Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.
Anyway, it was a very helpful post that actually helped crystallize some of my longstanding misgivings about steampunk as a mode of fantastic literature (or whatever). It certainly explained why it seems to be so damned uninterested in doing anything involving actual history or proto-scifi (which was where most of its tropes came from). It also explains my problem with it little sister sub-sub-thingy "dieselpunk"; everyone is content to putter around in noir America and in pulp magazines while I want to probe the social dynamics of fascist states.
Also I'd just like to say: WE HATED STEAMPUNK HERE FIRST ;)
This is another one of those "get off my side" things isn't it.
I feel that way about a lot of what Stross writes, yeah.
The goths-discover-brown thing is not original to him, either.
The romanticization of totalitarianism is nothing new (and if you don't recognize the totalitarian urge embedded in the steampunk nostalgia trip, I should like to remind you that "king" is a synonym for "hereditary dictator" and direct you to the merciless skewing Michael Moorcock delivered to imperial hagiography in his Oswald Bastable books).
Let me explain something here. "Totalitarian" is a very particular word that describes a very specific type of social system. Say whatever you want about the ancien régime, but it was not a totalitarian enterprise. It was based on long-standing traditions of feudalism, filial piety, and religion, which it was the duty of the ruling class to maintain. In a totalitarian society, all of those are abandoned because they are no longer seem as being able to provide any sort of adequate guide to human behavior, leaving it the job of the ruling class to reconstruct every aspect of civilization into a new holistic entity capable of resolving the contradictions of the modern world and ushering in a joyous new society in which there are no complaints. The two are literally worlds apart, and to suggest otherwise is deeply disingenuous.
God, this type of sloppy thinking makes me so fucking angry...
Incidentally, that book Stross is looking for has already been written, after a fashion.
What really annoys me about the "but those bits of history were really bad" criticisms is that they're blatantly written by people who have never read any of the source material. One of the many, many wanky tropes of Steampunk is *exactly* the kind of excessive grittiness that Stross insists people would never ever write about.
As a criticism of a subgenre, it's about as sophisticated as - no check that, *entirely identical to* - arguing that Fantasy sucks because real medieval Europe was nasty. It's like complaining about /The Princess Bride/ on the basis that real pirates were horrible.
I also really don't understand the bit where he says: "Maybe it's on its way to becoming a new sub-genre, or even a new shelf category in the bookstores. But in the meantime, it's over-blown."
So ... currently Steampunk novels are all trashy and derivative, but somehow if we put them on a shelf on their own, they'd magically become legitimate texts again?
That said, I did snicker at "steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown".
But complaining about the technology is just daft. Steampunk's an aesthetic, not an alternative form of hard SF, and citing Tim "Stilt Magic" Powers as an exemplar of good steampunk and then saying that the science isn't up to scratch is just silly.
It's not an outright rip - it's about the interwined lives of three women and their friends, and one of them has a deep dark mystery of mysterious darkness going on. Actually it's quite watchable and on Iplayer for anybody in England who fancies it.
I can't tell whether to sexscenes are a step up a sidegrade though. They don't have telepathetic lesbian orgasms, since there is always definitely a hand in the correct location to inspire orgasm ... but the recommended methodology for making a woman come, if you are a woman, seems to be what's best described as a vertical jackhammer motion down the front of her pants.
shooting/exploding/stabbing/incinerating people 24/7.
I am starting to wonder how long I'll have to wait to get a fireman hat for my Pyro, though.