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Too Much Steampunk?


Says Charlie Stross: “I am becoming annoyed by the current glut of Steampunk that is being foisted on the SF-reading public via the likes of and io9.

“It’s not that I actively dislike steampunk, and indeed I have fond memories of the likes of K. W. Jeter’s “Infernal Devices”, Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates”, the works of James Blaylock, and other features of the 1980s steampunk scene. I don’t have that much to say against the aesthetic and costumery other than, gosh, that must be rather hot and hard to perambulate in. (I will confess to being a big fan of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius.) It’s just that there’s too damn much of it about right now, and furthermore, it’s in danger of vanishing up its own arse due to second artist effect. (The first artist sees a landscape and paints what they see; the second artist sees the first artist’s work and paints that, instead of a real landscape.)”


The rest of the article is here:

What do we think? Has our genre crossed over into the mimicry of the second artist effect? Is that why it’s growing in popularity?

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  1. Yang Moreau Yang Moreau November 12, 2010

    Lol Well, for starters, I just finished reading Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, and though it had a start lacking in detail, I quite thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it. 
    But yes, it does seem that steampunk is becoming a bit flooded, trite and overused. And this is coming from someone who only jumped on the bandwagon this year after vaguely dreaming of it with no real exposure for  about a decade.
    As for the painting of a painting aspect, two things come to mind. When a genre begins to form, the earliest artists and dreamers of it set the note for the whole genre to build on. Their work is looked to as the definition of what is embodied in that genre. George Romero being a prominent figure in the zombie film culture for example. Going further with this, pop culture tends to flood out other influences and distort them, such as again in zombie movie culture, voodoun becoming a sidenote and taking a back seat to the much more common excuse of viral infection for zombies.
    The second thing that comes to mind was something my old drawing professor in college said on our first day. “You all would have been better off if you’d never taken a single art class in your entire lives.” The reason for this being that art is stale and used up. Why? Because every single thing we see, hear, learn and experience influences our works. There is no newness when you’re influenced by everything you encounter in life. In this manner, the painting of a painting effect cannot truly be avoided. I know I myself in human figure drawing am most heavily influenced by early Greco roman, pre-rapaelite and comic book styles blended together and I’m quite sure I’m far from the first or last artist to carry such a banner in her art style. Likewise the vast majority of furry artists are heavily influenced by Disney and Don Bluth. 
    But each artist still adds in their own quirks to a genre, always altering an already stretching encompass of what that genre is. So even within one genre, it varies in definition or changes over time, either from a dreamer being well educated on it’s real world influences and inspirations or from total ignorance leasing to looser interpretations. 
    …and I think my train of thought just jumped the tracks and plowed up five miles of farmland and punted a few cows along it’s way, didn’t it?
    ::wanders off bewildered and confused at where all that came from and where it was going, blaming the lack of internet service induced loneliness::
    P.S. I think in the long run, it doesn’t really matter how blown out of proportion steampunk gets, the point is, it’s growth will only reach out to more people who would find fun and happiness in it, no matter what flavor of steampunk they prefer, so to me it’s really no tragedy seeing it go mainstream. This from one who read Poe at age 9 and dressed goth one day and sundress with sunflowers the next in high school not to fit in, but just as I enjoyed it.

  2. Jedburgh30 Dagger Jedburgh30 Dagger November 12, 2010

    I look at it like this…in two of my other hobbies (namely reenacting and renfaires) there is a trend for folks to follow what’s hot at the time.  I can’t tell you how many folks jumped on the Jack Sparrow bandwagon, so that there were more pirates running around than you can shake a stick at. Same thing in reenacting.  I remember when Last of the Mohicans was in vogue, and lots of fat white boys put on loincloths and wanted to be Le Long Carabine.

    It just proves that Steampunk has reached a level of visibility and popularity so that now it’s the new hip thing.  So, you ride it out, something new will eventually  come along and we can go back to being steampunk with impunity.

  3. Tepic Harlequin Tepic Harlequin November 12, 2010

    Gotta take the long view… any SteamPunk material that ain’t good will vanish, the good stuff will still be here in twenty years time, added to by other good stuff.  To be annoyed by there being too much about is daft, not enough time to be annoyed by such trivialities (mostly not enough time to be annoyed about anything, there is far to much positive stuff to wonder at and admire first!).  So people copy better writers/builders etc, that’s how they will learn, and looking round New Babbage there are some truly amazing builds, unique and magnificent, along with the smaller efforts of myself and others.

    Keep the moto: Celebrate, not denigrate!

  4. Victor1st Mornington Victor1st Mornington November 12, 2010

    This sort of thing happens all the time when a former “niche” market breaks into mainstream.  When Cyberpunk had it’s second foray into “mainstream” back in the 90’s the same writers about cyberpunk was saying the same thing that the writer in the article above was saying.

