Defining Steampunk (and Dieselpunk)

Someone tweeted this article today – it’s old, but it’s awesome and I agree with everything it says.

Also, someone on goodreads.com was looking for non-Victorian Steampunk, and someone *actually* answered “Why non-Victorian? I think that’s a positive element in Steampunk. There are some wild west stories that are Steampunk and I started reading one based on Alice in Wonderland that was alternative American history based but I can’t say that I was enjoying it. I’m primarily looking for good Steampunk that *is* Victorian England now.”

*headdesk*

I just finished one book a couple of days ago, and was today skimming through my ebooks to see what to start next, and decided I’d try out Gail Carriger’s Soulless, which I got on sale for 99 cents a couple months ago. I read about 5 or 6 pages of the main character beating etiquette into a vampire with a parasol, and stopped. It’s not a bad book, or poorly written or anything, it’s just not my *kind* of book. But it seems that has become the definition of Steampunk lately, and I dislike the whole idea that Steampunk is becoming pigeon-holed into this, and people are starting to say if it doesn’t have X,Y, or Z elements, it’s not Steampunk.

That resentment comes from my main reason for writing Dieselpunk in the first place. Which is, quite frankly, that I’m bored with traditional medieval fantasy. I wanted a setting that’s fresher and not done to death. So I have a setting a little farther ahead, tech wise, for the hell of it. I could set it in a medieval fantasy world. Easily – my character’s could ride dragons and their giant base could be more blatantly magic, rather than the magnetic handwavium powered gimmick I’m going with. Magic items could serve the roles of radios and radar, and my orphans could live in the “dark forest” instead of the sewer. But my way is more fun for me.

I just write what I write though, I’m not writing to a definition. Dieselpunk is just the closest definition there is for what I write, so I use it. So what happens if a book doesn’t fit into a particular category? Should the author be forbidden to pick the closest thing? Or worse, be forced to introduce elements into the story to solidify it’s placement in a genre category? Don’t think it doesn’t happen – I’ve seen discussions online where people insist that there be magic in a story for it to be classified as fantasy, so if that’s true, then where do you categorize secondary world fiction that doesn’t have magic? Because the Literary section sure doesn’t want it.

I say just relax, and let writers write what they write. If that means taking a little bit more time to describe what a book is like, then so be it. If it makes it a bit more difficult to write a pitch, then that’s the author’s problem. 😛

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Why I write Fantasy and Science Fiction

I have an in person critiquing group that I get out to when I can, and there’s one member I’ve often got together with for coffee or drinks after the meeting. We chat about the craft because the other members of the group tend focus on word choice and phrasing and not to be interested in delving into the more structural aspects of writing.

He has often asked me, in as polite a way as he can, but it’s still pretty obvious that he looks down his nose at genre fiction, if I’ve considered writing mainstream fiction, set in the real world.

I have, it just doesn’t hold my interest. I tried to explain that I don’t go to sit down and write something – the story comes to me, and I write the story that comes.

But I’ve thought about that, and that’s not a complete explanation, because I’ve often had plots come, but not come with settings. I could slap any setting on that plot and run with it.

Only I couldn’t. There is a definite certain type of story that comes to me, and the stories that come to me are big stories. I mean, stories where the characters are influencing the outcomes of wars, revolutions, etc. Things that are big enough that I can’t just set it in the real world because it’s too big to fit. There was never a revolution that went down the way it did in The Eyelet Dove, and the characters are not the little people you can hide in a big event. The plot requires them to be major players, and in history, no such characters and situations existed, and they’re too big to force in without the audience saying, hey, there was never such a character in such and such a time, that could never happen.

There’s just no way to take such plots and tell the story without changing something major in the setting. Which brings you into the realm of alternate universe, futuristic settings, and my personal favourite, secondary world settings. Which is necessarily, the realms of science fiction and fantasy.

I think that may be part of the appeal of science fiction and fantasy to many readers, especially the many lovers of epic fantasy. Perhaps the people who read sci-fi and fantasy just think bigger than people who enjoy mainstream fiction, and want to read about people who make real change in the world. In times where free agency dwindles and people have less and less control over their own fates and ability to make a living, and a sense of free agency is a major psychological factor in satisfaction with one’s life, they want to read about characters who take on huge challenges and save their world. People who have the power do something.

Not all Science Fiction and Fantasy is like that, but the stuff I like most is.