Dieselpunks

Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

Added by Alexandra Victoria Hollingshead


Hello. New to the site, but a long time steampunk and enthusiast of dieselpunk. In order to set myself up here on your lovely site, I thought I would add something I have been working on for a bit in regards to the *punk aesthetics in media (literature or film) and the problems with it.


Steampunk is defined, in the most general of ways, as the use of steam technology in a manner never accomplished by those who used it as the dominant form of technology. In short, it is the anachronistic application of era technology. It is in this sense that steampunk is not unlike fantasy in its application to a media: it is less of a genre than it is an aesthetic. It is the difference between an adventure in medieval England without a dragon, and that same adventure with one. Yes, it may create a secondary conflict, but in general, these conflicts are arbitrary. The story centers around the adventure, the romance, the drama - first and foremost, that is the genre. The same can be said of steampunk. It is, first and foremost, a romance or adventure in the Victorian era, with anachronistic technology applied for additional aesthetic. This lends itself to a similar fallacy as the fantasy genre, and that is this focus on appearance and escapism.


Fantasy is, in the eyes of many critics, a discredited genre because the greater majority of the genre focuses on flowery languages describing gorgeous elves with flowing blonde locks, magnificent landscapes which stretch across all that one can see without a city in sight, and the glistening of a vampire's graciously sculpted chest. I read a great deal of *punk fiction and I find that this is becoming true of the genre. We have exceptions, of course, from authors who are not exclusively oriented towards steampunk; there are one or two authors who do this magnificently well, although the reasons will be expanded upon soon. But, for the most part, steampunk fiction is the same generic handful of stories mixed in with equally flowery and elegant descriptions of glorious airships soaring through the smoggy skies and gratuitous detail on a character's deliciously steamy outfits.


Certainly, though, one can focus on description without sacrificing story. China Miéville oftentimes spends pages describing a scene in gross detail, but I do believe that adjective is where the difference lies. He doesn't spend his time describing things that the readers understand and accept; he doesn't write odes on the curvaceousness of a well-rounded cog because a great deal of his readership knows what a cog looks like. No, he spends his time amassing details of horrific sights we could not imagine, of scenes impossible to describe in less words, of things never seen on Earth. Once again likening the genre to fantasy, a good fantasy writer may spend a page describing the innards of a foul dragon who has swallowed our hero, burning his flesh and detailing the pain. A bad one will spend her time describing the cave it lived in.


This often leads to a sacrifice in quality. If your story has a Wild Wild West-esque mechanical spider, it will be enjoyed by a great deal of the community in spite of any issues it has in regards to writing, acting, etc. Indeed, Wild Wild West (1999) itself is an excellent example of this. Great machines, strong aesthetic, lots of stuff to enjoy... but the story was weak, the acting was terrible, and the dialogue deserves a second post of analyzing just to encompass how awful it really was. It had no real substance, it was just nice to look at. If that had been a fantasy film, it would have already faded into obscurity, never to be dredged up again. Instead, it is considered on of the staples of an entire genre.


It is for this reason that I believe steampunk cannot achieve true success as a genre. It is rare to find a book that is reacting to steampunk consciously that doesn't have an airship, a man wearing goggles, and/or a gratuitous number of cogs on the cover. Aside from that one blue color frequently seen in Twilight, few other colors even grace the covers aside from the typical sepia tones. I might go so far as to say that if, when you look at the cover of a book, you can tell it is going to be steampunk, it is almost guaranteed to be mediocre. I mean no offense to any author in particular, but it is true. Most of the novels which succeed within the genre are the earliest examples, written before the idea of steampunk was truly solidified, or are clearly written by those unaware of the genre in its fullest form. They are not reacting to steampunk as it exists now, they are instead reacting to the same aesthetics that Moorcock and Blaylock reacted to when they paved the way for the genre.


