Skip navigation

An interesting thing happens when one puts their words out for consumption: other people read them. Obviously, this is what should happen. We write and speak to communicate, and communication is about forging relationships. Having been in the lower and middle levels of academia for many years, I’ve forgotten how easy it is for words to be read. I am used to my words being graded and then forgotten.

I seem to have gone off half-cocked, and put out words that seemed to make sense to me at the time. But were they accurate? Evidently not, in more than one case. (And thanks to the good folks at dieselpunks.org for pointing me in that direction.)

I still stand by much of what I wrote in my previous blog, and I don’t back down from the position that “—punk” affixed to another term is played out. But which X-punk sub-sub-genres are “valid” or not is not for me, as an academic, to say. I am supposed to be descriptive, not prescriptive.

We all can deal with a good dose of reality from time to time. And we could all use someone who helps us expand our horizons. I look forward to having mine expanded even more.

Advertisements

Update: I’ve received some useful feedback from people, both here and elsewhere. At first, I was considering re-writing this whole thing to be more coherent and intellectually useful as a piece of cultural criticism. And then it struck me: this entry was never MEANT to be intellectual or fully-formed as a statement. It is, in essence, a rough draft. Read it as you will, but know that this is not a formal essay that I am seeking to get published, nor is this some kind of absolute statement from an ivory-tower theorist. It is part of a work-in-progress, and should be taken as such.

But it can be read as if I am bad-mouthing some sub-genres. I suppose I did. That was from a lack of care, not from any actual intent. Read with caution, and I promise that in the future I will post with more care.

——————————————————————————————

I am a big fan of Cyberpunk. I always have been, and I always will be. I do have to admit a bit of relief that science fiction fandom has moved on to a “post-cyberpunk” mode. After all, “post” indicates that cyberpunk is no longer a faddish subculture, but has been folded into SF more generally as one of the many tools in the box. But cyberpunk will always have a place in my heart: as a child of the ‘80s, I was raised on it. Blade Runner is one of the first movies I remember my father taking me to, and Neuromancer is one of the first non-fantasy novels that I read cover-to-cover.

But cyberpunk has a crime to answer for. Namely, cyberpunk gave us the mushrooming of “–punk” styles in SF criticism and subgenre fragmentation. Gibson, Sterling, and their compatriots might not have been personally responsible for their sub-genre’s name, but the “X-punk” convention is a result of the cyberpunk phenomenon. It seems to come and go every year or so, but I have noticed a significant upswing in the “–punk” discussions of late.

I think that some of my distaste for this phenomenon of labeling things “–punk” comes from the fact that I spent a brief but intense period of my youth (and another brief but intense period in my young adulthood) worrying about who (and what) was “punk” and who was hardcore, post-punk, psychobilly, and all kinds of other fragmented musical subgenres. It was the kind of thing a well-off suburban kid worries about when he has no real problems to concern himself with, and has way more free-time than he has common sense. It was, in retrospect, a waste of my time; I think the “–punk” discussions in criticism are similarly useless.

But to demonstrate what I mean, I think I must take us on a tour of the terms. Defining our terms is important in any analysis, and it will be of some use here.

Cyberpunk: This one is the grand-daddy, the one that started it all. The criticism of Paul Di Filippo aside, this one made sense. Cybernetic implants and cyber-tech creations were being used to explore a melding of man and machine that technological progress seemed to offer. And the stories were engaged with a low-life, street-culture aesthetic that had much in common with the aesthetic and social goals of the punk movement. Cyberpunk made sense.

Steampunk: This one made sense, too. In large part, it was tongue-in-cheek. It was suggested by K.W. Jeter in Locus magazine in 1987 as being “the next big thing” in the SF world. But I hold that it made sense even beyond its tongue-in-cheek suggestion, because the Jeter/Powers/Blaylock group that was writing Steampunk had something of the same kind of feel as the Gibson/Sterling/Rucker group. Of course, I do not mean that these two groups had similar literary or aesthetic goals. But rather, both cyberpunk and steampunk were groups who were united more by a guiding aesthetic principle than a hard-and-fast ideology, but in both cases ideology followed. Both cyberpunk and steampunk grew beyond the boundaries of SF to influence pop culture in multiple ways. Both cyberpunk and steampunk started as a core group that soon found an ever-growing number of people exploring the style. And both cyberpunk and steampunk, while existing even today in ideologically “pure” forms, are more of a tool for storytelling than an end in themselves.

But beyond here, there be dragons…

Biopunk: This one is a bit more problematic. In the case of both cyberpunk and steampunk, there were precedents and influences, but the movements themselves tried to take their influences and create something that split off in an entirely new direction. Biopunk failed here: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells did “biopunk” first, did it better, and has yet to be surpassed or transcended. Wells and Verne might have been the inspiration for steampunk, but authors like Meiville, Moore, and Blaylock have all taken steampunk beyond what Wells and Verne ever created. Biopunk, however, has yet to transcend its origin. For that reason alone, biopunk as a term occupies a problematic place in SF criticism and genre study.

