Better Living Through Graphic Storytelling
A Comics Blog About Shit We Like
04 April 2007
Another Quick Note on Science Fiction
(because it relates to comics, how?)

Today I read a blog post about somebody claiming to have invented the Sci-Fi sub-genre of "heliumpunk".  Now, seriously.  Why?  Do we really need more sci-fi anthologies that include the world "punk" in the title? To be honest, the whole post pretty much drips of conceit, and that is possibly the most off-putting thing about it, but it's not the only one.

Listen to this:

Since I "invented" Heliumpunk, I feel authoritative enough to define it: "A future or near-future setting where anachronistic and obsolete technology is given a new lease on life, not just because it is cool, but for plausible reasons within the setting."

Honestly, the only thing that seems to differ between "heliumpunk" and (sci-fi's flavor of the year) steampunk seems to be the fact that "heliumpunk" is set in the future, while steampunk is set in an alternative past.

Don't believe me?

Listen to this:

This setting begs to have air pirates who are after your helium, flying around on crude gliders with harpoon guns and futuristic goggles.

Or this:

BSG uses technology that is old from its own perspective, not from the perspective of the viewer. Heliumpunk uses tech that is outmoded even by today's standards and gives it new life.

And this:

A novel with polearm-wielding Zeppelin pilots flying over the Arctic whilst being pursued by multinational Helium conglomerates.

The air-goggles thing really got me.  I mean, yes, air-goggles are cool.  I would even go so far as to describe them as sexy.  But what your discussing - the fashion, the fight scenes, the setting, the involved conversations about the pros and cons of fighting with polearms - this is all window dressing.  Is it possible to define an entire genre, or even sub-genre for that matter, with peripheries?

I understand, when it comes to speculative fiction, it's the speculation part of it that can be the most fun, and while that may work really really great for you and all yr D&D playmates, it doesn't write the goddamn story.  A story is more than plot and setting (which seems to be the only thing steampunk fans care to talk about these days). 

Think about it. 

Think about the great sci-fi novels that made you wet your pants with glee & imagination.  Think about what really gets you when you watch Firefly.  Is it the cheap visual tricks, or is it the characters?  What year was Concrete Island set in?  What was the dominant fashion of Farenheit 451?  Where were the sexy air-goggles in Time Out of Joint?

Even the direct predecessor of steampunk, my beloved cyberpunk, showed some interest in concepts beyond what weapons were used and what people wore.  It was used as window dressing mostly.  A way to make the ideas and concepts come alive as people, rather than notes on a piece of paper.  Granted, the whole concept of cyberspace was pure speculation (the fun part!) on the part of Gibson, but we have it now.  It's real life, it's in front of us, and it turned out to be a fucking waste of time. 

Bruce Sterling gives blogs 4 - 5 more years before they die off as all cultural fads do.  And he should know about fads - he was one of the "founders" of cyberpunk.

Doctor Who enthusiast and zinester Tat Wood describes steampunk, in his essay Disraeli Gears* describes the genre as a marketing category.  With good reason too.  The term "cyberpunk" was coined by Bruce Bethke as a marketing ploy to make his books more noticeable.  And honestly, that's all the term "steampunk" or any other derivative (concept + "punk" = subgenre) can make me think of.


Attempts to make money.

Now, I will never write off a piece of work simply because it is associated with a particular "movement" or genre, but please give it a rest.  I've already admitted that air-goggles are sexy...



...but not as sexy as vision-enhancing mirrored lenses surgically attached to your face.

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