Will this inevitably fix itself? It may, depending on how long steampunk lasts. Certainly, as a genre, it will have difficulty lasting that long if the works turned out are typically sub par. Nonetheless, for any prospective authors in the group, I do have a few suggestions as to writing a story which will really work and resonate with those who may not simply enjoy reading about thrusting pistons and turning gears.


1) Remember the first rule of writing: everything must be relevant to and further the story. If you would like to write a *punk story, come up with a story that makes this a necessity or otherwise has an appeal. Give the readers a reason to absorb the setting, make the setting a character, if you will, that we are invested in. Spare us what doesn't matter and build up a world where your factories mean something. It can be anything, really. It can reflect on the state of the world, it can reflect on the state of the character, it can be the scene of a battle - the villain drills a rusty rivet into the hero's skull. You can include the aesthetic, but make it count for something, don't just drift off into scenery porn. Story always comes first; no exceptions.


2) You get to use the following words three times per novel: bronze (synonyms count: chocolate, chestnut, brown, sepia, etc.), gear(/cog), and goggles. Airship may only be used once if the story does not take place on an airship at any point. If you ever use any brown!synonym, even one, you are required to use at least two words describing another color of your choice (excluding black/white/gray). Blood red and Twilight blue may or may not count, depending on how many times you used a brown.


3) Goggles which serve no function; gratuitous gears; top hats and monocles worn with street clothes. It might be acceptable in the subculture, but if you are writing a book, please consider realism. Nobody wears goggles unless they need to protect their eyes from something; unless you make gears an honest fashion in your world, nobody will be wearing them (and if it IS a fashion, one would think only the wealthy do so). Again, aesthetics come second to story (and practicality).


4) Please use a different story line. Steampunk is burdened with a limited range of stories, and most of the characters fit into one of maybe six types. An adventurer (usually a submariner or airship pirate), an orphan (either through parentage, or by society), the aristocrat (often the villain, or just snobbish), a mad scientist, a mechanic or engineer, and perhaps a scholarly sort. If you want to include these guys, at least vary them up a little; ideally, though, consider a few different character types to center your story around. The stories, too, are limited - perhaps because so few types of characters get the spot light. Just something to consider.


5) Read Verne. Read Wells. Read Lovecraft, Dickens, Austen, Poe. Read the classics of the genre instead of the reactions to them, because really, there is no adequate reason not to.

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I am well aware of how the publishing industry works, but steampunk - as it exists today - is often self-published or published by "steampunk" groups in the first place. Yes, as it has increased in popularity, there has been a rise in standard publication for the subgenre (a term which is just as arbitrary as genre, obviously, but nonetheless, strictly a more accurate term, I will agree). Not to say I am a fan of genres as a concept; indeed, I recently wrote a blog post (at my main blog) about the problem with genres in the first place and why the publishing industry is hindering one's ability to break out of this very pattern. However, steampunk is unique because of its niche subcultural attachment. For the most part, steampunk novels just need a review on Brass Goggles and a bit of viral posting and it'll be bought up by the community; for the most part, steampunk novels appeal to those who already belong to the community. That is the problem I see with it, though I am sure there are certainly some people who don't already like steampunk who enjoy reading about goggles for twenty paragraphs (for some reason).

It does get old to see the bad guys lose and the good guys have a happy ending - that is why there are thousands of books where the bad guy wins, or he loses but its a Pyrrhic victory for the good guys, or something happens to otherwise leave the bittersweet taste at the end. People who just joined the steampunk community only have a hundred other books published in the past decade to read through if they want to catch up on the airships and goggles one expects from the genre, there is no adequate reason for us to keep publishing the exact same thing over and over again.

Besides which, I don't particularly care if this sort of steampunk still exists. There is still fantasy being published that has dragons and elves and nothing new or interesting to it at all, but people who have been reading fantasy for a while can ignore it and still find plenty of books which have the elves being rugged or ugly, or have the dragons mean something symbolically. Something more. It isn't mainstream, and that is arguably a severe problem for those who desire recognition, but you'll still have a market and you can still get published. Steampunk exists in this weird state where little of what is being turned out, if anything at all some years, is really worth reading if you know what to expect from the genre. Sure, maybe somebody who is writing it has some actual talent, but odds are it will be spent on gratuitous description. The short of it all is that steampunk is a very small subgenre with a very niche market, and that writers are writing the same exact thing over and over again.

Also, that 37-plots thing is silly. Of course if you boil it down enough, all stories can be summarized into about two plots. That doesn't alter the fact that there is more variety in the potential plots than there are books published in the history of mankind. And some stories don't have plots, for better or for worse, which sort of negates the concept.

Athenaprime said:
Steampunk should be more accurately termed as a "subgenre." Genre applies more to the type of story being told than the milieu in which it is told. There are steampunk romances, steampunk science fiction, steampunk fantasy, steampunk mystery, etc.
Genre itself is something of an arbitrary creation. How do you define genre? Is it by where a story is shelved in the bookstore? The library? By what it says on the spine or the inside cover flap?

"Steampunk" as a subgenre is going to feature airships and goggles for quite some time, because those are the most recognizable icons of the emergent body of works. Many stories will feature them, some more prominently than others, and some will do a better job of it than others. It will also feature tried-and-true storylines because, quite frankly, that's what people like to read. It never gets old to see the bad guys get theirs in the end, and it never gets old to see the hero and heroine end up happy. There are only about 37 plots in all of fiction, and steampunk is only one of many milieus in which to tell them.

Commercial publishing (which is where you'll see the bulk of the stories--the bulk of any trending subject matter of stories, really) exists to sell as many books to as many people as possible, which means that the most recognizable elements--the ones already considered cliche and de riguere by the early adopters--are going to be used not to preach to the choir, but to attract the converts. So while one might already find the airships and goggles tiresome, there are about twenty more who haven't yet encountered anything like it, but will be intrigued by this one book that you might find tiresome.

--Athena


Piechur said:
Alexandra Victoria Hollingshead said:
It is for this reason that I believe steampunk cannot achieve true success as a genre. It is rare to find a book that is reacting to steampunk consciously that doesn't have an airship, a man wearing goggles, and/or a gratuitous number of cogs on the cover.

It is also rare to find a fantasy book without a sword, a horse, a castle or a dragon on the cover. Does it mean that fantasy cannot achieve true success as a genre? It's funny when people use fallacy to expose a fallacy.

BTW, Thanks for the advice on writing, but I have to ask you - are you an expert: a writer, an editor, a publisher or a scholar?
Fantasy, as it is a somewhat larger genre, has a great deal of stories without swords, horses, castles, and dragons. Might I point out that, loathe it though I do, Twilight is a fantasy story. It has vampires and werewolves and shapeshifters and probably far more than Bella ever sees. Fantasy is, of course, millennia older than steampunk (and, indeed, the Victorian era), and do not think I have no problems with the fantasy genre either, but that isn't particularly related to the topic of this forum.

As for writing, I am a published poet and have been working on a novel for a couple of years. Probably going to be an editor once I have finished my studies, as little else can be done with a degree in period literature but teach, edit, and write - and let's face it, the last one doesn't guarantee profit. I'd hardly consider myself a scholar on the subject, but I do have a scholarly interest in Victorian literature (I'd bargain that there's few pieces I haven't read, particularly from the fantasy and scientific romance subgenres) and I've been into steampunk for enough years to know what to expect from the literature. Consider me one-who-spends-all-of-their-time-and-money-collecting-and-reading-Victorian-and-NeoVictorian-literature (as well as any speculative fiction predating it), but I'm only half-way through getting the degree to justify the claim of "expert". Still, a four-digit collection of books should count for something.

Piechur said:
Alexandra Victoria Hollingshead said:
It is for this reason that I believe steampunk cannot achieve true success as a genre. It is rare to find a book that is reacting to steampunk consciously that doesn't have an airship, a man wearing goggles, and/or a gratuitous number of cogs on the cover.

