Meet the Punk Family

If you’re into science fiction, particularly alternate history or speculative fiction, there are some interesting sub-genres to be aware of.  They all have -punk in their name:  cyberpunk, clockpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, and atompunk.

Punk FamilyI’ve blogged about steampunk before, but here I’ll step back and introduce the Punk family.

  • Cyberpunk. This term describes fiction involving a world of the near future where computer technology has made life miserable and degraded society.  Author Bruce Bethke is credited with coining the term in 1980 in connection with his short story “Cyberpunk.”  Major writers of cyberpunk include Pat Cadigan, William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling.  Some cinematic examples of cyberpunk are 1984, Blade Runner, Mad Max, the Terminator movies, and Tron.  In my graphic I’ve depicted it as the parent of the Punk Family since it came first.
  • Clockpunk.  This refers to fiction set in a time when metal springs are the primary technological energy storage mechanism, an era prior to the invention of the steam engine.  A player of the Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS) invented the term.  Clockpunk authors of note include Jay Lake, S. M. Peters, and Terry Pratchett.
  • Steampunk.  This subgenre depicts settings with steam-powered mechanisms, often in time periods similar to the nineteenth century.  Author K. W. Jeter invented the term in 1987.  Early giants of steampunk literature include James Blaylock, K. W. Jeter, and Tim Powers, though there are many, many writers continuing in their footsteps.  Movie examples of steampunk include Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Prestige, Sherlock Holmes, Van Helsing, and Wild Wild West.  I think it’s fair to say this child of cyberpunk has surpassed its parent and all its siblings in popularity.  It has spawned a culture all its own with jewelry, clothing, art, music, and dedicated conventions in addition to books.
  • Dieselpunk.  In Dieselpunk we see the gasoline-based technology of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.  Game designer Lewis Pollak came up with the term in 2001.  Authors of dieselpunk include David Bishop, Robert Harris, Brian Moreland, and F. Paul Wilson.  Some examples of dieselpunk movies are Rocketeer and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.  As with steampunk, dieselpunk also comes with its own visual style — art deco.
  • Atompunk.  This refers to fiction set in the exuberant post World War II age, the Atomic Age.  I couldn’t find anything about who coined the term.  Some atompunk authors are Adam Christopher and Dante D’Anthony.  I don’t know of any atompunk movies made since the sub-genre emerged, but many science fiction movies of the 1950’s can be thought of as proto-atompunk.  There are associated visual styles with atompunk, too:  Googie Architecture, Populuxe, and Raygun Gothic.

There are other, lesser known, members of the Punk family:  Decopunk, Biopunk, Nanopunk, Stonepunk, Nowpunk, Splatterpunk, Elfpunk, and Mythpunk.  Perhaps if these attract sufficient readers, I’ll blog about them too.

The ‘-punk’ aspect of each of these is meant to convey that these are not celebrations of the technology in question.  The idea in these stories is to convey dark and disturbing faults in the societies driven by the technology, and by extension, to point out analogous problems with our own modern society.

My steampunk stories include “The Steam Elephant,” “The Wind-Sphere Ship,” (call that one Iron Age steampunk), “Within Victorian Mists,” “A Steampunk Carol,” “The Six Hundred Dollar Man,” and the upcoming “Rallying Cry.”

I’ve written a couple of clockpunk stories too:  “Leonardo’s Lion” and “A Tale More True.”

Perhaps you’ll enjoy getting to know the Punk Family.  They’re an odd bunch, but they’re getting more famous every day.  Leave a comment and explain what you think about them to the world and to—

                                                        Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 24, 2013Permalink

10 Reasons You Really Are Good Enough to Write Fiction

Perhaps you have a story inside you, but you feel too scared or intimidated or inadequate to believe you could ever write fiction.  Here are some ways to banish those feelings.

First, there are at least three levels of fiction-writing.  (1) These days you can write and publish something yourself without an editor, at near zero cost.  (2) You can get your writing accepted by a publisher, but not make enough money to live on.  (3) You can write fiction as your sole means of support.  I’ll limit myself to discussing level (2) today.