    Genre’s and markets follow the course of history.  What usually happens is the circle of time…mainstream is at the top of that circle on a fixed point, and that circle of always spinning.  In my eyes “steampunk” is now reaching the apex of its foray into mainstream, it’s at 11:50 on the clock…probably by next year it will hit the apex and then it will slowly fade away from “mainstream” and all the hangers on will jump ship to the next fad to hit the market.

    The ones that will be left will be the folks to carry steampunk into the next time it hits the apex…

    • Jedburgh30 Dagger Jedburgh30 Dagger November 12, 2010

      I think we are of one accord on this one Victor.

  5. Arconus Arkright Arconus Arkright November 12, 2010

    I don’t think the writer should be troubled by all the people trying on a steampunk coat just to see if it fits. There are people dabbling in steampunk and Victoriana because it’s fashionable at the moment, but you have plenty of others who genuinely appreciate the aesthetics, the concept of re-humanizing technology and the historical/cultural/literary roots (if not the precise facts of what life was really like during the Victorian Age). But you also have the ones who were more attracted to the “punk” vs. the “steam” and are immediately turned off by anything that gets too popular. To those people, when something underground becomes mainstream it seems like unwanted validation from people you don’t like or respect. It’s like when someone you can’t stand gives you a complement; no matter how sincere it is, it just doesn’t seem right. And early adopters almost always hate the tourists that follow. 

    As for the “second artist effect”, I’m not sure how it applies here since steampunk was a blend of derivative elements from the beginning. I would say one of the strengths of the genre is the flexibility with which it can be interpreted, even if those interpretations strike you as mimicry or impure.

    “… steampunk is nothing more than what happens when goths discover brown.” Is this an original quote or did Charlie Stross borrow it from someone? I feel like I’ve heard it before… either way, I love it!


  6. Breezy Carver Breezy Carver November 12, 2010

    Well Said Victor alas some real life die hards *grins*  shall remain true to the genre .. as it was never really a fad to begin with ..More of a powerful  hook .ie old school .. . yes that’s it ..  *smiles*

    me/ runs to clean and shine manifolds in real life basement .. laughs

  7. Valice Davi Valice Davi November 13, 2010

    This is an interesting topic, and I cant help but agree with everyone.

    I remember hearing from people that trends tend to go in cycles, so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn(I remember bell bottoms came back for a quick second as well as 50s style glasses. Not sure what happened with all that :/) that Steam punk and “vintage/old school” things are starting to pop up here and there for now. I guess that more or less, IMO, validates that we are all basically copycat’s in some small way. I know I am. *shakes fist at his anime inspired art style*

    Who knows…the public might have to deal with people sagging their space suits in the distant future XD

    My thanks to the OP and those who commented :)

    • Grendel Footman Grendel Footman November 16, 2010

      seeing ‘vintage’ as the new ‘in’ thing with video games (losts of indie games with old 8=bit and 16-bit graphics, sidescrollers, etc.)  and 80’s nostalgia lately too, just walk into Hot Topic with all the t-shirts with 80’s cartoon characters on them (all I can really remember about the 80’s was cartoons, ghostbusters, and transformers)  some of them are fake faded too.

      haven’t quite seen much steampunk there *yet* however, but give it time

  8. Edward Pearse Edward Pearse November 14, 2010

    I agree with Stross that there’s a lot of mediocre stuff masquerading as steampunk at the moment because steampunk is the new selling buzzword for publishers. Then again there’s a lot of crap on the market full stop.

    As Victor said, 10 years from now a lot of it will be forgotten. I’ve got some tragically 80s SF on my bookshelves that I’m sure few people have heard of, let alone read. (Anyone else read There and Back Again by Pat Murphy?)

    How many forensic shows are there on TV now? Doesn’t mean they’re all bad.

    • Grendel Footman Grendel Footman November 16, 2010


      having taken a few years of forensics, i can’t even whatch those shows without getting irritated and I didn’t even keep that as my major (in RL, Grendel is easily grossed out touching dead things that aren’t a steak)

      but yeah, basicall it reads more like he’s complaining it’s popular, it’s like any other genre, wether in literature, comics, art, music or movies, for every China Meiville, you have 500 Matt Heinburg’s, you take the good with the crap.  I still have dozens of Shadowrun and Forgotten Realms novels from high school, wich, with the exception of R.A. Salvatore, are often terrible reading them now


  9. Cyan Icewolf Cyan Icewolf November 16, 2010

    So I love Steampunk, as most of you do as well, and really discovered it because of College in which I took a course with one of my favorite teachers about steam engines. He was an English teacher and somehow this was also an English course, this teacher also was a semi-expert on Edgar Allan Poe another reason I liked him so much.

    Anyway back to the point, before this I didn’t even know about the genre. But this opened my mind to the ideas of it and actually helped me start my own Steampunk Western story (which I need to continue to work on). After I found this genre I didn’t know it was something more and didn’t really think about it until I found Steampunk Magazine years later and saw a whole bunch of people really joining into it.

    So the point is, Personally I think it’s great that it’s gaining popularity. I mean one, it’s getting people more interested in how things work again, two, getting people interested in building their own things, and three, making technology art again. Yes there will be many people who jump on the bandwagon because of the aesthetic but the real fans will be the ones who stay with it because just like any fad it will fade and something else will come to replace it for the fairweather fans.

  10. Orchid McMillan Orchid McMillan November 16, 2010

    I just want to say that I’m completely happy to go to the mall and see tons of boots that fit the steampunk genre. I want to buy them ALL.

    • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs November 16, 2010

      Evidently, I have not been to the mall in *far* too long… *wry grin*

  11. Sheryl Skytower Sheryl Skytower November 16, 2010

    Stross is being a punk. And not in a good way.

    Sure, right now steampunk is hot – there are a LOT of publishers (including mine) that are releasing steampunk novels and novellas – and I don’t see how that can ever be a bad thing when writers are writing what people want to read.

    You might as well say there are too many western novels. Or romance novels. Or whatever…


  12. Zaida Gearbox Zaida Gearbox November 16, 2010

    If you don’t like it don’t read it.  I don’t like most new music.  Guess what?  I don’t buy it.

  13. Yang Moreau Yang Moreau November 16, 2010

    Lol Actually I recall last spring browsing th Hot Topic website and finding clothing marketed as Steampunk on the front page. Though it was mostly black. Look more like a cross between steampunk and goth. Lol But alas, I was there to lament how little the Torrid stores have in common with Hot Topic anymore, so nothing that fit me and I wasn’t even able to get a coat. ::quite difficult finding nice clothes for a rather hefty woman::

    • Sheryl Skytower Sheryl Skytower November 17, 2010

      I like to think of our type as voluptuous…


      heck, back in the middle ages I would have been *quite* popular at my size!


  14. Cyan Icewolf Cyan Icewolf November 16, 2010

    Now after actually reading the article… I don’t like the guy… or at least his opinion on this. It feels like it’s coming from someone who’s not overly fond of the genre in general. This based on the fact that he just seemed to lambaste it all. That and the fact that I don’t really agree with him. All genres go through a phase where there is a lot of crap, just get over it and stop whining about it it’ll be over as quickly as it started.

  15. Phineas Frakture Phineas Frakture November 23, 2010

    in looking back at things that have become extremely popular after I’ve become engrossed in them, ie – D&D in the early 80’s, Battletech and comics in the 90’s (though popular in their own rights, they surged about those times), I’ve found that a genre hasn’t reached its peak until some idiot decides to make the lamest cartoon or movie about the subject and sends fans away screaming, not wanting to be associated with it anymore. 

    As far as too many books…compared to other genres, Steampunk hasn’t evenbroken the surface yet…as compared to say, sappy vampire novels that already killed the classic horror subject.  I just finished reading George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge and found it to be an excellent story.  Yes it had zepplins, automatons, the arcane, a plague that turns people into mindless cannibals, but it is combined so well that it is enjoyable.  Stross may have a point with the vampire/zombie aspect of steampunk (I’d rather read a good straight out period piece with the sci-fi/mad scientist villian), but this is an extremely difficult genre to write for and obviously, the authors feel that they need that comfort zone to sell their stories…that’s their perogative.  Personally, on another subject, while going through toy stores this season, I see nothing but movie tie-ins for kids.  There is no imagination anymore for kids and I’ve seriously thought about designing a set of Steampunk action figures and sending them out to manufacturers.  Something that has no happy meal, tv special, movie, etc…but a line that would make a child think about an adventure and not copying what’s been done already.

    We need more, not less, original Steampunk stories…it only lies on the author to put it out.  Once they feel comfortable in the genre, its only a matter of time.

    ~puts down two cents and walks away from subject~

  16. Yang Moreau Yang Moreau December 4, 2010

    lol I was listening to some Abney Park today and one particular bit of this article jumped back to mind. “That leaves the aesthetic … which I can’t find anything intrinsically wrong with, as long as steampunk is nothing more than what happens when goths discover brown.” I had to laugh, because back when I was in college, Abney Park was still a goth industrial group and not a steampunk band. It just made me think back to the article and how it pokes at that a little bit.

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