Today we welcome Andrew Mayer, author of the Society of Steam Trilogy.
Andrew Mayer was born on the tiny island of Manhattan, and is still fascinated by their strange customs and simple ways. When he’s not writing new stories he works as a videogame designer and digital entertainment consultant. Over the years he has has created numerous concepts, characters, and worlds including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets. These days he resides in Oakland, CA where he spends too much time on the internet, and not enough time playing his ukulele.
Steampunk is coming to town
by Andrew Mayer
Have you seen the latest Jusin Bieber video? A breakdancing Santa Claus is breaking it down in Victorian underwear, and Justin is there to meet him in a gear-studded vest with a mechanical glove. It is, for better or worse, absolutely steampunk.
And according to some very irate (and some very gleeful) nerds, it’s also supposedly the end of steampunk as we know it. And I’m here to say that while they may just be right, but it also may also be the dawn of something new.
Of all the people who seemed to be the most gleeful at the genre’s imminent demise, the ones who amuse me the most are fantasy fans. They rub their hands together with joy, claiming that steampunk is getting too watered down and too mainstream.
From my point of view, it’s all jealousy and glass houses. After all, while steampunk may have its tropes of gears and goggles, fantasy has had decades to commit far worse sins. Anyone remember Tom Cruise as the elf-boy in Legend? How about the shelves of gift stores in malls across the world that are sagging with “adorable” dragon figurines? And we’ve just survived a decade of Harry Potter with light plastic wands and vibrating nimbus brooms, and yet somehow fantasy seems to have thrived, with Peter Jackson about to send us back to Middle Earth for two more films.
But success does have its cost, and the truth is that Fantasy had been splashing around in the mainstream (and doing mostly a poor job of it) for almost forty years before it found the more genuine “gritty” aesthetic that powers so much of the modern day genre (like Song of Ice and Fire). And even so, for every gritty elf assassin, there’s a Galadriel Barbie doll.
So fantasy fans, may you mock us for Justin Bieber, but remember that it wasn’t all that long after Tolkien had finished his genre-defining masterpiece that Leonard Nimoy (still sporting his Mr. Spock hair cut) sang about Hobbits in a video that definitely feels a very, very long way from Bag End…
Besides, this isn’t the first time that we’ve heard that steampunk is “over”. It isn’t even the first time this year. Back in January there were plenty of folks claiming that its appearance in thousands of gear-encrusted tchotchkes on Etsy was proof of the apocalypse. And yet, somehow, in the last year we’ve not only gotten Justin Bieber interested, but there’s also another Sherlock Holmes film, a steampunk spinoff for Warehouse 13, and books of all types (from Romance, to my own superhero benders and beyond). There’s even more movies on the way. And every time the things take a new twist or turn, thousands more people ask the all-important question, “Hey, what is this steampunk stuff all about?”
So, while people want to see the mainstreaming of steampunk as the beginning of the end of a genre, having it appear in a huge mainstream video is probably the end of the beginning. It’s understandable that people are feeling a sense of loss. You always do when something you love grows up. And it’s always more fun when you and your friends “own” something that nobody knows about than it is telling your parents why there’s a clockwork doll hanging out with the breakdancing Santa. But, as we’ve seen with other genres, that can also be the moment of greatest opportunity as well.
Steampunk may have started out with the grit intact, but if it’s going to stick around it has to show a softer, more family-friendly side as well. Seeing that happen as it enters in the mainstream isn’t a sign of failure, it’s an opportunity for more people to discover the charms of our neo-Victorian aesthetic, and that means it’s going to stick around for just a little bit longer, even if we have to endure plush zeppelins and plastic goggles.
But that success goes both ways, and the longer steampunk lasts in the mainstream, the more likely it is that people will push the edges of the genre as well, finding ways to create something that you will love more than you thought possible.
– Andrew Mayer