One of the panels I was on last weekend at ConFusion was about mixing genres, and moving tropes from one genre into another. Since this is pretty much what I do, I was right at home on this one, despite it being distressingly early (noon) on Sunday.
While all the authors on the panel agreed that it was a lot of fun to mess with reader expectations by throwing our genres in a blender, another topic came up that is particularly relevant to steampunk. Why the heck is everything today dystopian? Steampunk as a whole is very much about the idea of a less-than-lovely past (or at least past-like setting. Dickens on steroids if you will. All the gloom of a coal-shrouded Victorian city without any of the pageantry. On the other hand, the bleak concept of the dystopian future is everywhere in fiction, not just in the punks. Turn on the TV or look at movie listings and you can find zombies just about everywhere, as well as the end of the world as we know it due to asteroids or plague or sentient machines or alien attack. So why are we all so fascinated with the dark side of fiction? Does the dark side really have cookies?
Well, truthfully, some of us aren’t. That’s the whole point of romance as a genre, really–the idea that happiness can win out in the end. But even in romance, we’re seeing a backdrop of misery in the conditions around our characters. And as one panel asked, why don’t we see utopian futures? Partly, we decided, because it’s awfully hard to set exciting conflict in a utopian world. All in all, utopia is kind of boring. Furthermore, the trend isn’t new. When the world gets scary, so does our fiction. We like seeing our hero(ine)s have to overcome tremendous difficulties to win out in the end–because maybe then, we see a little hope for ourselves.
***on a personal, and happier, note, Moonlight & Mechanicals was the runner up for Best Book of 2012 at Love Romances Cafe. Thank you to everyone who voted.***