It is also rare to find a fantasy book without a sword, a horse, a castle or a dragon on the cover. Does it mean that fantasy cannot achieve true success as a genre? It's funny when people use fallacy to expose a fallacy.

BTW, Thanks for the advice on writing, but I have to ask you - are you an expert: a writer, an editor, a publisher or a scholar?
@Piechur

You are to respect all members of this website and treat them as you wish to be treated, or you will be ejected.

This is your first and only warning. Am I clear?

-Tome
Piechur said:
Athenaprime said:
Genre applies more to the type of story being told than the milieu in which it is told. There are steampunk romances, steampunk science fiction, steampunk fantasy, steampunk mystery, etc.
Nope. Read Chandler's "An Introduction to Genre Theory"

Yep. If you are standing in a bookstore and looking for a book to read, there are practical directions that will lead you to specific areas of that bookstore. I believe Chandler's work covers much more than the simple practical application of where to find a steampunk book.
I'mma try to address your points as they come and not screw up the blockquotes in the process... ;)

Alexandra Victoria Hollingshead said:
I am well aware of how the publishing industry works, but steampunk - as it exists today - is often self-published or published by "steampunk" groups in the first place. Yes, as it has increased in popularity, there has been a rise in standard publication for the subgenre (a term which is just as arbitrary as genre, obviously, but nonetheless, strictly a more accurate term, I will agree). Not to say I am a fan of genres as a concept; indeed, I recently wrote a blog post (at my main blog) about the problem with genres in the first place and why the publishing industry is hindering one's ability to break out of this very pattern. However, steampunk is unique because of its niche subcultural attachment. For the most part, steampunk novels just need a review on Brass Goggles and a bit of viral posting and it'll be bought up by the community; for the most part, steampunk novels appeal to those who already belong to the community. That is the problem I see with it, though I am sure there are certainly some people who don't already like steampunk who enjoy reading about goggles for twenty paragraphs (for some reason).

I can't see reading about goggles for more than two paragraphs. Is your issue then, the fact that a mention at BG confers the impression of legitimacy that is independent of storytelling quality? Or is it that the subculture is being marketed to?

Also, I would submit that steampunk is not unique to having a subculture--there are other literary strains that have their subcultures--SF fandom is the grand-daddy that comes to mind, but to go with more specific popular themes, vampire fiction has had its own subculture (with a significant portion of it gnashing its teeth over Twilight).

It does get old to see the bad guys lose and the good guys have a happy ending - that is why there are thousands of books where the bad guy wins, or he loses but its a Pyrrhic victory for the good guys, or something happens to otherwise leave the bittersweet taste at the end. People who just joined the steampunk community only have a hundred other books published in the past decade to read through if they want to catch up on the airships and goggles one expects from the genre, there is no adequate reason for us to keep publishing the exact same thing over and over again.

There's one very good reason to do so: It Sells. I have been a professional writer for fifteen years. I've written a dozen full-length novels, a handful of novellas, another scant handful of short stories and probably a couple hundred starts, proposals, outlines, or lame ideas that didn't get past one scene. I've also worked on the other end of things for a hundred-year-old publishing house, and as a freelance editor for some self-published works written by authors who weren't getting a shake from the traditional venues. So I speak from experience when I say that publishers want to publish books that people will buy. If people want airships and goggles, then that's what the editors want. It's what the bookstores want, and it's what the writers who want to continue eating will write. Some of us will be lucky and end up writing something that we love *and* is hot or trending upward. Some of us will not, in which case we wait ten years (publishing goes in cycles) and work on something else while we wait.

