In Defense of Steampunk
A while back, Charles Stross published a spirited critique of steampunk, saying “there’s too much of it” and it’s suffering from “second artist effect.” Now Aurorarama author Jean-Christophe Valtat explains why steampunk and “Teslapop” are more relevant than ever.
Talk about bad timing for my time machine. Just when I set up shop as a “steampunk” writer, I hear that not only there’s too much of it around, but also that “steampunk is in danger of vanishing up its own arse”… like a vulgar hadron collider. What a birching. It would have made Swinburne weep with joy.
My first line of defense, gentlemen of the jury, would be that Aurorarama is not steampunk. For one thing, steam power isn’t used much, because the novel takes place well above the Arctic circle where the reserves of coal are somewhat difficult to exploit. So the founders of New Venice naturally turned their sights towards electricity, and were especially interested in the work of Nikola Tesla – maverick scientist and pop culture icon. Which brings me to the second point: Aurorarama is not very punk either. I must admit that, unless “punk” is a polite and paradoxical synonymous for “geek,” I never really understood what was punk in steampunk. For me it’s more like a collage of references from popular literature and popular science – a “pop” form. So, what I write is definitely Teslapop.
There’s a bit a cowardice in that defense, isn’t it ? Maybe I should come forth and speak loud in favour of steampunk. Stross’s argument is twofold: the first one is that steampunk is revisionist through its undue romanticizing of the past, and the second one is that the “Science in steampunk is questionable at best.”
The first argument is the most interesting, because there’s obviously some escapism and nostalgia involved in steampunk.
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Are you in to steampunk? Is there to much of it?