been able to in the actual Victorian era. Another, not as widespread yet but starting to crop up here and there, is putting people of colour into more active roles. Not everyone who does either of these things is doing it in an explicitly political way, though some are. And I'd certainly like to see more of it, specifically more done in ways that are politically informed and not just an instance of "Well, I'm female and/or a PoC and I happen to like this steampunk thing, so I'm going to create a persona and people can just deal" - not that there's anything wrong with that, I'd just like to see it go a little further.

One story I read recently that I thought was a good example of using steampunk in a subversive and challenging was was N.K. Jemisin's "The Effluent Engine" - I'd love to see more like that.

Though I really do understand your regret at the direction in which your previous post ambled, I am also glad you posted it. Not because I wholly agree with the perspective you presented, but because of all the conversations that are happening as a result. I'm sure they've happened elsewhere, but since I'm not as heavily involved in some of the communities that might be discussing them I haven't seen them yet.

In addition, I'm just finding that people are writing the kind of steampunk that I'd like to read - it's being deconstructed and mucked about and reclaimed - and that makes me quite excited about the possibilities.

Can there be ponies ON the space station?

I would read that. At least twice.

I don't blame you for the rant. There are times when yes, it does get annoying. But then, there are times when it's fun. Moderation is the key here. The problem is it is going mainstream too fast.

Now for a change of subject....

My Little Space Pony! With Additional space helmet and space suit!

Can I have space to work out ancient Athenian urban fantasy?

I strongly suspect that one of the reasons steampunk is getting a lot of attention on big, high-traffic blogs is that it's so easy to get ahold of interesting art. Whatever else the subgenre is, it's visually arresting, and I suspect it draws in readers.

Text is easy to come by, but the costumes, gadgets and so on readily catch peoples' attention.

The new kids channel on cable tv, HUB, is showing My Little Pony Friendship cartoons. Along with Fraggle Rock and Deltora. Lots of classic stuff.

Space stations made me a writer. I'd written stuff for decades -- never showed anyone. Then a friend of a friend had a small press and had a SF short story contest with a Space Station theme and I said, "I have a space station story!"

That was my first submission, in June 2002. First time I'd released a story into the wild. Then I started looking for other places to send stories.

Of course that contest folded because I was like one of the only entries. (grin) But that story did help get me into Clarion in 2004 and it finally sold in 2008.

As for Steampunk, I read my "Zeppelin Police Department" short story at WindyCon last year and the audience liked it, but it hasn't sold yet.

No pony stories -- sorry.

Dr. Phil

I also many times over second Space Ponies. I would read that in a heartbeat. *says the unrepetant lover of Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley*


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