Monday, April 29, 2013

Are We All Punked Out Yet?

Clockpunk, Dieselpunk, Cyberpunk, Spypunk, Stitchpunk, Witchpunk, Elfpunk, Bustlepunk, Stonepunk, Teslapunk, Sandalpunk, Sailpunk, Ricepunk, Atompunk, Retropunk, Rococopunk, Biopunk, Mythpunk, Mannerpunk, Splatterpunk, Nanopunk, Greenpunk...

I could go on, but I won't.

Recently I read a blog post by someone claiming to have written a Witchpunk book. I didn't think too much about it, other than "cool, sounds neat". But later I stumbled across someone talking about Elfpunk and was left scratching my head. At what point are we just tacking "punk" on in order to jump on the punk bandwagon? Greenpunk? What's that? And is "Witchpunk" just steampunk with witches in it? What makes Elfpunk so punk? The punks are flying so thick and fast that it's nearly impossible to keep up with them anymore.

So can I write about trolls, throw a few corsets and gears in there and dub it "Trollpunk"?

Well we DO have awesome punk hair!

I'll be honest, what inspired this blog post was in part someone saying that Gail Carriger doesn't write Steampunk, she writes "Bustlepunk". What she writes is too light and fluffy to be true Steampunk. When the Steampunk "experts" make statements like this, it makes me  want to reach up, grab them by their waistcoat and yank them off their high automaton horses.

Is the umbrella of Steampunk so small that we can't let anyone else in from the rain? We have to assign Ms. Carriger a different category because she isn't dark and gritty enough to be real Steampunk? That's bloody insulting. And what about "gaslight fantasy"? Another name for Steampunk that isn't gritty enough, or isn't focused enough on the science elements to be "real". At what point do we stop splitting hairs? (Hairpunk, YES. That's got to be a thing).

Often it's hard enough for writers when we're asked to describe our manuscript's genre to an agent or editor. What exactly do I write? And now those of us who thought we were writing Steampunk apparently have to ask ourselves another set of questions. Is it gritty enough to be Steampunk? Or is it Bustlepunk? Have I written a gaslight fantasy? 

Perhaps part of the problem is that we still haven't defined exactly what Steampunk is all about. Is it a genre, a movement, a lifestyle, an aesthetic? It's different for everyone, it means something different to everyone. If you ask one hundred people what Steampunk means to them, you may get similar answers, but never two the exact same. 

That's why there are entire forum threads dedicated to the question what is steampunk And there is no one out there who can tell you exactly what, and have everyone agree with them.

So should we go hogwild with the punks? Punkwild? Or maybe we can include a lot of these under the wide umbrella of Steampunk. I'm fairly certain there's room here, and I'll jostle people to make way for you (politely of course). 

But is there even a problem with going punkwild? What's the issue? Well, there might not be a problem if you're just dressing a certain way and telling people you're a stitchpunk. But authors who write in the punk genres have got to draw a line somewhere, don't we? Do you write to an agent and ask him to represent your "trollpunk" novel? 

There are quite a few "punks" as genres that are pretty well established. Should we stick to these?

What are your thoughts on the punk epidemic? We'd love your two pennies on the matter.


  1. The nitpicking about what is and isn't steampunk drives me nuts and only serves to further divide the community and confuse potential readers.

    I agonised over what to call my book - was it steampunk, gaslight fantasy or alternate history? I've been ripped apart by the hardcore segment as "not steampunk enough". Well pfffttt to them. I write MY version of steampunk, it's my world and I make the rules :)

    We could split it into a thousand different categories, but to what end? There is still a struggle in front of us to simply have the umbrella term "steampunk" recognised as a genre. At the end of the day, walk into a bookstore and whatever punk you have written, it will be shelved with the sci-fi & fantasy books.

    1. Very good point! To go through all the agonizing about which punk genre it is, only to have it labeled "fantasy/Sci-fi" seems a bit of a joke, really.

      Although my manuscript has elements of magic in it (more than science, actually) I still called it steampunk when pitching to agents. The query trenches are confusing enough already. ;)

      And NOBODY should be ripping you apart for "not being steampunk enough". That's not steampunk behavior, it's just plain RUDE.

      There's not call for rudeness.

  2. People create new versions of 'punk' that fit their own visual aesthetic and interests. Most of them have nothing to do with steampunk, and are quite different (i.e. dieselpunk, sandalpunk, clockpunk). The 'punk' part comes from 'cyberpunk', and most terms were created to be tongue-in-cheek, but then caught on. Most steampunks don't actually care if you create your own spin on steampunk, and will actually look up you as a breath of fresh air. It's better to put your own spin on it, or create something different, than just regurgitate outfits and characters that you've seen. Also, steampunk isn't strictly 'gritty and dark'. A lot of steampunks create characters that are quite aristocratic, and proportionally speaking, more steampunks opt for the Victorian style of cleanliness and being well-dressed, instead of being "gritty". But again, steampunk is what you make it. You're more likely to get in trouble for calling something by a made up name or something that's really obscure, because those ones tend to be more specific. If you like steampunk, and your story or character fits into Victorian science fiction... Guess what? It's steampunk. In it's purest form, that's what steampunk is, and that allows a lot of room to play. It's just best to not get it confused with other types of punks, or get overwhelmed. Again, all of these forms of punk come from cyberpunk.

    1. I do enjoy something different, that stems from Steampunk but is something new and unique. I think it depends on how it's marketed and what I'm expecting when I read the back cover of a book. If it's not a world driven by steam tech that's more creative/advanced then it was in the 19th century (or around that) then I wouldn't expect it to be described as SP. That said, when we're talking about querying to agents/publishers with a SP manuscript, simple is the best answer. If there's advanced steam tech you're probably okay calling it Steampunk and not trying to pigeon hole it into some strange new category.

  3. I'm laughing about stitchpunk and bustlepunk. I'm picturing DIY crafters sewing garments to save the day and then tailoring in the nick of time. God, I love writers. :D

  4. I feel like so many of these correlate better as subgenres to the broad Steampunk genre. That would be the best way to go about this sort of thing. From what I've read on a few of these punk genres it's not much more than one or two things that diversifies them from steampunk. Example: Elfpunk, from what I've read, brings in Faerie creatures and rebellion. That's all I can find about it. So it doesn't give much to go on for a genre.

    I like these classifications, but I think of them in the sense of subgenres to help distinguish what sorts of themes are going to be present in the story.

    1. I would agree with that! Steampunk is the parent genre for sure!