Besides which, I don't particularly care if this sort of steampunk still exists. There is still fantasy being published that has dragons and elves and nothing new or interesting to it at all, but people who have been reading fantasy for a while can ignore it and still find plenty of books which have the elves being rugged or ugly, or have the dragons mean something symbolically. Something more. It isn't mainstream, and that is arguably a severe problem for those who desire recognition, but you'll still have a market and you can still get published. Steampunk exists in this weird state where little of what is being turned out, if anything at all some years, is really worth reading if you know what to expect from the genre. Sure, maybe somebody who is writing it has some actual talent, but odds are it will be spent on gratuitous description. The short of it all is that steampunk is a very small subgenre with a very niche market, and that writers are writing the same exact thing over and over again.

Reading enjoyment is going to be in the eye of the beholder (bereader?). There will always be a market for good stories, well-told, that hit the right desk at the right time, and the right shelf at the right time, and the right note with people at the right time. But there's a large audience that finds entertainment in the pretty elves and dragons, or the goggles and airships, and that's okay. People are allowed to find comfort and entertainment in things that meet their expectations.

I'll share something that the romance genre takes as a given. Now you may turn your nose up at romance (we're quite used to it) for being formulaic, or repetitive or "conventional" (all these things can be refuted but are tangential), but we do have one significant experience that bears sharing, and remembering. Sometimes, a book that suggests a certain type of story with a certain setting and typical characters is the *only* thing in a reader's life that *is* something she can count on. If your book is that book, you are on the side of the angels, and the rest falls away.


Also, that 37-plots thing is silly. Of course if you boil it down enough, all stories can be summarized into about two plots. That doesn't alter the fact that there is more variety in the potential plots than there are books published in the history of mankind. And some stories don't have plots, for better or for worse, which sort of negates the concept.

I didn't invent the 37 plots (or dramatic situations)--they're older than I am, and come from classical lit, so blame the Greeks, if you must. ;) You may twist them at will, just as you may use character archetypes to build characters (the unique development of which makes the satisfying read). It's up to the writer to put the unique spin or twist on the tried-and-true. Some spins are too unique to resonate with many people--those stories will have a harder time getting out.

--Athena
I am not as familiar with this coding, so I am just going to address it on a paragraph-to-paragraph basis. Hope you can follow it, as I am sure I deviated from the format at some point. /failure.

Steampunk, I would argue, has a significant subculture in comparison to others. You have a few strange examples of people who live as "vampires" and drink "blood" and wear fake fangs (or, worse, get their teeth shaped as such), but for the most part, your average Twilight fan is just a regular teenage girl, maybe a member of the "gothic" subculture. It isn't as inherently tied in as the others, though. Gothic subculture, also, is tied to music, rather than the literature (though they are all interrelated) - I am sure someone there is making similar arguments about goth music as I am about steampunk literature. Steampunk has, I would argue, one of the largest proportions of people who are fans of the aesthetic as there are people who "live" it (or at least would like to think they do). Of course, there are other examples - Trekkies are a notable one - but that is rather fandom-centric. Were I a member of another group, however, I am sure I would be making these exact same complaints if there literature is equally unified in its blandness. I just don't particularly care as much.

As a writer myself, I certainly have churned out a few pieces of trite crap because I knew it would sell, but that's because I needed money. I accept that, certainly, anyone who is aiming to write professionally should at least start out with whatever's popular and wait until they have a name for themselves before they sell something more esoteric. However, and this is a big part of my point (and answering your previous question), steampunk very much appeals to a small market anyway. If you are writing for the steampunk market, odds are very high that all you require is for one person to call it steampunk and the rest of the community will buy it. Steampunk, right now, does not have a full mainstream appeal. Consider all of the books (and cinema, for that matter) which are appreciated by people outside of the community that steampunks still embrace. Most of them are the early works, before steampunk was really defined, or they are by otherwise established authors. Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan", for instance, is well-appreciated in the community, but the author is also an established YA author with a dedicated fanbase. Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is another such example.

Also, I do believe there is an article I read recently that is rather relevant to the discussion of publication. Ah yes, here we are. I rather agree with this, though I don't like all of the implications that come with it (as the future of editing could take a ghastly turn if this comes to pass, and as an aspiring editor [and one who works on it from time-to-time even now, although mostly on essays rather than fiction] I find it rather unpleasant to think about). Not to mention the distinct possibility that printed books could decrease in popularity... but that is another discussion entirely.

