Scott Westerfeld
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Genre Cooties

November 5th, 2010

So I go on tour, where I get to see loads of kids who are full of awesome, and who build crazy stuff like this for me:

jeffersonwalker

But then I come home to discover that the internet got stupid while I was gone. And not just regular internet stupid about cats or politics, but stupid about steampunk!

Perhaps the prime example is this post from the normally incisive Charles Stross, surely the most banal thing he’s ever typed. I mean, pointing out that the Victorian era was imperialistic? Racist? Sexist? Had lousy labor laws and no class mobility? Like no one in the steampunk world was considering this?

News flash: the online world of steampunk is constantly engaged in exactly those issues:
Check out
these
articles
for a
start.
(Just added this one.)

Stross then challenges the world to write a “mundane steampunk” novel that would reflect the true nightmarishness of the long 19th century.

Um, we might begin with the book most associated with the current wave of steampunk, Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker:

The Blight gas had poisoned the natural systems until the creeks and streams flowed almost yellow with contagion. Even the near-constant patter of rain could not be trusted. The clouds that dropped it may have gusted past the walled up city and absorbed enough toxin to wash skin raw and bleach paint.
But the Blight could be boiled away; it could be filtered and steamed and filtered again. And after seventeen hours of treatment, the water could be safely consumed… But first, it had to be processed. It had to go through the Waterworks facility, where Briar Wilkes and several hundred others spent ten or fifteen hours a day, hooking and unhooking brass cylinders and tanks, and moving them from station to station, filter to filter.

Yes, the current emblematic book of steampunk is totally Dickensian, but no one pays attention to that because it’s got zombies and airships, and therefore must be a madcap lark. Because this whole conversation has been about flap copy, not actual texts.

By the way, I think I’m the first person in this whole internet kerfuffle to quote text from AN ACTUAL STEAMPUNK BOOK. And thus I win.

No wait. I win because the awesome kids who read my books built me a frickin’ Tesla cannon:

teslacannon

Now, agreed, many steampunk cosplayers aren’t engaging with the greater questions inherent in the subgenre. Some even dare to dress up as aristocracy, and inherited titles are a bad thing.

But, dude, in mainline SF the single most popular costume is an imperial stormtrooper. And imperial storm trooping is RATHER MORE BAD than inheriting titles.

Not to go flat out into Sturgeon’s Law mode here, but space opera is a subgenre of which an astonishing percentage is crap, both aesthetically and politically, and which gluts the bookshelves far more than steampunk. But no one will be declaring how much they hate it, because it’s been around long enough that old people aren’t bothered by it.

And yes, this is about YOU being OLD, steampunk-haters. (In spirit, not in years.)

THIS is why I don’t write for adults. Their heads are all full of genre cooties and “Taj Mahal? Nah, don’t like tombs.” Whereas a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks. That’s how kids read, and when something’s cool and fun and awesome (or weird and gnarly and thought-provoking), they don’t worry about how many times it’s been mentioned on io9, or whether it’s that-genre-Fortnight on Tor.com.

In a word, they’re way cooler than you are. Deal.

And here’s a great story: At the school where they built the contraptions pictured above, a bunch of kids were dressed Edwardian. So at the end of my presentation I asked, “How’re you finding those clothes?” Of course, the middle schoolers hated them, and we went from a few simple observations about clothing to a free-ranging discussion of classism, sexism—the girls hated the clothes a lot—and much more. When you’re doing steampunk right, it’s all there in the details.

Anyway, thanks to all my fans who came out. You’re awesome. Sorry to bore you with this rant, but certain adults needed a Teslashing.

71 Responses to “Genre Cooties”

  1. 1
    Matt
    November 5th, 2010 04:38

    awesome! “a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks” – I remember those days fondly!

    Also love the expression on the girl on the right-hand side of the tesla cannon!

  2. 2
    Dave Agnew
    November 5th, 2010 04:39

    Hear hear! An excellent counter-rant to the curmudgeonly Steampunk-bashing.

  3. 3
    Dave Agnew
    November 5th, 2010 04:39

    Oh, and the Tesla Cannon is pure awesome.

