Steampunk: Growing healthy or dying on the vine?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Steven L Jordan, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. Steven L Jordan

    Steven L Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    Well, my naming of Whedon and Burton was my way of comparing Whedon's The Avengers to the Burton Batman movies in terms of their successful and unsuccessful handling of the subject matter. Choose any genre, and there are samples of good and bad handling that make the difference... Hill Street Blues vs T.J. Hooker... Titanic vs. The Poseidon Adventure. The point is just that any subject needs proper handling. And I'd say that steampunk hasn't been handed to the right person/production team to do it right (with a possible exception, mentioned below).

    As I said above, I think SP is viable as an SFF hybrid, if given the proper material and production team. Another example of steampunk-esque tech would be the Hellboy movies, which have been much more successful than the other movies mentioned, but are so filled with fantasy elements that I think they overwhelm the steampunk elements in most viewers' minds. Still, those elements are clearly there, and they work.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2012
  2. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    I think you just went to a party with people who didn't know what steampunk was. My daughter did a steampunk costume last year for Halloween. She had a variety of costumes to choose from, a large number of accessories and nobody was particularly confused about her costume. Steampunk is essentially a literary movement used for (mostly alt history) science fiction, fantasy and horror stories and a stylistic trend in fashion, decor, multimedia, art and to a more sub-level, lifestyle. You can buy tons and tons of steampunk stuff, most of which is very popular. Steampunk has a lot of involvement in comics. Sherlock Holmes was reimagined by Guy Ritchie as steampunk to great success in both films. Steampunk is having a very nice run in fantasy. Both Priest and Scott Westerfeld's series have done very well. Paul Anderson also steampunked The Three Musketeers, which didn't do that well domestically, but did well foreign for a modest success. Kung-fu cinema has been having fun with steampunk and a new one, Man with the Iron Fists, is coming out with Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, etc. So no, not really a dying thing.
     
  3. Steven L Jordan

    Steven L Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    Two, actually. And a bar. But who's counting? I'm not doubting that there are steampunk fans out there. But no, I don't personally run into much evidence of them "in the wild."
     
  4. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

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    A movement become a fad.

    My sense of it is that it is now become like the Egyptian Empire: static and dead in all meaningful ways, but likely to last a long time.

    It has, that is, devolved from an interesting concept in which new ideas could be and were hatched into just another flavor of Extruded Fantasy Product, the literary equivalent of "Chablis" and "Burgundy" jug wine (for those who remember the '60s and '70s).
     
  5. Randy M.

    Randy M. Registered User

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    Well, it's taken several years but you've finally said something I completely disagree with. It had so much potential.


    Randy M.
     
  6. Steven L Jordan

    Steven L Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    Meant to reply to this earlier: The Wild, Wild West TV show was filled with infernal machines and James Bond-ish gadgets powered by steam, springs, water, gunpowder, etc... and, of course, the heroes traveled the west by Iron Horse. Yes, it was steampunk, and the tech was usually outlandish. But the show was supposed to be an old west James Bond-style adventure. It's actually a good example of steampunk elements fitting into a show that wasn't strictly about steampunk, and it worked well (the show was very popular).
     
  7. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Well you're not a sixteen year old girl buying jewelry, a gamer or a fashion designer playing with corsets and rivets. (And apparently go to stodgy bars and parties *smiley face*) But it's quite popular in fashion, which is why Prada made it their men's line and had celebrities model it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/fashion/08PUNK.html?_r=0
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/steampunk/prada-goes-steampunk-for-fall-3n9d
    http://www.vancouversun.com/business/This+season+decor+trends/6486092/story.html
    http://www.gameinformer.com/b/featu...steampunk-in-video-games.aspx?PostPageIndex=1

    [​IMG]

    There were three big steampunk films last year (plus smaller ones) -- Sherlock II, Three Musketeers and nominally Hugo. Hugo flopped, but not because it had steampunk, the other two were hits, Sherlock II a large one. We had more superheroes this year, but up-coming movies like Hansel and Gretal: Witchhunters, Man with the Iron Fists, Oz: The Great and Powerful, probably The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim is probably going to borrow some steampunk elements with their giant robots, etc., show that it continues to be milked there. And in written fiction, steampunk is doing very well. Now, is there perhaps not a ton of alternate history steampunk SF? I'd say probably yes, as it was never a very big part of SF and alternate history has been expanding in all directions. In doing SF stories in which there's a planet that is steampunk like, etc., there's some more there. Fantasy obviously has found it a good fit, with it being a major core for historical fantasy and becoming a popular option in secondary world fantasy, plus the re-flush of weird fiction which often uses steampunk. Steampunk was never a big player in horror, and I don't think that's changed. It's doing really well in YA. And zombies and steampunk oddly went together, so there's been some of that. Romance is delving into steampunk in a big way. It's popped up on t.v. and the new show Revolution has a steampunk swashbuckle mandate. So basically it's spreading, although culturally it's had a bigger impact on jewelry, fashion, decor and comics/games than maybe the entire written SFFH field. I don't think you can say it's dying. There's too much of it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2012
  8. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    I seem to alienate lots of people when I tell them of my disdain for all things Whedon.

