For some reason, I get a very visceral reaction when I tell people that my books are steampunk. Either the person says, “Eh? or “Ooh!”
The genre has been typecast by its own recurring themes. Airships, of course, are the image that come to mind first. So are brass goggles, small hats, women in corsets, and lots of gears, of course.
I prefer to move beyond these. Writers like SM Reine, in 19 Dragons, created new worlds and beautiful writing by pushing the edge of the envelope. And the women in corsets and airships seem to be appearing more and more in bad erotica. Not that there is anything WRONG with that, but I would hate for the genre to become something that is easily copied and just as readily lampooned.
I see it happening already. A game came out a few months ago that billed itself as “steampunk.” I tried it out and found that what made it “steampunk” was not good gameplay or creative writing but simply a faux-Victorian cast with loads of airships floating overhead. It came and went, waved on its way by a host of bad, jeering reviews.
We can do better than that. I’m excited by ideas of roaming automotons taking the place of zombies. Biotechnics leads to half-human, half-wind up sentients who develop their own personalities.
In Twitter discussions I’ve seen hosts of incredibly inventive ideas – laboratories that lie underwater and that can only be accessed by careful study of tide charts, trained cephalopods that are trained to wreak havoc or save lives… Imagine those in a game, and think how engaging that would be.
Steampunk has led to Dieselpunk, to Sandalpunk, even Reeferpunk. I find these genres exciting as well, although I do think that they could also be symptomatic of a search for new ideas.
In order for a book to be true “punk,” then, let us agree that it must be well written. That is the bottom line. Airships and automotons cannot disguise poor grammar and bad editing, nor can they hide cardboard characters and wooden dialogue.
Diesel, Sandal, or Steam – the punk must be human. It must be witty. It must be well written. After that, by all means, release the airships and fire up the automotons.
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