Everyone’s Invited to the Steampunk Party
Written by K. W. Jeter
By the time you read this, or shortly thereafter, there’s good chance I’ll be preparing to head to Brighton, along with a lot of other folks attending the World Fantasy Convention. I’ve looked forward to this for quite a while, as it’ll be the first time in – ouch – a couple of decades for my wife and I to see our old friends in England. I fear I’ve reached the age where time doesn’t just fly, it rockets past on jet boosters.
The downside is that in making my travel plans this year, I had to choose between WFC and WorldCon in San Antonio. I have a lot of friends in Texas as well, whom I would’ve dearly loved to see again, if for no other reason than the Texans have a well-deserved reputation for knowing how to throw a party. Which certainly seems to have been the case once again, from the reports I’ve gotten from other folks who managed to get to WorldCon this year. As was expected, everybody I heard from had a good time.
And yet . . .
There was another, smaller but significant stream of post-con commentary. Which was to the effect of how old so much of everything seemed at WorldCon. (To paraphrase one on-line commentator, “If I’d wanted to hang out with a bunch of people in their seventies, bitching about how the whole world changed without their permission, I’d have gone to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving.”) The age thing was to be expected, I suppose; a lot of the science fiction community, both writers and readers, is getting greyer. But they’re still hanging in there and turning out for events, which is undoubtedly a good thing, even if the clack of chrome walkers on convention hall floors threatens to drown out some of the conversations.
But here’s the deal. I also hear reports from folks returning from steampunk events – and nobody complains about how old everything and everyone is at those. I’ve guested at a couple, and that’s been my impression as well: at least for the time being, the grey factor in the steampunk community is a lot less than in science fiction.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of considerably younger people – writers, readers, fans, whatever – involved in science fiction, or that there’s even a hard, sharp division between the sf and steampunk communities; the overlap is pretty wide. And of course, there’s plenty of great and interesting and exciting stories and books coming out from both camps, from the old vets and those just starting out. No reason for everybody not to get along.
Once in a while, though, I catch a whiff of just a little animosity, coming from those closer than not to – ahem – my age bracket. A couple of years ago, at the World Fantasy Con in San Diego, I bumped into one of the science fiction field’s grandmasters, an undoubted Name Everybody Knows. He spotted a badge on my lapel: “What’s that?” When I answered that it was from SteamCon, the big steampunk event in Seattle, he snarled with evident disgust, “Isn’t it about time for that stuff to be over?”
That took me aback. I made some inconsequential reply, but it wasn’t until later – as it always is – that I figured what I should’ve said was, “Look, grandpa, just because you weren’t invited to the party, that’s no reason to get all sclerotic about it.” If I’ve got a new steampunk book coming out and you don’t, whose fault is that? These are invitations you issue to yourself, with no-one’s official imprimatur required.
And of course, a lot of steampunk is propelled by goggles-’n’-corsets High Silliness, but then a big part of science fiction gets moved along by the big media franchises equivalent – which frankly is starting to see some a little past its sell-by date. If some old fogey peering through his smudged bifocals can’t discern the cool and important stuff going on, such as the tsunami of anarchic multiculturalists using the steampunk scalpel to dissect the past and reassemble it like a two-dollar watch, that’s his loss; the readers are picking up on it. If the steampunk party is livelier and the music’s better than over at what used to be the completely happening genre hang-out, they’re still pretty much on the same block downtown, with nothing stopping people from going back and forth from one bar to the other, wherever the action might be.
From the Tor/Forge October 7th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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