Folk who frequent here know I’m a big Steampunk fan. I think some of the best work in the genre is happening right now — as it’s settled in from its 2012 craze that saw a big public interest in Steampunk, but literature failing as it reskinned horror and romance novels into what should have been some fun adventuring. But Steampunk still lives, as Vaugn Treude says, including in his book, Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. Read his thoughts on the genre:
Some people say that steampunk is a dead genre. It’s true that mainstream publishers and media companies appear to have lost interest in iy. Despite this unfortunate circumstance, the genre’s fans abound. Its art and fashion are ubiquitous on-line. Dozens of independent authors are writing steampunk novels, and (hopefully) many thousands of fans are reading them. Therefore I maintain that steampunk is very much alive, both as a movement in the visual arts as well as its fictional counterpart.
I will admit that the unstoppable steampunk train of the late two-thousand aughts seems to have run into a stretch of bad track. Of three popular steampunk authors of the time – Scott Westerfeld, Cherie Priest and Gail Carriger – only the third has recent titles in the genre. Sadder still, some notable media projects like the Lantern City television series and the movie adaptation of The Night Circus have been put on indefinite hold. Yet, when I recently surveyed Amazon for steampunk titles, I found a long list of them. Clearly, the genre remains popular. Only the traditional publishing houses that have moved on.
And why did these mainstream publishers lose interest? I got a clue when I noticed that my fellow steampunks, writers and enthusiasts alike, sometimes feel obliged to apologize for our passion for things Victorian. We realize that this era was racist and imperialistic, they say. But our characters can struggle against these problems, or we can rewrite history to be more egalitarian. I disagree with this perceived obligation for us to explain ourselves. Those who don’t appreciate our romanticizing of the 1890’s need not read our books.
It is no doubt politically incorrect to view any historical period before the 1960’s in a positive light. Yet I believe that much of the appeal of steampunk, acknowledged or not, is the culture and morals of that bygone era. In those days, people took ideals such as courtesy, integrity, and industriousness seriously. Women’s fashions were feminine and elegant, proving that ladies could be alluring without their outfits being revealing. Yes, the British Empire sometimes exploited its subjects, but it also brought railroads, sanitation, and education to the colonies it ruled. Western culture isn’t perfect but neither is any other. One example is the way the British colonial overlords outlawed and eliminated the longstanding Indian practice of suttee, or burning widows alive. Only the most unhinged multiculturalist could argue that this change was not for the better.
Another issue I’d like to address is the notion that most of today’s steampunk novels are simply period romances. Though this may be true in some cases, I don’t see the two genres as being mutually exclusive. It’s also true that some of these works may be inaccurate regarding the sexual mores of the time, but we must keep in mind that steampunk represents the fictional bending of history. My wife and coauthor Arlys has written several articles about Victorian culture, including its courtship traditions, and these were indeed quite restrictive by our standards. Yet there was also a steamy underside to Victorian mores, with widespread fetishes for bondage and discipline. This may have been a consequence of the use of corporal punishment in schools – not entirely a bad thing, if one compares the rates of delinquency then and now. In any case, I maintain that steampunk erotica is not necessarily a contradiction in terms, though it is also just a fraction of what’s currently being written. Now, as in the movement’s heyday, the greater emphasis is toward young adult works.
Steampunk is not dead, it is very much alive. The many excellent new works being released, such as Jon Delarroz’ For Steam and Country, prove that it’s doing well. As the traditional publishing industry continues to decline, the contributions of independent authors and small publishers will become more and more significant. I look forward to seeing a large selection of well-written steampunk fiction in the future.