Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is there still room for the punk in steampunk?

The Tesla Rangers pin that I proudly wear 
on my jacket. It's from the steampunk comic, 
Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio.

Here's something I'm pondering these days as I start to once again work on a steampunk novel.

It seems to me that when the original steampunk writers began to explore the world of alternate Victorian history, they had a definite political bent in mind. And by “original,” I mean James Blaylock's Homunculus, Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates and K. W. Jeter's Morlock Night. Jeter, of course originated the term. And, yes, I'm aware that he may have been riffing on the term “cyberpunk” and probably had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he came up with the name, but that doesn't take away the fact that the original group to define the subgenre used their novels, in part, to address some social issues. Their immediate antecedent, Michael Moorcock, was also interested in exploring an opposing view of imperialism with his Warlord of the Air trilogy and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, part of steampunk's second wave, carried on this tradition with The Difference Engine. So, I think it's safe to safe that the bedrock of the subgenre has a political substrate running through it.

Which seems not to be the case anymore. And before I go any further, I'm going to admit that my knowledge of the field is not exhaustive, nor am I deriding steampunk works that contain little or no political commentary. I am simply asking if today's audience will still accept stories that do.

Having said that, a lot of steampunk I read today seems more concerned with the neo-Victorian aesthetic more than anything else. And there's a large section of the subgenre that features supernatural elements, which seems strange to me, but I'll admit that it might just not be my cup of tea.

So, here's the question: Are there modern works of steampunk that feature political commentary? That's it. I'm not trying to stir up any controversy, I don't hate on one aspect of the subgenre versus the another. I simply want greater exposure to a subgenre that interests me. That is all.

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