Steampunk? Hopepunk? Dreadpunk? How about STOPPUNK

Time for a quick rant.

There are many things that rationally annoy me. Fanatical adherence to binary notions of sex and gender. The fact that the government of my country has refused to authorise the release of an investigation into Russian manipulation of the EU Referendum until after the upcoming General Election. People parking like dicks on my close when there’s very little room and you really don’t need to leave your massive Volvo a foot out from the damned curb.

However, one thing that is probably not particularly rational to be annoyed by, but which achieves it for me nonetheless, is the obsession the SFF community have with whacking the word “punk” on the end of LITERALLY ANY OTHER WORD and acting like they’ve invented a new genre.

I mean, I get it. You want to stand out from the crowd. Your writing is so UNIQUE and SPECIAL and it pulls in influences from all manner of places so it’s not just inaccurate but simply RUDE to demand that you PIGEONHOLE yourself in a nice little box of a genre that is already understood to exist. Because if you’re a ‘horror’ author then people are going to say “Oh, like Stephen King?”, and if you’re a ‘fantasy’ author they’re going to say “Oh, like George RR Martin?”, and if you’re a ‘science-fiction’ author they’re going to say “Oh”.

(your mileage may vary)

And I wouldn’t even mind so much if people decided to just go bananas with it. You know, like a band that tells you they play “trip-funk post-swagcore”, I have no idea what that is but I will instantly, INSTANTLY know that I won’t like it, job done (apologies to all the trip-funk post-swagcore artists currently seething at me from one corner of their damp flatshare in Queens, NY). No, what gets me is:

a) the sheer lack of originality

b) the lack of anything resembling ‘punk’

William Gibson invented cyberpunk back in the days when televisions showed a snowstorm of black and white when they weren’t tuned to anything, and you know what? Fair enough. Then someone somewhere decided to invent steampunk and alright, fine, that’s big enough to be self-sustaining now. But what connects cyberpunk and steampunk, exactly? What is it the similarity between them (and all the other -punk genres that have sprung up like charity shops in a failing town centre)? Why do they all latch onto that one signifier? NO ONE KNOWS, other than it is in itself now an identifiable thing. If you call your genre somethingpunk then all you’re saying is that it is in some way thematically related to the something, the ‘punk’ part serves no other purpose, AND HERE’S WHERE I GET ANGRY because “punk” IS A THING.

I’m not going to argue about the ins and outs of punk and the history of it, because that’s dry and boring and really far too specific when it can be boiled down to: “punk” is in some way an act of rebellion. It indicates unhappiness with society and a desire to move towards something else, something better. Now, exactly what is ‘better’ is an individual thing. I had this discussion at FantasyCon with someone who described themselves as an anarchist. I’m much more of a socialist. Greg Graffin of Bad Religion described two basic forms of punks; the anarchists who want to tear society down, and the socialists who want to rebuild it differently. Anarchism veers too close to libertarianism for my liking (I watched a friend move from one to the other with virtually nothing in between), but that’s just me.

(I mean there are also the fascist right-wing punks that the Dead Kennedys told to fuck off, but Nazi punks can indeed fuck off)

My point is that, to my mind, if you’re going to put ‘-punk’ after your word of choice to describe your genre, there needs to be some form of rebellion there. I’ve never read Neuromancer, so I can’t comment on that, but certainly most of the steampunk I’ve read doesn’t do that for me: it’s mainly about maintaining the status quo against threats, not challenging it (this is because an awful lot of steampunk is sanitised, sweetened-up – usually British – Imperialism with added goggles, but that’s another debate entirely, and isn’t a fair reflection of *all* the genre). I don’t see how you can have (for example) “hopepunk” that harkens back to some sort of golden age; it should be about moving forwards, creating something new, something better than what has come before. Someone told me that there’s now (allegedly) “dreadpunk” which is (also allegedly) gothic horror, but being written nowadays and called something different to make it sound cooler. And like… I’m not a horror expert, but I’m struggling to see how you can make wider societal points when horror tends to be a much more personal, survival-based thing.

So that’s my rant, basically: as a punk, I think that if you want to put ‘punk’ on the end of a word to make a genre for yourself, you should at least have your book or the characters within it challenging societal norms in a progressive fashion. It has to have some connection to the text more than just ‘this book is vaguely related to the word that’s in front of “punk”‘. I’ve heard of “eco-punk”, I’m sure that can count. “Solarpunk”? Yeah, probably. “Dieselpunk”? No, doubt it: now you’re (probably) just using one word to suggest a historic era, and the other to indicate the relationship to the first word.

Also, FantasyCon was fun, and I’m at the Black Library Weekender on Saturday, whoo!

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