Mar 15, 2011

Steampunk Jesus, with a side of Chopsticks

Thanks to a brief interaction with @TeeMonster and @lavietidhar over on Twitter, a conversation regarding variant offshoots and "sub-genres" of Steampunk into things like "Dieselpunk" and "Sandalpunk" included the latter triggering thoughts of Steampunk Jesus, blessing his disciples with a robot arm. The image made me giggle in so delicious a fit of sacrilege that I declared on the spot that I was going to blog about it. In fact, I'm a little disappointed I didn't come across that sort of idea earlier....but whatcha gonna do. Inspiration is a polyamorous lover.

(author's note: a brief typo there led to the accidental invention of the word "PolyArmory", meaning, as I can only imagine, a person who enjoys putting his sword in many weapon rooms? Hmm. I'm saving that concept for later.)

Having a series of YA Steampunk books, I get into the question a lot, "What is Steampunk?" I've been asked that question in, I believe, every interview I've done, and I must say I'll be sad the first time I don't get that question. The simple answer is contained in the specific traits that nearly all Steampunk books contain - goggles, airships, mad scientists, etc. And yes, not all of them do, but they're common enough traits that everyone pretty much gets it. But there are other traits; more subtle ones, that whisper more to the sensibilities of steampunk. It's a frame of mind, it's an aesthetic, it's a slow waltz with a pocketwatch in the priomordial aether to the sounds of an all-automaton somnambulistic boilerplate quintet. (And, yes, I know that means they're 5 machines playing water heaters while sleepwalking. I was just checking to see if you were paying attention. And now that we've established that you are, in fact, doing thus, we shall proceed.)

Part of my fondness for Steampunk is its industrial pioneering spirit, of boldly going where no one had completely gone before. I was always a fan of that throughout my youth, of taking the untravelled road if, for no other reason than because no one had yet taken it.

There was a conversation - one which most of us have at some time or another with our parents, when they give us the whole "if everyone else was jumping off the bridge...?" challenge. I remember once asking my mom for something, and explaining that I was interested in that because several of my friends were involved (not because I wanted to be just like them, but because it made whatever it had been seem curious). So to respond, she inexplicably tossed out the bridge dilemma, but I responded that if all my friends were jumping off the bridge, the only explanation could be that I already had.

(Author's Note #2: Let me be clear a moment - - I don't actually believe that. Nor did I then. I was trying to be funny, I swear.)

But there's something to that notion that both tickles and sets me to a mind of pondering in the Unwavering Determination to Pioneer that I have encountered as much in Steampunk as I have seen in many other genres, subcultures and the like. Allow me to elaborate, if you will.

An analogy, I should think, could be found within the concept of atheism.

Now, being a long time student of All Things Religious, I have found myself on many sides of the Great Theist Debate, and I have found there two be two generalized definitions of Atheism, and they both vary depending on your own personal belief structure. To the monotheist or polytheist, they generally see an atheist as a person who doesn't believe in god. But to an atheist, they generally believe that an atheist is a person who believes there are no gods. Very subtle distinction, and it boils down to the perception of whether or not an atheist believes, which, if they are truly an atheist, DOES believe - - they just believe in something different; diametrically opposed to the theist, in point of fact.

I've even heard the term "atheist" spun to include people who don't like religion, but this isn't the same thing either. (Personally, I think there should be more atheist religions, but I once mentioned that to a friend, and she told me that's what Sunday Football was for. I'm still not sure about that.) But at the same time, not all people who don't believe in religions are agnostic, either. Sometimes, people just don't like worshipping their god with other people.

Some people don't like following herds/packs/mobs/congregations/what-have-you - - they'd much rather just go their own way. And while I suppose some people would go their own way just out of an act of rebellion, I think it's a vast oversimplification to presume that anyone who rebels at any time against any particular thing does so from the base cause of rebellion for rebellion's sake.

Take the character of Jesus (messianic allegations aside, treating him for the context of this blog as a literary character), for example. Here's a guy who was nothing more than a thirtysomething Jewish carpenter who decided to preach his own way of looking at the universe, challenging two major societies: the Mosaic Law and the Roman Empire. It isn't surprising that he ended up being executed, it's only shocking that it took them three years to do so. He ruffled feathers, man. It would have been a simple thing on several occasions to not say the sorts of things that would infuriate them the most, but he stood up and said them anyway. Kind of an impressive degree of wanton stubbornness, I would say. Or, you know, conviction.

Rebellion doesn't need be quite so bold, or so unrelenting. It can be the little things, like letting someone merge ahead of you on the road, or, maybe not parking your shopping cart in the dead center of the aisle and ignoring everyone else who's trying to get around you.

Sometimes, like in the world of literature, it's about writing the stories you want to tell, regardless of the genres and the industry's need to place your books into a single genre. Or sub-genre. Or sub-sub-sub-genre. Yes, on the marketing side, we authors need to have a strategy in mind for the distribution and categorization of our work - because we all want to be read, we want to be purchased; we all want to make some sort of living off of the work we do. The people who honestly only write because they love to write are rarely ever going to be published or, for that matter, read by many people - but if a person says they want lots of people to enjoy their writing, then let's be honest: whether they know it or not, they're opening themselves to the same arena of the literary publishing industry as the rest of us. It's competitive, and it includes having to jump through many of the same hoops as anyone who tries to publish for a mass audience.

And, unfortunately, one of those hoops is Genre.

Now, I don't have a problem with Genre itself - not even with any of the genres - but it becomes a challenge when your book conforms to more than one genre. For example.

The Chronicles of Aesirium books aren't Science Fiction OR Fantasy. There are elements of both - magic and high tech; mystical creatures and mad scientists. But in this case, the glue that holds them together, the concept which draws them into a shared orbit like the moons of Grindel and Prama, is a Steampunk sensibility. It just worked as a general concept, in form and spirit, like chopsticks, you know? One of my favorite old Jerry Seinfeld bits was about the chopsticks - why, in an age of forks and spoons, are people still using a couple of polished sticks to eat with? Well, to answer that, there's an elegance and grace and tradition inherent to that; not to mention, it forces you to eat slower so you can be filled up with less food.

Steampunk reminds me of that. An almost hopeless rebellion, with a touch of elegance. Steampunk Jesus, with a side of pork fried rice. And maybe some gyoza, because damn those are tasty.

And now that I've wasted more of your time than need be, I'm getting back to writing. Or tweeting. Or perhaps just looking busy. It's still early yet, I could go either way.

No comments: