Locking the genre, blocking development?

In an attempt to describe "steampunk", or "dieselpunk", as in other threads and on other fora, the definition draws closer and closer. Steampunk is this and about that and so on, drawing a line between "real" steampunk and other genres.

But doesn´t this fine definition limit the amount of imagination an autor can have when writing "steampunk"? Is the debate about what is steampunk not a fantasy-killer? Can you have low life and high tech and still write steampunk, even when it is set in Mozarts time?


  • When describing the characteristics of "Steampunk", one is naturally confined to describe general trends, i.e. the characteristics of the majority of works labeled "steampunk". Of course there can be exceptions to the rule. Fiction can be set in an era other than the Victorian; feature working class protagonists and even limited technology and still be steampunk! Of course it depends on how the work is perceived by readers and commentators--if they feel it's steampunk, then it is. But to define the genre, we are forced to focus on the mainstream of steampunk fiction and that may indeed mean excluding some works of fiction which are still very much steampunk.
  • This is why I've always abstained from such debate. To define is to limit, and as far as I'm concerned, there are plenty of ways to interpret and reinvent our conceptions of what steampunk is. I say fans of the genre should stop trying to define it and start trying to enjoy all of it.
  • There's some website called "Steampunk Magazine" which has loads of highbrow intellectual ramblings and the "meaning" of people's models etc. I always thought punk was a working class movement, well i'm working class and didnt understand a word of thier tripe

    Also "Steampunk" began as a joke, to describe "retro sci-fi" stories which where beginning to become popular while cyberpunk was at it's height. If they had started in the late 70's when the "Space Opera" star wars was at it's height it might well have ended up being called "Steam Opera" or something. But that would then clash with those big steam-powered animated music box things that show up at byegones shows

    Removed double post. --Ottens
  • Steampunk Magazines seems to have a preference from slightly incomprehensible language indeed. In spite of my liking for Victorian Era prose, even I find it hard to decipher the precise meanings of some of the writings in their publications! ;)

    I think "Steam Opera" would have produced even greater confusion about the genre than the name "Steampunk" already does. Rather than being associated with Punk, we might be considered a bunch of opera-going socialites who delight in dressing in Victorian Era fashion and speak in 19th century eloquence.


    Well, maybe "Steam Opera" would be appropriate after all. :P
  • Steam Opera is suited for www.leuvenhook.de which has space ships in steampunk style and is more or less a space opera. Well, there is supposed to be an opera in space (I once started the libretto...)

    Good. I don't like people telling others "this is steampunk and that is not!". Especially not when they exclude the first real steampunk stories as such, as The Difference Engine or Mozart in Mirrorshades.

    I guess the genre will be dying soon as it does not expand to other hooks in stories.
  • Presuming the genre will be dying because of attempts to try and describe what that genre precisely entails seems a bit premature to me. Steampunk still isnt as widely accepted a genre like fantasy or science fiction in general, and so we need to define it, in order to make clear to people unfamiliar with steampunk what steampunk is.
  • No, that was not the idea. What I ment to say is that if the genre has very strict limits, and each steampunk autor stays within these limits, all stories turn out the be the same in the end (as is a problem in modern epic/heroic fantasy).
    Fiction as steampunk grows and stays fashionable if there is enough room for development of the genre, of telling different stories than those that form the examples of the genre.
  • Yaghish wrote:
    No, that was not the idea. What I ment to say is that if the genre has very strict limits, and each steampunk autor stays within these limits, all stories turn out the be the same in the end (as is a problem in modern epic/heroic fantasy).
    Agreed. How many shameless LOTR ripoffs can continue to be written?
  • I see your point. Too strict boundaries of what is steampunk may discourage originality and new ideas. I still think at least some definition is required, though, and aren't all definitions of genres descriptive for the majority of that genre's works of fiction? There can always be exceptions--indeed, they are more than welcome, for it is in works of fiction that differentiate from the norm that new ideas are born. Indeed, that is how steampunk originated in the first place!
  • edited February 2008
    It sounds to me like we're 'arguing both ends against the middle' here, either the genre is inclusive, harlequin and flexible {possibly popular.... which could be a bad thing if you're wanting exclusivity and sadly quality} or its a sub genre which stays within the confines of its one true church. every political or style movement /genre has been there. Punks /Tories/surrealists /hippies/marxists/muslims all hate the notion that 'their idea' has been diluted or hijacked by appostates diluters or splitters .
    There seem to me to be many different perspectives on steampunk, the more the merrier, people are drawn to it for different reasons as far as I can see; a harlequin approach seems much more fun and if you get cheese occasionally, and you dont like cheese, so what, don't watch it consume it or give it any attention. well thats just my halfpenneth
    always connect
  • Cheese? Where? *hungry*