To clarify my issue, I would say that the problem I find is that most steampunk is written for the steampunk community, in spite of the fact that most of the best steampunk was written for the mainstream or an otherwise non-specified audience, and merely applies the aesthetic in a highly successful fashion. Again, I am not saying ALL steampunk cannot have airships and goggles and brass, but instead it would be more useful for the sake of variety that people attempt to write steampunk with a mainstream/different community appeal, as to allow it to evolve and adapt more unique characteristics. Write steampunk for fantasy nerds, for instance, and make it a bunch of brass goggles on blonde elves. At least it would be a little more interesting. Also, it is worth noting that I read literary fiction and "old" literature, so I am rather against any sort of genre and rather prefer my things to have deep meanings and whatnot. So call me biased, I guess. The short of it all really comes down to the fact that steampunk is too small to have much variety at this point, but similarly, if we don't vary it enough it will probably never achieve mainstream success. Bit of a catch-22.

I wrote a 30-page thesis on a similar idea about stories - it was 20 instead of Polti's 36, but the idea was roughly the same. I stand by the idea that it really proves nothing; it is the same reason that I disagree highly with James Campbell's idea of the monomyth. If you boil something down enough, remove everything about it that makes it in any way unique, leave out everything significant about it (the conclusion, the message, etc.), then sure, you can come up with a way to unite these ideas. One could also say that nearly every story that claims to have a plot involves a protagonist who comes to a conflict and is forced to resolve it. But I digress, my issues with Campbell and Polti aren't overtly relevant.

Athenaprime said:
--snipped to keep the page from stretching--
I stand with exactly what I said before because, quite frankly, I don't even really consider "science fiction" or "fantasy" to be a genre in any form outside of marketing. A genre, in my opinion, can be action, adventure, drama, comedy, or something similar - but fantasy cannot exist without one of those. So that merely comes from my opinion on the idea of a genre itself, and I would make the same argument for just about anything which exists mainly to appeal to a market. The terms 'fantasy' and 'steampunk' serve their purpose, of course, because marketability is rather important... but for the writing process, I would certainly not consider them to be of the utmost relevancy.

One could argue that subgenre helps define that, certainly, but no matter what you call it, it still serves the functional purpose of an aesthetic.

Piechur said:
Alexandra Victoria Hollingshead said:
it is less of a genre than it is an aesthetic

You try to copy Mike Perschon's thesis, my dear, but your knowledge is a little bit outdated. Please read his latest post and particularly this comment:

"I agree with your pre-2007 statement about steampunk having been a genre, although I can't say whether I'd agree with the date you give. Due to a number of recent conversations, I'm leaning towards amending my hard-line of steampunk as aesthetic by conceding that, insofar as the literature is concerned, it may indeed be a sub-subgenre."

And what are you gonna say now?
Steampunk, I would argue, has a significant subculture in comparison to others. You have a few strange examples of people who live as "vampires" and drink "blood" and wear fake fangs (or, worse, get their teeth shaped as such), but for the most part, your average Twilight fan is just a regular teenage girl, maybe a member of the "gothic" subculture.

I didn't say sanguinarians. they're probably more of a subset of the BDSM/kink culture than a lit-oriented one, but I'm standing on the outside. I'm talking about the vampire literature...for lack of a better term...fandom (because face it, steampunk is a fandom, too, and that ain't a bad thing).


As a writer myself, I certainly have churned out a few pieces of trite crap because I knew it would sell, but that's because I needed money. I accept that, certainly, anyone who is aiming to write professionally should at least start out with whatever's popular and wait until they have a name for themselves before they sell something more esoteric.

Um...no. Just no. That's not how publishing works. The editors I've had the fortune to work with can tell when a work's creator has respect for it, and when it doesn't, 99.9% of the time, they will pass. Pride in your work equals respect for your audience.

If you cannot respect your craft enough to put forth your best effort, it'll be patently obvious and quite frankly, there are a zillion better ways to make cheap and easy money.

However, and this is a big part of my point (and answering your previous question), steampunk very much appeals to a small market anyway. If you are writing for the steampunk market, odds are very high that all you require is for one person to call it steampunk and the rest of the community will buy it.

Is this somehow a problem? Should there be a council? A litmus test?

Steampunk, right now, does not have a full mainstream appeal. Consider all of the books (and cinema, for that matter) which are appreciated by people outside of the community that steampunks still embrace. Most of them are the early works, before steampunk was really defined, or they are by otherwise established authors. Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan", for instance, is well-appreciated in the community, but the author is also an established YA author with a dedicated fanbase. Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" is another such example.

So are they steampunk authors with mass appeal, or mass appeal authors with steampunk works? ;) And does it matter? Is the point to gate the community before it becomes diluted with mainstream influence, or is the point to bring steampunk into mainstream awareness? Is your chocolate in my peanut butter or is my peanut butter all over your chocolate?


Also, I do believe there is an article I read recently that is rather relevant to the discussion of publication. Ah yes, here we are. I rather agree with this, though I don't like all of the implications that come with it (as the future of editing could take a ghastly turn if this comes to pass, and as an aspiring editor [and one who works on it from time-to-time even now, although mostly on essays rather than fiction] I find it rather unpleasant to think about). Not to mention the distinct possibility that printed books could decrease in popularity... but that is another discussion entirely.

I follow Bransford and a crapload of other agents and editors, and I'm not sure what the article has to do with whether or not steampunk literature is a genre. He's talking about digital publishing (and I am in that up to my neck--I could go on for DAYS. Short answer--if you want to survive the digital wave, then you look at books in terms of entertainment media, not just books in terms of other books)

To clarify my issue, I would say that the problem I find is that most steampunk is written for the steampunk community, in spite of the fact that most of the best steampunk was written for the mainstream or an otherwise non-specified audience, and merely applies the aesthetic in a highly successful fashion. Again, I am not saying ALL steampunk cannot have airships and goggles and brass, but instead it would be more useful for the sake of variety that people attempt to write steampunk with a mainstream/different community appeal, as to allow it to evolve and adapt more unique characteristics. Write steampunk for fantasy nerds, for instance, and make it a bunch of brass goggles on blonde elves. At least it would be a little more interesting. Also, it is worth noting that I read literary fiction and "old" literature, so I am rather against any sort of genre and rather prefer my things to have deep meanings and whatnot. So call me biased, I guess. The short of it all really comes down to the fact that steampunk is too small to have much variety at this point, but similarly, if we don't vary it enough it will probably never achieve mainstream success. Bit of a catch-22.

Now I'm confused. Do you want to bring steampunk into the mainstream or lead the mainstream to steampunk, or what? People are putting forth more and varied stories presented as steampunk. Whether or not they're accepted as such is something left up to each reader both in and outside the community at large.

I wrote a 30-page thesis on a similar idea about stories - it was 20 instead of Polti's 36, but the idea was roughly the same. I stand by the idea that it really proves nothing; it is the same reason that I disagree highly with James Campbell's idea of the monomyth. If you boil something down enough, remove everything about it that makes it in any way unique, leave out everything significant about it (the conclusion, the message, etc.), then sure, you can come up with a way to unite these ideas. One could also say that nearly every story that claims to have a plot involves a protagonist who comes to a conflict and is forced to resolve it. But I digress, my issues with Campbell and Polti aren't overtly relevant.
:shrug: I see it as the exact opposite. The common bone structure of monomyths and dramatic situations is emphasized by the writers' abilities to lend unique twists and interpretations to something familiar enough to resonate in such a wide swath of humanity. If stories speak to the truths of the human experience, monomyths and dramatic situations give those truths a common language.

