Monday, October 4, 2010
I've become very amused by how literary genres are multiplying and budding right out of each other. If you set your eyes on one specific genre, odds are, it has somehow managed to procreate with itself sometime during the last year or so, breeding a plethora of subset genre spawn.
The most entertaining to investigate is the Steampunk genre, a movement that both mimics the sci-fi innovation of cyberpunk, as well as rebels against the Victorians' worship of steam-driven machinery, satirizing the belief that advanced technology would reinvent the British empire. Of course, while mocking the idolizing of super-awesome-gadgetry, the defining flavor of Steampunk is the flashy use of zeppelins, trackless locomotives, badass clocks, and any other devices bedazzled in cogs and gears.
But of course, having one genre has become so last season. Not only is there steampunk, but also:
Dieselpunk: steampunk with diesel in the engines.
Clockpunk: steampunk with a particular emphasis on clocks... ? (Sounds like a Watchmen's doomsday clock meets The Great Mouse Detective's fist fight atop Big Ben.)
Western steampunk: steampunk gone Will-Smith-in-a-cowboy-hat.
Steamgoth: that's right, steampunk, but darker!
Gaslight romance: steampunk with less sci-fi, more fantasy. Apparently, when you think of historical fantasy, you think of gaslights.
Gaslamp fantasy: the same as gaslight romance, except more gaslamps than gaslights.
Now the above list is pretty impressive. But why stop here? I'm going to write a sci-fi book about 19th century Texas and call it Oilpunk. Or I could write a Cratepaperpunk fluorescent sci-fi fantasy with elements of plasticgoth and linoleum hair metal bubble pop rock.
The real dilemma for an author would be to write about a 17th century cowboy pirate detective who battle trolls and wizards with a fire shooting gaslamp and diesel fueled engine while racing to London to stop a giant doomsday clock from striking midnight and triggering a steam pressured atom bomb.
Now I'm just having a party with myself and my own self-assured cleverness, but doesn't this perpetual begetting of subset genres beneath the umbrella of an already existing subset (isn't steampunk a branch of cyberpunk which is a branch of sci-fi?) seem a little silly?
Is a book shopper really going to choose between two sci-fi fantasy novels based on which one has the most clocks or the gothic-est gaslamp? And are there really enough dieselpunk novels to fit a shelf in Barnes & Noble, or even half a shelf?
This subset to the subset movement makes me wonder if we even need genres at all? Considering that every new book written has reimagined its own category and forged an entirely new genre?
What subset genre are planning to create? Do you agree with the excessive labeling? Would you go gaslamp goth or petroleumpunk fantasy?