    Well, the debate of "what is steampunk?" and "what are the differences between steampunk and dieselpunk?" and of course "what is not?" is fought over on many fora, and the discussion tends to limit the space for new approaches to the genre more and more; causing people to create new genres that are vaguer and vaguer...
    Potpunk... steampunk set in 1968, identified by bell-bottomed jeans and heroes like Twiggy working on environmental-friendly tech...
    Punkpunk... London calling in 1975, with mohicans defying the statement "no future" inventing new tech like a plastic version of the spaceshuttle,
    Falkpunk, set in 1982 on moody, foggy islands in the southern Atlantic, facing the secret weaponry during the Falkland War...
    Perestroykapunk... you get the picture...

    It can be interesting to have such borders if you are talking about a subculture. People want to form groups with "our kind of people", and not "the other ones". We team up that way, I guess that's quite natural. Some define the subculture and others follow by those definition rules, in order to be part of the movement and not alone.

    But I wasn't talking about forming groups in subculture. I was talking about Art, such as literature. Any boundaries in art are, to me, censorship. Art is the expression of a free mind. I get inspired by steampunk so some of my stuff is to me "steampunk art". But if people tell me it's not because my green fairy doesn't wear goggles, or that the landscape I pictured my turbosteamenginedmonorailtrain in is not dystopian enough, I seriously doubt if the genre is in a way expanding or developing.

    It's more like the well known icons of steampunk are on the outside, bigger and better known each day, cloned ever on, and the inside is empty, filled with hydrogen, like a blimp. Just waiting for someone to light the fuse, so that the genre can return to it's core.
  • Mr Yaghish you sound much agrieved and have perhaps been insulted by some blethering numbskull {forgive the cheese reference}..... I hope I dont add to your burden but as I see it artists are pathfinders as well as mirrors of the existing culture/genre..... if you might forgive my impertinance ...persue you passion, write your poetry and its quality and opinion will shine through .......'don't get right get it written' sadly I only wish I could take more of my own advice
  • edited March 2008
    Not sure if this is inappropriate threadomancy, but it struck me as an interesting topic.

    To my mind, Steampunk is a set of images, ideas and attitudes that can be added to a story to make it such. It could be Sci-fi (Difference Engine) or fantasy (Homunculus by James Blaylock springs to mind), romance, horror, whatever. The point is that once it's got enough airships and clockwork in it and the character display the right attitudes, it counts.

    So I think from this there isn't one set "Steampunk story", although there definately is a steampunk look. I think this gives us a lot of flexibility. For my book, I used steampunk ideas for the British Space Empire and dieselpunk for their enemies, which looks right and acts as a sort of shorthand for their societies.

    Some purists might not like that, but it makes sense to me. There's immense range in steampunk, I think, provided that it doesn't become too narrowly-defined and imitative.
  • Mr Bob Basil Jet: I wasn't insulted. Fact is I'm addicted to cheese.
    The discussion "what belongs to the genre X?" runs on several fora I'm in, and doesn't limit itself to steampunk. The point I tried to make is that a genre in art doens't have to have the same boundaries as a subculture.