And now I wander far afield from where we started...

--Athena
I think our opinions differ far too greatly on nearly all of these issues for this discussion to continue respectfully. To quickly address your question, though, I would like steampunk to aim for the mainstream because I believe that will add variety to the genre, simply due to the increase of those who write/film/whatever it. That said, I don't think it can garner said success without a bit of quality control, which the genre (as a whole) lacks. If you wish to discuss any books in more detail, though, feel free to send me a message. :) I'd rather not name any specific examples in a public place, as some of the writers may be present.
::tips hat:: Indeed, I think we might be at a point where there's nothing more than opinion, and everyone else has moved over to the fresh canape trays. ;)

Expect steampunk to move closer to the mainstream, maybe more quickly than expected. Within the next 18 months you'll be seeing more titles from the big six that have been described as steampunk. Whether that's a good or bad thing is, as always, a matter of opinion. :)

--Athena

Alexandra Victoria Hollingshead said:
I think our opinions differ far too greatly on nearly all of these issues for this discussion to continue respectfully. To quickly address your question, though, I would like steampunk to aim for the mainstream because I believe that will add variety to the genre, simply due to the increase of those who write/film/whatever it. That said, I don't think it can garner said success without a bit of quality control, which the genre (as a whole) lacks. If you wish to discuss any books in more detail, though, feel free to send me a message. :) I'd rather not name any specific examples in a public place, as some of the writers may be present.
While I can sympathize with a lot in this essay, I think it's a bit much to expect 'authenticity' (the usual complaint) in steampunk. I mean, what is steampunk for most people? A costume, based on an anime, based on a comic book, based on a paperback, based on a Disney movie, based (at long last) on a Victorian or Edwardian novel? That's not a recipe for authenticity. I really see very, very little that's Victorian about steampunk: costumes, stories,

But that doesn't bother me at all. What's a greater problem, when it occurs, is the lack of internal consistency or coherent purpose in the invented (or implied) world. Of course, in cosplay, in anime, even in film, the consistency isn't that important: for the viewer, disbelief only has to be suspended for a few minutes, maybe hours at most, at a time. In reading stories, the reader penetrates more deeply in the world and has more opportunities for skepticism. Endearingly offbeat quirks may irritate rather than entertain if the reader doesn't believe that the world, as you describe it, could hold together, that their costumes and dwelllings could be lived in for any length of time, that the economics has at least a superficial plausibility. To give a few completely contrived examples: if your hero lives in a spherical house "perfectly balanced on the needle-sharp peak of a mile-high mountain", that may make a very impressive picture, but the reader, after a few pages, is going to wonder why it doesn't fall off. If your villains crew a fleet of skyboats that circle the world forever and never land, it's a fascinating premise, but eventually the reader will wonder "what do they eat"?

But what really bothers me about any fantastic/alternate-verse type of story is a matter of tone: how people talk. If they talk just like Joe and Jane next door, something's wrong. People in the Victorian age didn't talk (or think) like us more than a century later. And people in the imagined world of a steampunk romance aren't going to talk either like Victorians or like us. Maybe a bit of both, but a lot of something else, too. Think of them as aliens: aliens a lot like us, that's true, but aliens nonetheless. You need to invent an entire culture for them, how they think, what their customs are, what makes them angry, what insults them, what they find funny, what their technical vocabulary and their slang is.

An invented setting (past, future, alt or whatever) is a foreign country. When you go there, as a writer, you don't want to be the ugly tourist, dropping your trash on the ground, insulting the local people, sticking your camera in their faces, complaining about the food and toilet facilities and loudly wishing you could go home. And you don't want your reader to be that sort either. You want the readers to respect the local culture (even when they don't agree with it) and leave with more understanding of the problems of another time, place, or condition of life, than when they entered. And they can only do that if you respect the culture you've invented, and you give your readers something to take away with them.
Well stated, Caeructlor, and excellent points.

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