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:
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?
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:
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.