    I didn't care for the new Avengers movie at all -- though of all the things he's done, it was the least bad.
     
  9. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    I won't go so far as to say I disliked it I just didn't like it much.

    The Objects in Space episode was good. I fail to see why such a big deal is made of it. It can't touch Babylon 5.

    psik
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2012
  10. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    I agree with Kat to some degree. It seems that Steampunk is more... an influence or a set of elements than a genre, at least in the more successful iterations. It's not even a recent phenomenon, L.E. Modesitt, Jr. had steampunk elements in his early Recluce books, and they surfaced again in his much more recent Imager Portfolio. Even H.G. Wells used what we'd now consider Steampunk elements (or was it Clockpunk? I forget). I think it's a really strange place to explore, though, as it's quite a bit after the industrial revolution and it's based on branches of invention stagnating.

    I think the aesthetics of Steampunk have carried over well into video games, though. The Baldur's Gate games have a bit of a Steampunk aesthetic at times, but there's games like BioShock (particularly the upcoming BioShock Infinite) that have really taken this idea of steam-powered machinery and run with it. Off the top of my head, I don't think it's really carried into comics too much, but British sci-fi anthology 2000AD has, in the past two or so months, started to contain a Steampunk-style story called Brass Sun which is doing pretty well, I think.

    I think it's also quite a mixed genre that few can really navigate or understand. Example: I've heard Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan and its sequels referred to as Steampunk, when if you actually read it it's pretty clear that it's Dieselpunk (and pretty much explicitly states that).

    I've also forgotten where this post was going, and it's hard to type.
     
  11. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Dieselpunk is basically considered a variant of steampunk rather than something fundamentally separate. Cyberpunk was a term bandied about in the early 1980's which was then applied to the works of a whole group of authors, predominantly William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, as a literary movement of its time with the works having similar thematic and stylistic material -- young people, alienation through technology, rebellion, noir suspense, etc. Such works had been done before and were also part of the New Wave literary movement in SF, but the term referred to a specific group of authors deliberately exploring the same territory in the same stylistic and thematic approach -- punk (as in the music/lifestyle/art) with technology and noir. The term was later more broadly applied, also becoming a market sub-category, but the main literary movement has continued and developed into post cyberpunk movements.

    Steampunk was originally a joking reference created by K.W. Jeter to refer to works that he, Tim Powers, James Blaylock and some others were doing in both SF and fantasy. These authors, though, again, formed a literary movement of their time -- the mid-late 1980's -- of similar stylistic and thematic approach that was parallel to but rather less punkish than cyberpunk, and as other authors entered into this area, especially for alternate history, it became a more definite movement based on using historical periods and interjecting anachronistic and futuristic technology into them to look at human interaction with technology and social upheaval (again parallel with cyberpunk.) It's the contrast of modern and old tech together stylistically -- which is different from cyberpunk -- that then caught on in fashion, jewelry and design. Punk became the go-to word for dividing stories up not into literary movements but into sub-categories based on the content of the tech. So we got not only dieselpunk for the World War era settings directly from steampunk, but other groupings of content like biopunk, splatterpunk, etc. Some of these sub-categories have stylistic and thematic aspects of their own, like splatterpunk, but others, like biopunk and dieselpunk, don't.

    Dieselpunk is essentially steampunk pushed to a slightly later industrial age. So if you want to be very specific about the content of a book, you can say a novel set in WWII or I is dieselpunk as opposed to one set in the Victorian age. But as movements, dieselpunk is just a sub-set of steampunk. Likewise, a secondary world story can be steampunk if it sets up a medievalish world that nonetheless has industrial, technological or futuristic tech in that world, or if the imaginary world is similar in industrial tech to the Restoration, Victorian, early WWII, etc. but with odd, futuristic tech mixed in. You can also manage a dystopian post-apoc world, like Revolution, that has a mix of technologies, ranging from futuristic (the stuff that turned lights out,) to steam power in the loss of electricity. The sensibility of the story thematically is dealing with that mish mash of tech as a major focus of the story, etc., and including steam-era tech such as steam engines, airships, winding clockworks. Thematically, steampunk goes for swashbuckle and adventure more than punk rebellion of youth and noir style, although steampunk can be noir or horror and is concerned with major social shifts related to technology. So Leviathan, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow are generally considered part of the steampunk movement, even though they are not set in a steam-heavy era.

    Steampunk and derivatives are also in some ways shielded in story world from any extinction by our love of time travel. Steampunk is mixing up tech of different time periods or alternate time periods or invented time periods (secondary worlds, post-apoc, etc.) and this is related to time travel in which tech can switch periods and many steampunk stories involve time travel in some way, and of course alternate dimensions. So steampunk continues to be popular as a stylistic and visual aesthetic in general culture and as a literary movement in story-telling with derivatives such as decopunk, cattle punk and diselpunk, well connected with time travel, multiverses and alternate history as plot/setting concepts. And in the last five years it has had an expansion because of the general expansion in fantasy including historical fantasy, renewed growth in SF where alternate history has remained strong, expansion for more areas in YA fiction, and an interest in industrial historical settings for movies and television. Right now they're trying to launch a steampunk t.v. series with an interactive Web component called Lantern City. So again, I'd put steampunk in the growing healthy, not dying on the vine level. It's also become a totally not unusual but very attractive design style, separate from the thematic ideas of the literary movement.
     
