Posts Tagged ‘Ann Vandermeer’

It’s not uncommon for proponents of steampunk to call for more diversity in the genre. Whether it’s Steampunk magazine‘s stated desire for fiction that reflects diverse backgrounds, or Ann VanderMeer’s mission to show different takes on steampunk in Steampunk Revolution, it’s a familiar mission. Despite this, the steampunk I see is at least as centred on white western countries, especially Britain and the USA, as sci-fi and fantasy. For all its revolutionary cries, this is fiction dominated by first world white male characters.

Many of the reasons are probably the same as for science fiction and fantasy. The majority of influential writers and publishers, especially of English language work, are white guys, and this is self-perpetuating. There’s also an expectation, rightly or not, that the core of the readers fit this type and want to see characters like them. And there’s an element of cultural default, to which I’m as prone as any writer. In Britain, our ‘average person’ in any given piece of culture is white, male, and fairly well to do. Any deviation from this is a distinct characteristic, while these are used to represent the neutral. Of course they’re far from neutral, but we’re so used to this that it takes a conscious effort to depict someone different, and when concentrating on other aspects of writing we’ll often default to this for characters both great and small.

But I think there’s also something specific to steampunk. While fantasy literature as we currently see it was strongly influenced by European mythology, there are other mythologies to be drawn on when creating fantasy. For steampunk, this is harder. It’s a genre based on a nineteenth century experience of industrialisation and progress through steam-powered technology. That’s something that was experienced most accutely in Europe and north America, with privileged white guys as the main agents of change. Other parts of the world experienced that particular form of industrialisation in a more limited way, both technologically and geographically, and by the time industrialisation became a global norm it was already moving out of the era of gaslight and steam, into one of electricity and diesel.

This isn’t to say that we can’t explore steampunk from a myriad other perspectives. Whether it’s the role of women, children and the poor; shining a light on parts of the world that experienced that more limited, externally inspired industrialisation; or reimagining the industrial revolution as created by another culture. But there are less existing images and models to inspire and shape our work.

We should always aim for more diversity in what we write. It makes it more interesting, and expands the potential audience. But that’s harder work in some genres than others.

Anyway, if you know some good examples of more diverse steampunk, whether in literature or elsewhere, leave a message below. I could do with some inspiration to help me practise what I preach!

I’m excited to say that Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution is out now. Featuring my story Urban Drift, it’s a splendid collection of grinding cogs and radical concepts that I’m very pleased to be part of. I’ll post something more about my contribution another day, but for now here’s Ann Vandermeer, the book’s editor:

What if Steampunk had a revolution? What if this genre that is so closely tied to the past burst forth into the future – breaking down definitional barriers and forging ahead? Steampunk Revolution features a renegade collective of writers — including steampunk legends as well as hot, new talents — who are rebooting the steam-driven past and powering it into the future with originality, wit, and adventure. Going far beyond corsets and goggles, Steampunk Revolution is not just a ride in your great-great granddad’s zeppelin — now it’s a much wilder ride.

Here’s the entire list of contributors: Christopher Barzak, Paolo Chikiamco, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeffrey Ford, Lev Grossman, Samantha Henderson, Leow Hui Min Annabeth, N.K. Jemison, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Malissa Kent, Andrew Knighton, Nick Mamatas, David Erik Nelson, Morgan Johnson, and Fritz Swanson, Garth Nix, Ben Peek, Cherie Priest, Margaret Ronald, Christopher Rowe, Vandana Singh, Bruce Sterling, Karin Tidbeck, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M. Valente, Genevieve Valentine, Jeff VanderMeer, Carrie Vaughn, J.Y. Yang, Jaymee Goh, Margaret Killjoy, Austin Sirkin and book design/art by John Coulthart.

And if you want another view, Shelf Awareness have a rather good review.


Posted: October 7, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The introduction to Steampunk Revolution, the upcoming third steampunk anthology from Ann Vandermeer, is available to read on the blog. It’s an interesting piece, reflecting on what steampunk is and where it’s going, and I always like to see someone raise interesting questions about their genre or medium, what it can do, what its boundaries are.

For me, steampunk is interesting because of the contrasts it represents. It’s about the hope of technology, from a time before we learned the taste of pollution and the terror of potential nuclear armageddon. But it’s also about the dark side of that, the disparities inherent in both our past and our ever-developing technological future. It muddles the boundaries between history, fantasy and science fiction, creating interesting contrasts, for example in the gap between a fantastical motor-carriage-racing academic aristocracy and an all too real impoverished, rioting underclass in Gibson and Sterling’s Difference Engine.

Steampunk Revolution is out on 1 December, and includes my story Urban Drift, a heist story about art and addiction. If you like what Ms Vandermeer has to say, then you’re sure to like the rest of the book too.