Steampunk is…

I find it hard to engage in literary debates.  To those that know me, this may come as something of a shock, since usually I can grasp a passing topic and berate it until the cows come home.  But I have very little patience for arguments and debates which are firmly situated in the abstract, the theoretical; the (frankly) irrelevant.  And so now its confession time: I don’t care what steampunk is.

Oh yes; a self-professed writer of steampunk has no understanding of what it is he is writing!  Ho ho!  Ah, but wait – that is not what I said.  Check back, dear blog-peruser – I said that I don’t care what steampunk is, and that is a whole different kettle of aquatic animals.  I take great interest in the work of Mike Perschon, the Steampunk Scholar, the debates held via Twitter by the Steampunk Writer’s and Artist’s Guild (of which I am a member) – check out #steampunkchat every Friday for some fascinating discussions – and the myriad other thinkers and writers and makers and just plain interested parties that shape the general shape of what we understand to be “steampunk”.  I respect them greatly for the critical engagement with our subject/philosophy/lifestyle.  But for every article I read that makes me nod gently in understanding and (mostly) agreement, I read another which utterly fails to register.

Why?  Frankly because I find the entire debate so utterly irrelevant to what steampunk writing ought to have at its very core: the creation of interesting, entertaining, and engaging fiction.  You can rant at me for hours as to why a certain work is or is not steampunk, but the question I will interrupt you with is: “Okay, but is it any good?”  By which I mean is it well-written, imaginative, engaging, has characters that I can like and despise, a plot which carries me away…  If you reply with anything along these lines: “Well yes/no, but the point is it isn’t steampunk” you will see nought of me but the back of my head as I stride angrily and with purpose towards somewhere you are not.

Now, some of you are probably noticing a distinct streak of anti-intellectualism in this rant.  And you would be quite right to notice that, although you might be missing the point of it.  I love the steampunk aesthetic, in all (most) of its forms, but I would rather read an excellent “straight” novel rather than a terrible yet magnificently steampunky novel.  So too, I suspect, would everyone who enters into the Great Debate – I simplify their position immensely.  At the end of the day, I and they and you just want to read a great book, see a great film, be astounded by a great piece of artwork.  If it does or does not conform to an over-arching, constantly evolving set of criteria is totally irrelevant to our enjoyment of those works; letting semantics and pigeonholing get in the way of entertainment is, for me, a bloody stupid thing to do.


That is the rant portion of today’s blog (look, see, I told you I would post one today.  And I have!  Huzzah for meeting an easily-achieved goal!).  Should anyone wish to discuss this with me further, by all means comment here, wing me a Tweet (ugh) on Twitter – @jonathandbeer – or grab me by the lapels in the street.  I can be called upon to defend and further justify my Luddite position if you wish.  Anyway, on to the news and links portion.



This week hasn’t been a great week for writing, I’m afraid.  Had I a word-count ticker on the side of this blog, it probably wouldn’t have moved by much.  I have a start on my Mammoth Book of Steampunk short, which I NEED to make headway on over this weekend – I shall be plugged into a laptop for the majority of the next 48 hours I suspect.  I haven’t done anything on my Black Library short, although my conscience is eased by the fact that I have a pretty sweet (if I do say so myself) writing sample ready to go.   I want to get it finished before it goes off in May/June, but that will be March’s job.

However, I have been making great strides in planning what I will be doing post-June (my birthday handily falls almost on the half-way mark of the year).  I know, this is procrastination, but surely procrastination on future projects is better than playing Xbox, right (right?).  That will not be talked about too much at the moment (ooh, the secrecy!) because I should be focusing on the now.  Soon though 🙂

I promised links, but unfortunately they are on my home machine – I shall edit them in when I next see home.  But I do have one which nicely rounds out the post.  If you want to know my feelings about what steampunk is, at its heart, I advise you to read this post by Mike Perschon.  He has given our noble love a great deal of thought – he is doing a PhD on the subject! – and has come up with this definition of the steampunk aesthetic.  I pretty much wholeheartedly subscribe to this definition.

See you next week folks! o/