  4. 4
    Liz Czukas
    November 5th, 2010 04:41

    Scott, you are, as ever, wonderful. As near as I can tell, haters of all genres are all suffering from the same delusion that popular = bad and, moreover, that fun= bad. The silver lining in this equation is that they are not having any funny and not doing anything that interests anyone else.

    Steampunk on, good man.

    - Liz

  5. 5
    aquafortis
    November 5th, 2010 04:48

    Great post–those kids are awesome! I agree about genre cooties. I also think there’s an element of “who’s-got-the-most-nerd-cred” competition going on. It’s a nerd-off.

    Though, I have to admit, I didn’t actually read any of the steampunk-bashing rants in question–I’m hoping to start a steampunk-ish project soon and figured it might be a downer. :) I wonder what those guys would have to say about “clockpunk” (a new genre I just learned about, speaking of genres and sub-sub-genres…).

  6. 6
    Elena
    November 5th, 2010 04:48

    That is so true! And it’s not just steampunk either – the whole scifi genre is being constantly bashed, and practically no one ever says a word! Hello, people, trash is written in EVERY genre, that doesn’t mean nothing thought-provoking, insightful, or just plain cool is written, too!

    Thanks for standing up for lovers of steampunk and speculative fiction in general! :)

  7. 7
    Lynn
    November 5th, 2010 04:50

    “a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks. That’s how kids read”

    My wife (bless her) still reads like this. And lets me read long passages from your rant and laugh without tsking me even once.

    Great post. Loved it.

    I think this means neither my wife or I ever grew up.

    Keep it up.

  8. 8
    Lydia (The Lost Entwife)
    November 5th, 2010 04:50

    I love your books, Scott! Fantastic post – I’ve been a steampunk fan since I stumbled across Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and have been devouring anything and everything I can find on it since (Loved Leviathan!)

    I’m a 34 year old woman and come home with everything and the kitchen sink from the library. YA, Middle Grade, Adult – I read them all.. although the YA/MG tends to be the most fun. =)

  9. 9
    Fellshot
    November 5th, 2010 04:54

    LOL genre cooties. Sounds like a working title for a romance novel. XD

  10. 10
    cherie priest
    November 5th, 2010 05:09

    By the way, I think I’m the first person in this whole internet kerfuffle to quote text from AN ACTUAL STEAMPUNK BOOK. And thus I win.

    Actually … I’m pretty sure *I* am the one who wins, if only in dorky blushy aw shucks :) Thanks a million for the shout-out, dude – and reiterations re: previous professions of your continued awesomeness.

  11. 11
    Bookworm 1000
    November 5th, 2010 05:14

    Uhhhhhhhhhh…. I think my dream where you were my uncle wasn’t far off… When I just read that I felt as if I were reading my own words…
    Hahahahahahahahahah LOL ROTF!!!!!!!!

  12. 12
    Serafina Zane
    November 5th, 2010 05:18

    I was always under the impression that a lot of the appeal of steampunk was in combining, you know, the attractive Victorian aesthetic (one could call it the ‘steam’) and the modern values (you know, the ‘punk’)… So, like, yeah. Plus, (to engage in a little jacket-copy genre-wide speculation of my own) not all steampunk takes place in the literal 19th century of our world, anyway, even if the genre is visually inspired by it…

  13. 13
    J.W. Hamner
    November 5th, 2010 05:19

    Cherie Priest was the only author he mentioned by name, but her work is so clearly dystopian I don’t really understand what he was getting at. I can’t say I’m some sort of Steampunk expert, but I can’t think of any that romanticize Victorian times. It seems to me it really wouldn’t be “punk” is it wasn’t grimy, gritty, and unpleasant… that’s sort of the point.

  14. 14
    JohnTheReaper
    November 5th, 2010 05:30

    …a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks…

    Darned libraries with their kids-can-only-take-out-five-books-at-a-time rule!

  15. 15
    Will Shetterly
    November 5th, 2010 05:30

    Your comment about why you write for kids reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ fanzine article about writing for adults and kids that’s been reprinted here:

    http://www.suberic.net/dwj/medusa.html

    Perhaps the most relevant bit follows.

