Steampunk, Cyberindie; Magicelectronica – Fun with Genre Portmanteaus
One of the advantages of having student friends is that they call you up (or text you, or message you, or utilize some feature of iMessaging you didn’t even know existed to video-call you while you’re on the toilet, or whatever) and involve you in those wonderfully pointless discussions that only students can really have.
So while a lesser man might have resented having his poop interrupted to debate whether The Golden Compass is “steampunk” or not, I just take it as a happy sign I’m still young.
And since we’re on the subject, it’s definitely not. A few zeppelins does not steampunk make. There might be a little “steam” in the background somewhere, but the book is very short on “punk,” which (if we’re taking our cues from the music genre) is riotous, unconstrained, and deliberately overwrought. Giant clockwork robots and corsets with unnecessary gears on them are punk; psycho-religious thrillers about machines that split your soul in half (but what is your soul, really?) are not.
Of course, once you go down that path, it’s hard to stop.
The Golden Compass, for example, was a pretty hiply ironic book. It’s the kind of book that would deliberately grow an awful mustache. With all that dapper, vaguely-anachronistic (but not actually recreationist) fashion floating around in it, I think we can safely say that it’s more LighterThanAirIndie than it is SteamPunk.
By the same token, those fantasy series that take twelve novels just to explain how a multi-tiered system of magic works? Totally electronica, only with wizards. It also shares the features that make most people not like electronica, to wit, endless repetitions on the same theme and a passionate belief that anyone who doesn’t “get it” is just too stupid to appreciate attention to detail.
Girl Genius is pretty much just Top 40 in corsets. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I’m going to be making these up for a while, and assigning them to every piece of speculative fiction I read. You should do the same! It will help other people resist the temptation to cram every sci-fi/fantasy work out there into one of three or four pigeonholes.
And then I can finish my poop in peace.