Steampunk has TWO syllables

This observation, lifted from a conversation about something else entirely, is quite worth pondering when I get back to working on Humorless:

Steampunk, to me, often seems to have a whole lot of ‘steam’, and very little ‘punk’.

Which is to say, the emphasis often ends up on the trappings of the fictional steampunk age (flying machines, engine magick, people wearing goggles for no real reason, etc), and not the social issues behind the fiction – class struggle, the social effects of technological revolution, and protagonists who are at odds with authority but lacking in social power or influence.

Couldn’t have said it better myself (largely because it hadn’t consciously occurred to me).

Now, to be fair, there isn’t a LOT of steampunk to be had in the first place, so in ways this is an understandable omission — the author might feel pressure to turn up the ‘steam’ volume on their story to get it recognized as such, and ignore the other half the equation.

I’m thinking over Humorless in light of this observation, and I see a similar kind of overbalancing – zeppelins, brass fittings, strange weapons… sure, but where’s the social imbalance and conflict? It could (and should) certainly BE there, to earn the ‘punk’ syllable… but it isn’t.

(Part of me whines that it’s comedy, not a social commentary, but that’s a cop out.)

Actually, if you accept this whole idea, Girl Genius isn’t steampunk — it’s much more some kind of Steam Fantasy for which there is no official genre designation.

Hrm. More later.

Humorless, page 2

What the heck, here’s the second page of Humorless.

Humorless, page 1 is over here.

“I haven’t said why because I don’t know why,” the ship snarled. “And I haven’t said who because I don’t think there’s a word for them yet, but there are too many people,” the ship paused as though gathering its thoughts, “too many people here. ‘S too tempting for them. My whole crew was wiped out, to the man – and woman – by these things, just because there were so many of us. The crew of -”

“Wiped out, you say?” The city had gone from patronizing to ever so slightly amused. “How, then, did you make it back to us?”

“We -”

“For that matter,” the city continued, “how did you survive?”

“I didn’t, you twat. I died.” The airship paused. Below, the citizens of Bodea-Lotnikk murmured in concern and confusion, a slow sound, like the surf that one suspected might get quite a bit louder as the tide rose, if it was given half a chance.

“You died.” The city, unlike its people, did not sound particularly convinced.

“Yes. Have you not been paying attention? I’ve been trying to -”

“You’re very talkative for a dead man,” the city commented, somewhat dryly. 3

“Well, no.” This actually seemed to set the ship back for a moment.

“I’m… I’m not dead, now.”

“How lucky,” remarked the city. “What about your crew?”

Silence. The people of the city waited. The city itself seemed a bit smug. Finally:

“They’re not dead either,” the ship said, “but that is not -”

“OH, BUT IT IS.” The city shook. “You have come into our sovereign skies, trumpeting fear and creating panic in our streets, and for what? NOTHING.” 4

“I -”

“You,” the city cut in. “Will cease all broadcasts and remove yourself from our sky, or you will be blasted out of it.”

As one (very large) creature, the Bodeans and Lotnikkans exhaled a long oooohhh at this; the promise of fireworks, and not even a holiday.

The Grand Duke knew how to entertain his people.

3 – Deadpan delivery is a particular gift of inanimate objects, even large ones, owed in no small part to the lack of any discernible face.

4 – Not terribly effective, if panic was in fact the goal; most of those listening to the exchange were about as worked up as a crowd watching a tennis match.