  12. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    I accept wholly that Dieselpunk is an off-shoot of Steampunk, but I think aesthetically and stylistically they're different things. Dieselpunk, in my opinion, is much less "clean" than Steampunk, so instead of dirigibles with steam trails, you'll have these big, heavy diesel engines belching out thick black smoke. Leviathan, to go back to that book, had diesel-powered walkers (including a MASSIVE one) and Tesla energy.

    It's a subtle change (only, what 40-50 years of history?), but I think the end result is so much different.

    One thing is certain, though. A lot of the alt-history punks have a rather worrying love for Britishness.
     
  13. Valentino

    Valentino New Member

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    Oh god Kevin J. Anderson. I think this is his new low. I like rush, but man, He needs to be able to think for himself instead of just writing about other peoples ideas.
     
  14. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    He's written a few series of his own.
     
  15. SCO

    SCO Registered User

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    I don't like steampunk... it kinda sucks as a setting, and beyond that, there is nothing else.

    Victoriana! ... but without the guilt trips.
    Technology! ... but incredibly one note & distorted for the setting. Cogs. Cogs everywhere.
    Alternate History! ... but only ever using england in the 1800-900.

    It's just plain victory of style over substance, especially because the setting is one of the most variable things about a authors work.

    There are authors that try to introduce other worldbuilding strands with a bit of steampunk (the Clan Corporate by Stross comes to mind - pity that series sucks for being a very extended hubris parable), but then you see that steampunk is just ... a kind of parody of a real setting - it needs to be toned down to be mixed with anything else.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2012
  16. psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Live Long & Suffer

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    Exactly, why care what a subgenre is doing?

    Is the author writing what s/he likes or trying to write for a market?

    I read Difference Engine. It was merely OK. I do not doubt that a great steampunk novel could be written that I would really enjoy, but I would not investigate works just because they are steampunk. But I won't read a story just because it involves aliens either.

    psik
     
  17. Berley Kerr

    Berley Kerr New Member

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    When it comes to Steampunk or any genre or sub genre at the end of the day of the day it all depends on the story. There are terrible steampunk stories and there are really good ones. There are terrible fantasy stories and there are very good fantasy stories. The same goes for romance, scifi, or any other genre you can think of. The mistake that a few steampunk authors make (a few, not all) in my opinion is that they place style over substance. I've read books where the wacky mad scientist's invention get's more development than any of the main characters or even the plot itself. But other genres, especially in other scifi genres, fall victim to that as well. But I assure you, there are other steampunk novels worth reading with all the wonderful plot and characters that most readers love and follow.
     
  18. SCO

    SCO Registered User

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    The thing is, steampunk is kinda of a limited genre. Unlike cyberpunk (which is basically the granddaddy of them all), it's doesn't actually play to the strengths of SF for social commentary/cool concepts, but a very very restricted alternate history setting with utterly boring technology (or unrealistic ones, like robots made of cogs and steel engines).
    And this 'alternate history' element is so restricted and so ****ing british-upper-class-tendencies that it bores me to death.

    The whole frigging subgenre is a variation of 'XXXXXX in BRITAIN', if the XXXXXX had a investement account on the east india company and a hobby for building steam engines.

    Where 'it' diverges from this, it's normally someone being 'cute', by excizing/changing that alternate history element/adding something alien to the pure subgenre/being part of the weird movement.
    Iron Dragon's Daughter which i'm sure is one of the books you're thinking, is one of those books i'd say is 'no longer steampunk' (i didn't even like it though). The forms of steampunk i find more tolerable change the alt-history setting from the industrial revolution in britain ur-example.

    Besides, cosplayers are embarrasing.

    On the other hand, i kinda want to like time travel stories of 'society from the future living changing a primitive society', or just less fetishized technological alt-hist (Northland).
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2012
  19. Loerwyn

    Loerwyn Staff

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    Um... comments like that aren't particularly welcome here.
     
  20. Steven L Jordan

    Steven L Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    So, okay, we get that you don't like steampunk. But any genre can be as limited, or as wide in scope, as the author makes it. There's no reason a steampunk tale can't delve into social commentary (and given the Victorian era it emulates, there's plenty of room for social commentary there), nor is the technology necessarily boring or any less realistic than FTL drives and transporters.

    I can't speak to how narrow or wide in scope steampunk novels tend to be, since I haven't read much steampunk at all (I will say that what I have read hasn't captivated me enough to read past the first one or two chapters). But the potential for wide-scope and social commentary are certainly there.

    Here's a question: As I'm no longer fond of reading Victorian era writing style, I wonder how much steampunk is written in more contemporary writing styles, and what steampunk fans think of that?