Recently I have been challenged on whether I can correctly use the term ‘Steampunk’ when referring to my novels Gaia’s Brood and Coggler’s Brood.
Am I misusing the term Steampunk in my writing? Am I, like many authors, just jumping on the Steampunk bandwagon? In fact, has Steampunk become no more than a marketing term?
Steampulp is a new one on me, but I do have to confess to liking the term. I am not ashamed to admit that I write pulp fiction. In fact, I rather take pride in the title: to me it means popular, fun, literature that is produced by someone working hard at their craft. It also suggest that stories are produced as a series.
Just because I am churning out pulp serials does not mean I am not also, in some small way, trying to challenge concepts, taboos, or accepted culture. I am fascinated by the reasons people do things, so I try to examine this in my novels. The stories in Gaia’s Brood and Coggler’s Brood are very much character driver: Why is Nina Swift obsessed by the mother who abandoned her? How far will Nina go morally to prevent a massacre? To what extent will Fernando rebel against his family before he is reined in by the need for their money? How does Scud’s simple black-and-white view of the world affect the
As I have said in a previous article, the internet has ushered in a new golden age of serialized (or pulp) fiction. Any writer, by sheer hard work, can now use the world wide web to bypass the publishing industry’s gatekeepers, build an audience, and make money from writing. The internet also allows authors to service readers with niche interests, who are perhaps ignored by traditional publishers in their thirst for works with mass appeal. A genuine readership of 4000 fans should be enough for any author to make a reasonable living, provide they keep churning out the stories their readers like.
Technically, I should not even be using the term ‘Steam’ in my writing, since in the post-apocalyptic, post carbon fuel, dystopian future I use as the setting for Gaia’s Brood and Coggler’s Brood, steam power features hardly at all. It would be more accurate for me to term my novels Post-apocalypticpunk, Dystopianpunk, or, Ecopunk (have I just invented a new genre?), though, to be fair, I do use the strap line ‘Dystopian Steampunk’.
Except that these terms are far too specific to reach the audience I am attempting to reach.
As for the ‘Punk’ in Steampunk it suggests a general sassiness on the part of the main heroine, Nina Swift, rather than having anything to do with the anti-establishment music scene of 1970’s and ‘80’s. Many of the characters in my novels have this pop-culture sassiness of character, that you might associate with steampunk comic-strip or cosplay characters.
For Gaia’s Brood, when I was originally writing the book as a serial, on Jukepop Serials, I just called it dystopian fiction, but then it got adopted by steampunkers looking for something new to read. So, like any good artist, I started to deliberately add in steampunk themes, fashions, architypes, and tropes, to satisfy my readers.
In a very general, genre-based sense, Steampunk suggests a retrograde scifi story without masses of future tech. I have written before about the problem of including future tech in your stories that then become dated even before the novel is published. For me, this partly explains the emerging popularity of ‘Steampunk’ stories, both among writers and readers. Who want’s their escapism ruined by the encroachment of reality? There is far too much tech stressing us out in real life to also desire it in our fantasy worlds – escapism should be a shelter from the stresses, strains, and anxieties of the real world.
So, back to the original question: Steampunk or Steampulp? I am very happy to use the term Steampulp, though, it would rank very low on search engines and need, I feel, more explanation than the term Steampunk.
However, given that ‘Steampunk’ was originally a tongue-in-cheek term coined to describe a very loose collection of retro-futuristic scifi writings that did not easily fit into any other genre, I still feel justified in using the term to describe my retro-futuristic dystopian novels.
So, I do not think I am misusing the term Steampunk to describe my writings. And yes, I am jumping on the Steampunk bandwagon, because I feel it is a response by the scifi genre to rampant technological advancement. And yes, of course it is all about marketing, and branding, and finding an audience – because the only thing worse than being a Steampunk writer, is being a Steampunk writer without an audience.
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