    And Space Captain Toby: if the YouTube video for your book hadn't popped up in my videolist because of it's tag "steampunk" I would have told you it was something like retro space adventure (which shouldn't be interpreted as less than any other genre).

    On another forum the conclusion was "creators shouldn't bother what genre it is, it's up to the readers/watchers/listeners to decide what genre it is, if any."
  • ... To my mind, Steampunk is a set of images, ideas and attitudes that can be added to a story to make it such. ... The point is that once it's got enough airships and clockwork in it and the character display the right attitudes, it counts.

    So I think from this there isn't one set "Steampunk story", although there definately is a steampunk look. I think this gives us a lot of flexibility. ...

    Some purists might not like that, but it makes sense to me. There's immense range in steampunk,...
    Well said, Cpt. Toby! There seems to be a lot of obsessing over material details in these discussions, along the lines of "are these goggles SP enough?" or "Is this time period included?" For instance, a pair of German WW1 motorcycle goggles are just goggles until you put them on a scientist/engineer in an 1890s laboratory building a time machine. 1890 is just 1890, until you add some fictional characters applying 19th century technology to combat invaders from another dimension.

    As far as a rigid set of parameters defining the genre, I'm not sure it's possible right now, since the genre is still molten and new and finding its various levels. That said, there should be no fear of categorizing or at least attempting definition of terms. I do not consider this censorship at all, just good academics (or science, if you will). Censorship is banning or prohibiting something, and I don't think it's possible except within actual organizations or official groups. It also implies preventing certain knowledge from dissemination. That would be tough to do in this case.

    People are going to disagree about the nature of the genre, but that is natural especially at this early juncture. It seems as though there are already sub-categories of SP, and that seems the most civilized way to approach a definition of terms. I'm seeing a LOT of Steampunks who are creating/assembling material culture in the form of props and wardrobe that are apparently copied from or inspired by movies, comics, and the like. This seems to be perfectly acceptable to the majority of SP hobbyists. There are other SPs who concentrate on practical applications of a Victorian aesthetic to "real" working objects, like automobiles, computers, home decor, clothing, etc. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but they seem like different interpretations of the genre to me. There are other sub-genres, I'm sure.

    In the end, not everybody is really going to care whether their hobby interest is "Steampunk" or "Neo-Victorian" or "Retro-Tech" or whatever. It's not like it's a check box on job applications.

    My two cents,

  • Well said! Some things my not be labeled "steampunk" in the strictest sense of the term, yet they might well still be of great interest to steampunk enthusiasts. Many of us also appreciate retro-futurism, or pulp and noir and sometimes it's difficult to tell the differences. I for one think it's quite amusing to try and define the different genres and find out what constitutes steampunk, or dieselpunk for that matter, which is even less defined -- but if something isnt regarded quite steampunk, we might still very much enjoy it!
  • edited March 2008
    Well, genres do change. Back at uni (a long while ago!) I was a goth. Last year I went to a goth festival and found that the look had completely changed. I looked like a Victorian engineer who had wandered into gathering of undead fetishists. It's at points like that you realise that the name may have stayed the same, but otherwise it's altered out of recognition.

    I can't see steampunk going the same way, though. The concepts behind it and the look it inspires are more defined. I suspect that steampunk may end up having quite an overlap with the older, Victoriana-based goth look. Nebutron is right, I think, in that it's too early to see where it all goes. If it changes a little, fine: if it changes out of recognition, we'll just have to give it a different name!
  • I'm not much of an expert on goth subculture, but from what I gather, I quite agree with you that the aesthetics of steampunk are more narrowly defined. Indeed, it is particularly the aesthetics of the genre about which there is relatively little discussion -- we all like Victorian fashion, waistcoats, hats, umbrellas, corsets, etc.

    I'm perfectly ignorant as far as goth fashion sensibilities are concerned, but it would strike me as little more elaborate than "black". (Please to enlighten me if I'm mistaken! ;))
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