October 28th, 2010

hoard potato, tv, movies

The Hoard Potato steams up some punks.

Charles Stross explains why he's burned out on "Steampunk".

It boils down to "90% of Steampunk is crud", of course, and over at Futurismic, Paul Raven's commentary applies the inevitable and immortal coda to that clause.

I enjoyed both articles, and my superficial summary should not be construed as a dismissal; both Stross and Raven do provide some analysis of why Sturgeon's Ratio arises.*

Personally, I think that Stross's issues arise because, as a writer, he sees "Steampunk" primarily as a literary movement. In contrast, Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing tends to approach it more as a design aesthetic, applying the craftsmanship, materials and visual motifs of a bygone era to both wardrobe and cutting-edge technology.

I lean toward Doctorow's view: the current "Steampunk Movement" is connected to the Maker Movement. Steampunk's central defining elements are artifacts that imply a backstory. The literature that actually provides a backstory is a secondary effect. Science fiction writers and fans do love to follow such implications reductio ad asburdum, sometimes to good effect—but they often stretch a simple premise to its breaking point.

However, none of that is the main thrust of this post.

You see, inevitably, when discussions of this currently-trendy subgenre arise, there's always someone who fixates on the word used to describe it, insisting that it's neither "steam" (being more often wood, brass, and high-voltage Teslary) nor "punk".**

After reading this tedious protest one too many times, I hereby affix thumb to nose.

Steampunk is Punk because, as a design aesthetic, it's rebelling against mass production and homogenization by reintroducing the idea of hand-crafted artistry to technological artifacts.

Steampunk is STEAM because of a literary device known as synecdoche, in which part of something is used to refer to the whole thing. "Steam" is a concise shorthand for "Victorian Era Technology", because it was, in fact, the dominant and most distinctive technology of the era. Tesla and Edison, fine; Nemo's electric batteries, fine; Cavorite, if you must -- but it was the steam locomotive and the steam engine that reshaped the human landscape. Moreover, it's a technology that has by and large fallen out of use in the present day; by contrast, things like electricity are far more prevalent now than they were then.

Of course, once you discover that the original meaning of "punk" is neither "mohawked rocker" nor "small-time hood", but "prostitute" ... well, then, the whole "transformation of the subgenre into the current trendy cash cow for skeevy publishers looking to milk a quick buck" just makes it all the more appropriate. As Mr. Raven points out, the same thing happened to both the "rock" and the "cyber" variations on the theme.

*A quick look around suggests that the "second artist effect" that Unca Charlie cites may in fact be a new and elegant coinage for a principle that has been stammered about in genre analysis circles for decades. Has anyone else heard that turn of phrase ere now?
**No, it's not just you. Or you. Or any of the many of you who think this is personally aimed in your direction.
Cross-posted to KDDR.

pyrate, arrrrr, copywrong, anarchy

The Revolution will be DIGITZED: Copywrong.

Someone posted a friends-locked poll about the sharing of copyrighted materials, and asked for comments; I wanted to share my response publicly.

The biggest problem with "illegal copying" is copyright law, not the copying itself. The entire body of copyright law needs massive, wholesale revision to preserve the rights of the end-user and the actual creators; at the moment, all the power and authority lie with the corporate middlemen, at the expense of everyone else, and that cart's just careening down the slippery slope to Syrinx.

Personally? I don't indulge in illicit file sharing myself, for two reasons:

One: the media industry are such raging assholes about it, have the lawmakers under their thumb, and are more than willing to retroactively enforce new, more restrictive laws on whatever they might find lurking on your hard drive, even if it predates those laws.

Two: if someone, be it an individual artist or an international megacorporation, refuses to make their product available through any of the convenient, inexpensive distribution channels that I can access easily -- say, Cable On Demand, or Hulu, or whatever -- you know what? I don't need their product badly enough to break the law to get it.

I cannot emphasize that point strongly enough:

Illegal copying is not an act of rebellion. It's an act of submission. It's telling the big companies that their product is of such vital importance to you that you're willing to risk fines, net access, and jail time to get it.

Me? I'm not even willing to deal with minor irritations. Sure, I enjoy watching The Venture Brothers, but if it's a choice between staying up past midnight when I have to get up early on a Monday morning, or putting up with the stuttery, spazzy, chapter-skipping Adult Swim site, I'll just opt out entirely.