In his post, Stross attempts to eviscerate the Steampunk genre, but comes off sounding more like an angry curmudgeon who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about… (Authors Jeff VanderMeer and Tobias Buckell respond to Stross’ post here and here, and Steampunk novel writer Scott Westerfeld’s reply here.) But he does make some good points, and they coincide largely with points that I made in my “Steampunk Society” article: that point being that the reality of the era from which Steampunk takes its inspiration is anything but ideal or utopic. But, whereas he finds in this fact a condemnation of the Steampunk genre, I find it a matter of praise: that Steampunk as a genre embraces an era of gritty dystopianism and finds in it cause for optimism. In my article, I felt I made clear that I see a lot of potential in a full exploration of the themes of social and class upheaval that are part of the bundle that comes with Steampunk.
Charlie’s problem, apparently, is that a lot of Steampunk eschews this conflict-rich thematic approach for an “oh, aren’t gears and cogs and springs and brass just so sexy” (which, yes, they are… but that’s not the whole point) approach that tends to linger over-long on the gentlemanly adventures of the upper class without ever straying into the real and hard challenges of the lower classes. It’s steampunk with polished brass, where the brass never needs polishing because it never gets dirty. Admittedly, I have never read this kind of steampunk, what I have mentally taken to calling “Steampunk-light”, and I don’t intend to start.
The result of Stross’ post was to lead me to reread my Steampunk entry… and to lead me to muse further on the topic.
I still believe that my fundamental thesis is sound and correct. But, I think I can do a better job of defending that thesis. I think I can improve upon that article. I think I will improve upon that article. But it won’t be today.
The new, better article would be better-sourced, with more links, more references to existing works in the genre, both historical and modern, and a more thorough analysis thereof. I won’t say that it would be the definitive article on the topic… but it’ll be a sight better than what I wrote previously, which I thought was pretty good at the time. Would there be any interest in this?