Never be a writerTrue, some people aren’t cut out to be writers at all.  My purpose today is to keep you from cutting yourself out of the running at the start.  Let’s look at ways you might think you’re not fit to be a writer:

  1. I just know I could never be a writer.  Where is your resistance to writing coming from?  Do you immediately think “I could never do that” when presented with other opportunities in life?  Maybe this isn’t about writing at all, but your general negativity toward trying new activities.  How many amazing human initiatives haven’t happened because somebody said, “I could never do that,” hmm?
  2. I don’t know anything about writing.  Don’t let this stop you.  That’s the part you can get help with, through critique groups, writing courses, books about writing, writing conferences, etc.
  3. I’d never write as well as [insert your favorite famous author’s name here].  Stop comparing yourself to the great authors.  You can’t know today how you’ll stack up against them one day.  So what if you’re not quite as good?  You can still get published and win over some readers.
  4. I’m unknown, and people only read books by known authors.  Think about it; all published authors started off unknown.  What if your favorite author had talked herself or himself out of writing?
  5. No editor will read my stories because I’m unpublished.  Not true.  Consider that latching on to a new, undiscovered top talent is every publisher’s dream.  All they need is one (you?) to make their career.
  6. Novels seem so hard to write.  No need to begin with a novel.  Try a novella, a short story, flash fiction.  Do blog posts for a while.
  7. My teacher told me I’d never be a writer.  Is one long-ago English or Language Arts teacher still in your head criticizing you?  Keep that teacher in your mind, but dedicate yourself to showing how wrong he or she was; sweet revenge will be yours one day.
  8. My story idea seems trite, or already used, etc.  At this point your idea is just a story concept; it might match hundreds of already-published stories.  Once you flesh it out and write it down, it becomes uniquely yours, different from all others, and possibly publishable.
  9. It takes too long to write a story.  True, writing takes time.  But, of all the skills and abilities you’ve developed in life, how many did you master in a day?  Let the strength of your story idea sustain you.  If it’s truly grabbed you, you’ll persevere until you write it all down.
  10. I couldn’t stand being rejected or getting a bad review.  That does stink, no denying it.  Any creative endeavor requires a thick skin.  Look at editor’s rejections as permissions to send your story elsewhere.  As for bad reviews, remember it’s far easier to be the critic.  At the worst, the reviewer may actually have a valid point you can use to improve your writing for the next story.

See?  You are good enough to at least try being a writer.  Shake off those negative emotions.  Let your imagination soar.  Allow yourself to try it out.  Someday, when you’re a famous author, be sure and give partial credit to—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 17, 2013Permalink

Dear Robert Heinlein

Yeah, I know the records say you’ve been dead since 1988, but I figure you found or inherited some way to cheat the reaper, like your character Lazarus Long did.  By some weird and inexplicable means, I think you could be reading this.

170px-RAH_1929_YearbookOver my lifetime, I’ve read several of your novels and short stories.  In my high school and college days, I read “By His Bootstraps,” Time Enough for Love, Star Beast, The Man Who Sold the Moon, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, Farnham’s Freehold, and The Number of the Beast. In later years I read Friday, Grumbles from the Grave, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

I’m not sure what it was about your work that stuck with me most.  Maybe the cool future technologies.  Perhaps the gritty, wise-cracking, rough-and-ready characters, all of whom pulled themselves up from humble backgrounds.  The writing style, full of well-turned phrases, could have been part of it.  Or possibly the hard-nosed, no-excuses, freedom-loving philosophy undergirding it all.  I can’t say, and likely I’ll never know.

Though I didn’t realize this until later, there is some similarity in our backgrounds, yours and mine.  I was born about fifty years after you, but also grew up in the Midwest, also graduated from the Naval Academy with an engineering degree and also served in the Navy.  After leaving the service, both of us turned to writing fiction.

I’m not comparing my writing to yours, just pointing out reasons I can relate to your life experiences.  After I began writing, I began to appreciate your approach to authorship even more.  I liked your rules for writing with their linkage of hard work to eventual success.

I also began to see how different a writer you were from some of my other author heroes.  Jules Verne lucked into a new field; no one else was writing science fiction.  Isaac Asimov took the established model of the time (publishing short stories in pulp magazines) and churned out an enormous output following that model.

By contrast, you rejected the status quo and uplifted the whole genre.  You believed science fiction should be regarded as respectable literature and worked to bring that about.  Your success benefitted not only you, but other authors too.  Without question, your stories inspired generations of engineers, scientists, and writers.

When I pondered over my own portfolio of published work, I had to confess I didn’t see the Heinlein influence there.  My story themes and characters differ quite a bit from yours.  But when I thought about it more deeply, I realize now what I took from your example wasn’t a writing style, but the hope that a guy like me could sell stories.

For inspiring me to be a writer, not necessarily to write like you, thanks.  And if you don’t mind, I’ll ask a favor.  How about taking time off from shaking up the status quo in your current plane of existence, to sprinkle just a bit of your writing talent on—

                                                              Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 11, 2013Permalink

Books in the Shadows

Recall the brouhaha in February and March 2012 between PayPal and Smashwords?  It’s been a year and a half since then; time for a retrospective look.

PayPal vs SmashwordsIt started when PayPal told Smashwords to remove all content referring to bestiality, rape, and incest from its website or else its customers could no longer buy books using PayPal.  The problem for PayPal was that it was backed by major credit card companies; all of whom had reputations to uphold.  They couldn’t be seen as permitting, let alone advocating, what many customers saw as smut.

That put Smashwords in a real bind.  PayPal wasn’t just a means for paying for books on the site; it was integral to the site.  Accordingly, Smashwords notified all its authors of the change in policy and engaged in negotiations with PayPal.  The negotiations got into the minutiae of defining bestiality, rape, and incest.

Meanwhile a funny thing happened.  People reacted.  In a big way.  The internet backlash campaign against PayPal rose up with the power and immediacy of a tidal wave.  By the thousands, people signed petitions, wrote angry blog rants, and cancelled their PayPal accounts; whole organizations formed to fight this one issue.

By mid-March it was over.  PayPal reversed its stance.

So, problem solved, right?  We can all move on?

Not really.  Just a couple of weeks ago, the British bookseller W.H. Smith shut down its website due to a problem involving pornographic books.  Using the search term ‘daddy,’ like a child might do, resulted in some book choices that were, let’s say, inappropriate for children.

So the fight continues and will likely go on as long as there are books, and people.  Each side in this war has a valid point and a principle worth defending.  One side seeks to keep adult-themed books out of the reach of minors.  Failure, as they see it, leads to moral decay and the collapse of civil society.  The other side strives to defend freedom of expression.  Failure, to them, leads to book-burning and thought control.

The boundaries of what’s acceptable have been shifting for centuries, even millennia.  What is appropriate for children?  To what lengths shall we go to protect them?  These questions are ageless.

What’s new today is the explosion of adult interest in pornographic books, the ease of electronic searches for books, and the fact that children are often more adept with the internet than their parents.

I don’t bring this up because I have some magic answer, nor am I taking sides.  I’ve written one story that young children shouldn’t read, and that’s “Blood in the River” in the horror anthology Dead Bait.  I’m trusting parents not to purchase a book of horror stories for their toddlers.  So far I haven’t written anything else that could be described as erotic or pornographic.  If I do, I’ll publish it under another name.

My point is only that this ain’t over.  Battle lines will shift; skirmishes will erupt at the borders of the eternal culture conflict; periods of peaceful equilibrium will end with further clashes and uprisings.

For me, the danger lies at both extreme ends of the spectrum.  I think there should be a way for parents to protect their young children from exposure to porn (and parents need to define that term ‘porn’ for themselves).  Similarly, I don’t want society (especially the government) to ban porn for adults.

That’s my take on the books of the shadows.  What’s yours?  Leave a comment and let your views be known to the world and to—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

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November 3, 2013Permalink