    From “Two Kinds of Writing?” by Diana Wynne Jones:

    …when I was asked if I’d like to try my hand at an adult novel, I most joyfully agreed. To my great surprise, writing it and after that receiving the comments of an editor revealed all sorts of additional hidden assumptions about the two kinds of writing. Most of these were quite as irrational as the shame of a grown man caught reading teenage fiction. They ran right across the board, too, and affected almost everything: from the length of the book to its style and subject matter. And nearly all of them – this was what disturbed me most – acted to deprive me of the freedom I experience when I write for children. Furthermore, when I thought more deeply about these assumptions, I found they reflected badly on both kinds of writing.

    To take the most obvious first: I found myself thinking as I wrote, “These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.” Now this is something I never have to think when I write for younger readers. Children are used to making an effort to understand. They are asked for this effort every hour of every school day and, though they may not make the effort willingly, they at least expect it. In addition, nearly everyone between the ages of nine and fifteen is amazingly good at solving puzzles and following complicated plots – this being the happy result of many hours spent at computer games and watching television. I can rely on this. I can make my plots for them as complex as I please, and yet I know I never have to explain them more than once (or twice at the very most). And here I was, writing for people of fifteen and over, assuming that the people who read, say, Fire and Hemlock last year have now given up using their brains.

    This is back-to-front to what one usually assumes, if one only looks on the surface, but I found it went much deeper than that. At first I thought it was my own assumption, based on personal experiences. Once when I was doing a signing, a mother came in with her nine-year-old son and berated me for making The Homeward Bounders so difficult. So I turned to the boy to ask him what he didn’t understand. “Oh, don’t listen to her,” he said. “I understood everything. It was just her that didn’t.” It was clear to both of us that his poor mother had given up using her brain when she read. Likewise, a schoolmaster who was supposed to be interviewing me for a magazine explained to me that he had tried to read Charmed Life and couldn’t understand a word, which meant, he said, that it was much too difficult for children. So he didn’t interview me. He was making the surface assumption, that children need things easy. But since I have never yet come across a child who didn’t understand Charmed Life, it occurred to me that he was making the assumption about himself. But it was a hidden one and, when I came to write for adults, I realized that it was something all adults assumed. I grew very tender of their brains and kept explaining.

    This makes an absurd situation. Here we have books for children, which a host of adults dismiss as puerile, over-easy, and are no such thing; and there we have books for adults, who might be supposed to need something more advanced and difficult, which we have to write as if the readers were simple-minded.

  16. 16
    Susan Kaye Quinn
    November 5th, 2010 05:45

    The Tesla cannon is pure awesome. And your rant is perfect. I shall be linking to it in my review of Behemoth (also perfection – Behemoth, not the review) tomorrow.

    I bristled at an interview question once (from a good friend, no less), about whether I might some day attempt to write for adults (I write MG and YA). I replied that I had started out with the difficult stuff. Perhaps when I took it easy in retirement, I might consider writing adult lit. :)

    p.s. Steampunk haters: Please find something useful to do. You pick.

  17. 17
    Raibean
    November 5th, 2010 06:19

    I think one of the problems he’s addressing but not thinking about is that, if we put in all this great technology, won’t we have figured out those problems already?

  18. 18
    John Stevens
    November 5th, 2010 06:26

    Scott:

    I think the invocation of Sturgeon’s Law is quite relevant in this case, as is the example of storm-trooping, a term which I would like to now see used more often to discuss the problematic of unreflective representations in SF. But I digress.

    Tor’s Fortnight had a number of great articles talking about the ambiguities and problems within steampunk that do not seem to get a lot of consideration. I think those articles add to your argument that there are folks who not just slapping gears onto corsets or something. There are people considering the ideas and history purported to be within the genre more critically, and as more of them produce new works and arguments I think there will be richer stories coming out of the genre. Which should be the whole point: what can writers gain from using the genre framework that will lead to better fiction?

  19. 19
    Kathy Quimby
    November 5th, 2010 06:32

    One of the best rants ever. The other thing that those young readers have going for them is a sense of humor, which seems to have been stripped from the sort of adult critics you describe right before they drank the post-structuralist Kool-Aid.

    For me, the beauty of steampunk, science fiction, and fantasy, is that they let readers explore possible alternatives and see how some of these big issues might play out, and maybe make us look at the world a bit differently. For instance, when the British Minister of Finance said that he wanted to turn England into a “nation of auditors,” my first thought was of Terry Pratchett. That’s the last thing England–or any of the world–needs right now. We need more Granny Weatherwaxes and Nanny Oggs and Tiffany Achings.

