Thursday, 28 January 2010

How wise we are in the full blush of ignorance

I think I'm going to have to come clean about Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's Steampunk. I'm more of a lifestyler than a fan of the literary side of things, and there's an increasing gap between the British and US scenes. I need--no, I want to get into the literary and aesthetic side of Steampunk. I at least want to understand the mainstream literary Steampunk. I'm a writer, I'm a Steampunk, and it's foolish to be in ignorance of what else is happening around me.

The problem with a lot of the things which seem to be coming out the US of late is that they somehow don't seem to 'get' my idea of Steampunk. Look at Abney Park: They're selling pre-made, leather 'high-altitude masks' on their website. Captain Robert, their lead singer, is winning a popularity poll for Steampunks for, 'making Steampunk sexy'. In short, it's all steam and no punk.

I thought the VanderMeer's anthology would be more of the same.


Let me quote a bit from Jess Nevin's wonderful introduction (which I read while sitting in Speaker's Corner on a Sunday morning):
“Steampunk, like all good punk, rebels against the system it portrays (Victorian London or something quiet like it), critiquing its treatment of the underclass, its validation of the privileged at the cost of everyone else, its lack of mercy, its cutthroat capitalism. Like the punks streampunk rarely offers a solution to the problems is decries--for steampunk, there is no solution...”

Maybe one day, I'll learn to control my expectations before I judge. I'm about half-way through, and already I've got an awful lot of food for thought. I've been made to pause at least once and think, 'what's that doing in here? That's not Steampunk', only to go away, think about it, and realise it's probably the most Steampunk story of the collection so far.

I've mentioned Jeste der Vries' Shine Anthology before. I love the fact he's going out of his way to find positive SF. The tendency for SF these days is to be all doom and gloom, and it gets on my wick. I don't want to read stories about how climate change is going to kill us all and it's all our own fault, no matter how well-written they are. 'Humanity is going to kill itself through its own arrogance, short-sightedness and greed' is a tired old sci-fi trope, and I much prefer it explored through the Cold War.

He's made me go away, and look at the things I'm writing. Am I wallowing, or am I trying to do something positive? When critiquing someone's writing or ideas, I don't like to point out problems without offering solutions.

Let me quote a little more from Jess Nevin:
“But most second generation steampunk is not true steampunk--there is little to nothing 'punk' about it. The politics of the punk position have largely disappeared from second generation steampunk, and most of it is more accurately described as 'steam sci-fi' or, following John Clute, 'gaslight romance'.”

So let me introduce third generation Steampunk: Steampunk with solutions. Steampunk written by people of China, India, Tieland, Mexico and everywhere else in the world that deals with the issues they have to fight with a thousand miles geographically, culturally and socially from Victorian London as well as we British with our issues. And Steampunk that sees hope on the horizon. We're not just writers; we're environmentalists, activists, anarchists, makers and a dozen-and-a-half other things. Our solutions runneth over. Us writers, we've got to stress-test them, try and break them and then try to fix them.

No comments: