association-list a veritable mint for dunning-kruggerands

A few words on genre trends

I started this post out as a giant rant against steampunk, but by the time I’d gotten half-way through it, I realized that my rhetoric was getting pretty familiar. The gist:

The freedom allowed you by working in a well-defined genre or setting is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time building the world. You can shortcut and infer to your heart’s content, and there is little chance that your reader, if she is sufficiently familiar with the subgenre within which you’re working, won’t ever get confused. You can spend all of your time filling out your characters, elaborating your plot, and layering meaning throughout to enforce your finely honed point. The problem with this this that too many latecomers to the steampunk party are too busy playing with the decorations and “swaggering submyth types made of the finest gold-plated cardboard” to ever bother with any of this. We get thin, shopworn characters in a generic setting (automata, airships, and gears, oh my!), walking through mispaced plots whose primary function is to exhibit the cleverness of the writer in coming up with ever more baroque elaborations on the standard genre furniture.

There was more. You should thank me for deleting it. But this depiction of steampunk is basically dull. This is not steampunk at its worst, but all genre writing at its worst. The same point could have been made of the post-Tolkein fantasy boom from the late 70s to the early 90s (the hangover of which is still with us today), or the endless dreary cyberpunk follow-ons that have taken up most of the intellectual airspace in between now and then, or the mini-booms in epic fantasy, dark fantasy, the new space opera, etc., etc., etc.. Paranormal romance and steampunk are just the latest iterations and there’s fairly little that’s interesting to be said about them specifically. These are basically the publishing equivalent of momentum trading. Something equivalent will always be with us.

There is little to be done while the market is still hungry. But it’s worth the time, I think, to try and ignore the noise, and do our best to amplify the signal, all the while knowing that it’s impossible to win.

<-- "The Things" by Peter Watts A Serpent in the Gears, by Margaret Ronald -->