    I also loved Leviathan and am looking forward to reading Behemoth.

  20. 20
    casondra brewster
    November 5th, 2010 06:41

    I still read like a kid. My latest haul from the library included a YA novel with a fey premise, the Drawing of the Dark, white papers on wetlands, a biography on Ray Bradbury and the social media bible.

    Thanks for this. The last few things that I have written are more for YA — and your point of why the genre is so appealing makes total sense to me now. I thought maybe I was only writing for my kids…but, it seems larger than that.

    I am looking forward to reading Behemoth.

  21. 21
    Lisa Mantchev
    November 5th, 2010 06:51

    Thank you for this… it works way better than my Twinkie analogy (as in, if you don’t like them, don’t eat them fercryin’outloud.)

  22. 22
    Tyler Childers
    November 5th, 2010 07:01

    Bravo! Thank you very much for this. It has given me some points to think about as I construct my own steampunk style novel.

    BTW, I am 39 years old. And my reading habits follow the same curve as the kids you mentioned above. My Dad chastised me years ago for digging into fantasy and comic books. Told me to read history. I did. I read both, and loved both.

    This is where steampunk comes from.

  23. 23
    Carrie V.
    November 5th, 2010 07:01

    Thank you thank you thank you.

    It’s been tough seeing people I otherwise respect stomping all over my fun. (steampunk has started me sewing again, which I hadn’t done in ages…)

    And you’re right. You win.

  24. 24
    Allison Ridley
    November 5th, 2010 07:01

    Scott, I love you.
    It makes me sad when people bash ANY genre. Because the thing is, books AREN’T their genres… they’re individual books. And you can’t judge a book by it’s genre.

  25. 25
    Jessi
    November 5th, 2010 07:32

    First: The Tesla Cannon and StormWalker are flipping amazing… and made of common items!!!!! Second: Steampunk is AMAZING. People are just acting to stupid to see that. Their opinions are mutilated by the fact that they think old things cannot be new. If people stop to look, they’ll find they DO SECRETLY AND UNKNOWINGLY love Steampunk things. For example, the movie Avatar with the blue peoples is Steampunk in it’s own way, it’s basically pieces of hsitory re-written to fit the future and given a different ending. Not completely Steampunk… but if you look at it write… So… I guess I’m saying that Steampunk is barking awesome and people should stop dissing it, because it is WRONG to dis such amazing stuff.

  26. 26
    Jessi
    November 5th, 2010 07:34

    Sorry, right, not write.

  27. 27
    sab-la
    November 5th, 2010 07:41

    Just wanting to pipe in, there is a magazine that had magical attire such as merlin capes and such. it had dragon things and witch spell books. Now, it also includes steampunk attire. I’m not sure what to think. I might have to find the name of this magazine and post again.

    Thoughts anyone?

  28. 28
    steampunk101
    November 5th, 2010 07:52

    the bit about the what kids check out in libraries is so true it’s scary

  29. 29
    Jen Heddle
    November 5th, 2010 07:56

    “a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks”

    Wait, I STILL read like that!

  30. 30
    Shari Green
    November 5th, 2010 08:01

    *applauds*

    Awesome rant — thanks for posting! ;)

  31. 31
    Mary
    November 5th, 2010 09:09

    Thank you, sir!

    I’ll be buying some of your books tomorrow. I’d been planning to soon, since I attended Ay-Leen’s reading of Behemoth, but this has inspired me to do it asap.

  32. 32
    angela
    November 5th, 2010 18:38

    Funny you mention “writing for kids.” I’m not necessarily a kid (at least, not according to my birth date) but I tend toward YA because of cool topics like this. But if the same thing was presented in an adult book, it would be horribly dull. I guess there are different standards, even for us adults-who-pretend-to-be-teens. And yes, I did become more interested in the WWI era after reading Leviathan. At least, I understood it better (curse you, high school history class).

    So yeah, there are still adults out there that say, “that book was awesome!” and spend four hours on wikipedia researching the history surrounding it.

  33. 33
    Art Donovan
    November 5th, 2010 19:58

    A Wonderful Post!

    Thank you, Scott.
    :)

  34. 34
    Tiffany Trent
    November 5th, 2010 20:00

    Thank you, Scott, for being the voice of reason in a wilderness of cootie-freaks. :)

  35. 35
    Sonya M Shannon
    November 5th, 2010 21:40

    My son is a big fan — after reading your post above, I know why. I am now a fan, too. Thanks for tooting your steamwhistle.

  36. 36
    shannon hale
    November 5th, 2010 22:16

    Genre cooties suck! And as Justine was saying, I’m afraid B&N’s new shelving in YA will infect genre cooties into the YA mind.

  37. 37
    Ester
    November 5th, 2010 22:51

    It’s doubly ironic that Charles Stross took umbridge against the Tor steampunk fortnight when it its very first post by author Stephen Hunt over at http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/10/the-great-steampunk-timeline, Hunt said:

    “Steampunk isn’t true Victoriana. It’s not five-year-olds crying as they were shoved starving up chimneys; it’s not having to have seven children so you can watch five of them die from pandemics before the age of ten. It’s not a decade of pain from a crumbling tooth because you’re living in an age where cutting-edge dentistry means a long swig of whisky and a short pair of pliers.”

    Then Stross jumps in and starts parroting all the points above. Talk about not reading the texts, only the jackets.

    Doh!

  38. 38
    SonomaLass
    November 5th, 2010 23:11

    Thanks, Scott. I think this is why I find myself reading more and more YA fiction; there’s a freedom there to cross genre lines and to have fun. The adult books I have enjoyed the most recently have had similar attributes (and all at least some element of steampunk), including Gail Carriger’s trilogy (beginning with Soulless), Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century books of course, Zoë Archer’s The Blades of the Rose series, and Meljean Brook’s fabulous The Iron Duke. None of them fit Stross’ complaints, that I can see.

  39. 39
    beef flavored loris
    November 6th, 2010 00:49

    Don’t worry Scott. Your rant was very interesting. And I agree. The part about what kids check out of the library is especially true. Except for my sister who refuses to read anything except fantasy. I will read any genre. In 2nd grade my big thing was biographies from the adult section on Queen Elizabeth I. Now it’s sci-fi and Agatha Christies.

    I am a girl and personally love Edwardian clothes. I am being Barlow for Halloween next year and am only disappointed that I didn’t think of it in time for this year.

    But anyway, I am dressed up as Barlow right now. and may send you some pictures because it is pretty fool. Another thing I need to send you is my amazingful(full of amazing) picture which I have named…A Beef Flavored Loris is Hanging onto a Huxley while Alek Shoots it down from his Walker and A Giant Barlow Head Floats in the Air Drinking Loris Flavored Tea BOOOM!

    It’s a pretty amazing title if I do say so myself. I just need to figure out how to use a stupid scanner. GRRRR. Curse my computer-challenged brain!

  40. 40
    Mr. Upset
    November 6th, 2010 01:54

    The cover of Behemoth is possibly the worst cover ever to be put on a book. I was about to decide not to buy the book. When I got the book I literally tore the cover off the book and shredded it. It is the worst designed cover ever!!!!! The cover of Leviathan was quite clever but Behemoth is an epic fail, along with the paperback version of Leviathan!! The English cover of Behemoth is much better. Please don’t put a face on the cover of the final book, it ruins it completely.
    Mr. Upset

  41. 41
    Colleen
    November 6th, 2010 01:57

    Oh, thank you. I ranted about this same stupid mess (including Stross’s post) just the other day. I don’t know what planet you are living on if you think Cherie ignores the downside of the Victorian era. Hell, even Gail Carriger and Meljean Brook (who include romance in their stories) delve deeply into the racism of the period, not to mention pollution, poverty, etc.

    Is it just that folks who enjoy steampunk are having too much fun and thus they must be stopped? Is that it?

    Bah. I’m writing about steampunk (including Cherie’s latest – DREADNOUGHT) in my Jan Bookslut column. I am so over genre wars, it’s not even funny.

  42. 42
    tali
    November 6th, 2010 02:00

    just wondering, why does no author ever go to New Jersey?

  43. 43
    scott
    November 6th, 2010 02:26

    beef flavored loris: Yes! Cosplay is just as fun as fan art, so send some pics.

    Tali: I’ve gone to NJ a few times! I was at Books, Bytes, and Beyond in Glen Rock on this tour!

  44. 44
    Robyn la
    November 6th, 2010 02:45

    Actually my group of friends just made an airship/steampunk/cosplay group. We don’t even have costumes designed (or characters for that matter) and yet one of the first questions was “Ok, how do we incorporate imperialism?”.

  45. 45
    Hannah
    November 6th, 2010 04:08

    holy mac’n'cheese, Scott-la, those sculptures are epic :D *ANY UGLIES MOVIE NEWS?????*
    :)

  46. 46
    Celina
    November 6th, 2010 05:50

    Amen to that! I’m so glad to finally see an adult that understands how teenage minds work! Takes guts to stand up for what you believe in. Steampunk’s awesome <3

  47. 47
    lace-short-for-lacey
    November 6th, 2010 07:31

    So, uh, Scott-la… I just came back from a Cassandra Clare/Holly Black signing. Not only was it awesome, I learned something interesting…

    Really? You won the vote for ‘Worst Juvenilia’ ? (I most likely spelled that wrong.)

    But I don’t know… (was it zombies?) crime fighting in space sounds pretty bubbly, to me…

  48. 48
    Amy
    November 6th, 2010 15:59

    Wow…that had a bit of pashion behind it.
    So…like the stupid AP student I am I read both articules….and the other one annoyed me to no end.
    When he was talking about Steampunk as a fashion trend I kept thinking that I rarely see it in the real world, and even at anime conventions it is just starting to finally take root.
    Also when he was talking about historical stuff I just kept thinking of your books, granted that it’s a bit ahead of the time he was refering to, but still there’s alot of the things he mentioned in your books.
    Expecially sexism (Alek D:)

    (I’m totally sending this article to my Steampunk group, just so that way they can also be enriched ^_^)

  49. 49
    Serge Broom
    November 6th, 2010 19:59

    I wrote my own response to that whole thing here after a runin with Charlie about this: http://serge-lj.livejournal.com/375749.html I confess that I didn’t post an excerpt from a steampunk book, but I posted a photo from “Master of the World”. Does that count as a first too?

    Finally, I wish I had thought to ask Charlie if women who like Jane Austen and dressing up in Regency style really wish they could live in an era where, among other things, they couldn’t inherit because it had to go to the kid with testicles.

  50. 50
    Bookworm 1000
    November 6th, 2010 23:26

    Holy mac-and-cheese?? Uhhhhhh……
    Ahhhhhhhhhh I love reading your books over and over again!!!
    Mwahahahahahahahahaahahahahaha!!!!!! <3 <3 <3

  51. 51
    Ash-la
    November 7th, 2010 07:44

    “THIS is why I don’t write for adults. Their heads are all full of genre cooties and “Taj Mahal? Nah, don’t like tombs.” Whereas a kid will come home from the library with a mystery, an sf novel, an autobiography, and three books about sharks. That’s how kids read,…”

    I love that quote! I’m a young adult and I still do that! Except jewelry making books not shark ones. This is going on my quote wall at home. Gotta say “bravo”, Scott, for speaking out. Sometimes I feel embarrassed wanting to write for a younger audience since I’m in that weird 20s age, but this just reminds me it’s ok. People do it all the time and they help change other people. Thanks a lot, Scott.

  52. 52
    Yiling
    November 7th, 2010 20:22

    Teenagers FTW! Yeah, I come home from the library with a whole bunch of sci-fi stuff and my mom telling me to read schoolbooks >.<

    BTW: Those are some awesome creations ^.^

  53. 53
    Jenna
    November 8th, 2010 05:26

    There’s nothing like reading the occasional righteous, justice-seeking post and feeling like I absolutely agree. Steampunk all the way–and schoolbooks, well, that’s another day.

  54. 54
    Stephen Watkins
    November 8th, 2010 19:08

    I had largely the same reaction to Stross’ rant. It was kind of weird… all the things he was complaining about in the Victorian era were certainly true problems; but his criticism of Steampunk was only valid insofar as Steampunk as a “genre” glorifies those problems, which is a rather rediculous accusation to make. It’s been my assertion that those social problems and complexities are what make Steampunk a very potent genre, because it comes with a lot of built-in conflict to explore and build upon. Stross’ problem is that he labors under the belief that if you set a story in an era rife with social problems that you are by default unable to engage with those problems and grapple with those comlexities or provide any meaningful critiques (he’s leveled the same criticism at the Fantasy genre). In fact, it’s just the opposite: you are far better able to engage with those issues when you set your story in an era where those problems were front-and-center than you are otherwise. If we all set our fiction in perfect utopias without social problems or difficulties, they’d be boring and pointless.

  55. 55
    Dave Thompson
    November 9th, 2010 02:06

    Teslashing? I think I have a new favorite word! Did you coin that?

  56. 56
    Nelly-wa
    November 9th, 2010 02:09

    TEENS RULE!! And we think you rule because you write incredible stories. And to that we thank you :)

    Anyway, that Telsa Cannon ROCKS!!!

  57. 57
    bailey-wa
    November 10th, 2010 21:06

    wow those are full of awesome sauce!

  58. 58
    Chris Jones
    November 11th, 2010 03:45

    Yeah, everyone’s so excited to bash the 18th century, as if the 19th century were possible without it. Dickens has a lot to answer for. Did he ever take a second to think about the conditions for orphaned children in the SEVENTEENTH century? Before the workhouses and the orphanages existed at all? Only a genius like Dickens could take men and women that took in hundreds and thousands of starving children, gave them a warmer place to sleep and meals to eat, for the scanty compensation of the work of the children they served, and make those people the villains. Before the “hellish” workhouses, those kids just died of starvation. That’s preferable? It’s all of a sudden noble to bash less enlightened cultures, just because they’re your own?

    And what on earth does any of that have to do with steampunk?

    Thanks for bringing an informed opinion to the discussion. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

  59. 59
    J.Z.
    November 11th, 2010 23:07

    ‘THIS is why I don’t write for adults.’

    You don’t? Your novels The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds surely seemed like adult-oriented, hard SF. And they were the best Space Opera I’ve read in ages. When you finish your Steampunk series (which is all manner of cool, whether you’re 40+ like me or 12 like my son), I hope you return to that story. You left quite the cliffhanger!

    Not dissing Steampunk, you understand…got a whole shelf dedicated to it. Soon to be two shelves, in all likelyhood.

  60. 60
    Ginya-wa
    November 12th, 2010 10:03

    wow, that tesla cannon was fantabulastic! (is that my word, or did someone else make it up?)

    that was the best rant I’ve read about anything in a long time, and about teenagers and books ever. in fact, is was so good, I’m going to go read it again. then send it to my mom, and my best friend.

    and, to all the grown ups who read like kids, i love you, and you are what reassures me that there is an option other than old-brain-reading-cooties when i grow up.

  61. 61
    Dustyn
    November 13th, 2010 14:08

    Thought of you and Gail Cariger when I saw this – http://desertrubble.deviantart.com/art/steampunk-humming-bird-182683030?q=special%3Add&qo=0 – and that’s because you guys write awesome styling books! <333

  62. 62
    Elizabeth Briggs
    November 15th, 2010 08:43

    I love this post! And some of us never grow up and still read that way… or we try to write books for those awesome teens.

  63. 63
    Sarah
    November 16th, 2010 01:59

    hahahahahahahahaha TESLA CANNON is flipping amazazing and wowtastic. I’m not just saying that cuz i made it :) (im the girl who looks like she’s getting electrocuted) (not kidding) but yup it was sooooo awesome that u came 2 Jeffersn and it was great just getting to have you come! I’m reading like alllllllllllll your books now (uglies at the current moment) and i keep telling like everybody to read em too. Don’t stop writing mr. scott westerfeld cuz if you do i’ll be a sad lil teenage girl! keep up da gooooood work!!

  64. 64
    kyle s.
    December 3rd, 2010 05:40

    i’m with J.Z. in hoping that one day you do write for adults again. specifically adults like myself who would love a third book in the succession series. is that a selfish hope to have? i guess it kind of is. i’m sorry.

  65. 65
    Jules LaGaffe
    December 10th, 2010 16:03

    Great post. One thing I don’t understand about a lot of these steampunk-is-no-good (and some of the how-steampunk-should-be) rants (and similar views expressed about crime novels in my small corner of the planet) is that to be any good a book (comic, movie, whatever) must be political, critical of society, address all injustices (in the case of steampunk, of the 19th century), etc., etc. And of course dark, grim, and full of misery and despair. Huh? What about a good story well told (or something addressing say some philosophical, physiological, … question)? I wonder why I’ve been reading mostly YA stuff lately (and young I am not) …

  66. 66
    emergency cash loan online
    December 15th, 2010 11:46

    Lovely, only beautiful! Adore to observe stories which make you feel excellent. To bad this time we do not find more of these.This produced my own cardiovascular system laugh…………

  67. 67
    Emmers
    December 31st, 2010 10:02

    What a load of dross that first article is….Stross makes so many blanket statements about the steampunk genre; but it seems as though he’s never actually read a genuine steampunk novel. And seriously, you can’t judge a book by its genre. I’ve read sci-fi that is complete garbage before, but that doesn’t mean I give up on the entire genre.
    Did anyone read the article by China Mieville that Stross linked in his blog? She tears apart the Lord of the Rings & Tolkien. Makes me so incredibly sad that someone could’ve missed the point of LotR so completely…

  68. 68
    Emmers
    December 31st, 2010 10:03

    What a load of dross that first article is….Stross makes so many blanket statements about the steampunk genre; but it seems as though he’s never actually read a genuine steampunk novel. Just goes to show that you really can’t judge a book by its genre. I’ve read sci-fi that is complete garbage before, but that doesn’t mean I give up on the entire genre.

    Did anyone read the article by China Mieville that Stross linked in his blog? She tears apart the Lord of the Rings & Tolkien. Makes me so incredibly sad that someone could’ve missed the point of LotR so completely…

  69. 69
    Mary Shapiro
    January 18th, 2011 01:26

    Reading a few of the comments about this blog, Id have to say To be sure using the majority.

  70. 70
    Jeannette
    February 19th, 2011 02:06

    On one level, I’m quite happy to read about fictional people who points of view which are different from my own. The purpose behind studying history (and reading fiction, for that matter) shouldn’t be a simple exercise of grading the past as to how well it performs against our modern sensibilities. I’m not saying these periods of history should be idealised, but a capacity to empathise and sympathise with people who are different from ourselves is, well, kinda important.

    People in the past are people, and often their racist/sexist/classist views are quite different from our modern racist/sexist/classist views and they can also be remarkably nuanced. Books that actually explore that are few and far between, as opposed to using the past as a When-Men-Were-Men-and-Women-Were-Women exercise in wish fulfilment, or one in which the past is held up as a straw man for the Enlightened Protagonists to reform with their insightful 21st century morality.

    I suppose I do have some ire for books that seem to feel that women’s work is by nature silly and unimportant. Whilst the past was hardly a feminist utopia, the extremely inhibiting ideas of a women’s job is to do nothing and look pretty is actually only restricted to a very finite period of history and to very specific social classes when it comes to that. And yet time and again, this creeps up in pseudo-medieval fantasy, where background female characters do nothing but “uselessly” embodier (and the one feisty heroine goes off and fights like a man).

    I don’t personally see the heart of steampunk as an idealisation of the Victorian era (though I suppose there is an undercurrent of manners revival the gender politics of which I’m slightly alarmed by). It’s more of a borrowing of the aesthetic (or a perceived aesthetic, after all they didn’t all wear brown), frequently divorced from the original context. Never mind stormtroopers, a gander at how happily we’re throwing Greco-Roman columns around without thought of their associated cultures (and presumably ideologies) should attest to how easily that can be accomplished.

    Sidenote: Much of clothing is much up to what one’s used to (with some crucial exceptions). I hate bras and thongs (staples of modern western women’s clothing), but can happily wear fairly historically accurate corsets.

  71. 71
    Jayne Barnard
    May 20th, 2012 23:55

    Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker was my first steampunk novel since Jules Verne (yes, I’m almost that old). I too noted the Dickensian feel both inside and outside the Blighted city. Nothing frivolous about that society, while the monstrous machine that started it all was firmly rooted in Verne’s amazing contraptions.

    And, Scott, I’m a huge fan of your kids’ books, like many other folk whose ‘kid’ is all on the inside.

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