But even more, “biopunk” lacks any, well, PUNK. For that reason (and many others that you can read in his RIBOFUNK: The Manifesto1), Paul Di Filippo suggested the term “ribofunk.” But that term has failed to catch on, for good reason. Di Filippo intended the term as a portmanteau of “ribosome” and “funk,” but both of these are duds. Ribosome is a failure because most non-specialists don’t know what a “ribosome” is, and probably think of “riboflavin” instead. And “funk,” while an excellent musical style, is just that: a style of music. Punk might have been a style of music, but it was also a social movement. Funk? Not so much.

Clockpunk: This is basically steampunk, but without the steam. I find this one problematic because punk doesn’t even remotely belong in a Renaissance-style universe. I might be showing my lit-crit/culture studies background here, but “punk” is a feature of Modernity. It can only happen in a society so thoroughly saturated by media spectacle and capitalist alienation that a small part of culture turns on itself in an anarchic return to the libidinal. It is only possible in a world like that described by Walter Benjamin2, Guy Debord3, and Henri Lefebvre4. Alienation certainly existed before Modernity, but the flavor of life in Modernity (and post-Modernity, if we accept that such a thing exists) is simply different than it was prior. “Punk” existing in a Renaissance-style society makes about as much sense as Marxism existing in an egalitarian hunter-gatherer society. Besides, clockpunk has yet to show itself as more than a sub-sub-genre of steampunk.

I can anticipate the counter-argument here: “punk” has nothing to do with the social movement; it is a name that captures a feeling. “Clockpunk” doesn’t have to actually have any “punk” in it to BE “punk.”

My response: if there is no actual “punk,” then why use the term? Cyberpunk deals with the low-life street culture of punk. Steampunk does, at least sometimes, deal with the lowlife of the Industrial Revolution; while it might not be “punk” properly, it has something in common with punk. But clockpunk doesn’t seem to have a similar cultural connection.

Sandalpunk: This is a “punk” derivative set in a bronze-age or iron-age society (and I have also seen the term “ironpunk” proposed5). The problem here is similar to that proposed above. Specifically, I cannot accept that “punk” would have been even possible in an iron-age society. After all, if large numbers of people are spending a significant chunk of their day either struggling to eke out a living or trying not to die of chicken pox, pneumonia, and the plague, there can’t be a whole lot of time left over for a social movement of privileged, middle-class kids revolting against a stifling social order of conspicuous consumption.

Nowpunk: Evidently, Bruce Sterling used this term to describe his contemporary techno-thriller, The Zenith Angle. Sorry, Bruce, I love your work… but wouldn’t “nowpunk” just be “punk?”

Atompunk, Dieselpunk, and Teslapunk: Okay… what? These terms are nonsense, and in large part seem to be invented by people who want a culture to exist that just plain isn’t there. They are trying to invent a sub-sub-sub-sub-genre that pulls itself up by its bootstraps. Atompunk seems to exist in the minds of three or four people, most of them Dutch. And Teslapunk seems to exist in one place, and one place alone: the Wikipedia page for “Cyberpunk derivatives.”

Dieselpunk has slightly more reason to exist: it has two or three existing aesthetic examples, and a sub-genre seems to be coalescing around those few examples. The problem is, one of those examples is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Did you see that? No? Oh, right… no one did, partly because it is just too narrow and too specific a sub-sub-sub-genre. When you split a hair that fine, there isn’t enough left to be of any substance.

There are others, and I don’t even want to have to think about them. But just for completeness’ sake, there is mythpunk, elfpunk, dwarfpunk (is that really so different from elfpunk?), vamp-punk (please, God, no…), furrypunk (eww…), nanopunk, and probably a few dozen more that I have yet to hear of. And hopefully, I will never have to.

So, can we please put the “—punk” thing to rest? It is played out, and has become meaningless. Unfortunately, there isn’t a better term yet. But SF fans are a clever bunch. If we put our minds to it, we can come up with something far better.

But trust me: “funk” won’t have anything to do with it, either.

_________________________________________________________________________

1. Which is actually quite good; despite the fact that I seem to say only negative things about Di Filippo, I actually find his work interesting and engaging. Problematic, but interesting and engaging.

2. Who wrote The Arcades Project. Go read it NOW.

3. Society of the Spectacle. Read it after you’ve read Benjamin.

4. Critique of Everyday Life. Read it after Debord. You’re welcome.

5. While I think that idea is just as bad as any of the others suggested here, at least the name has a nice ring to it.

[An unrelated introduction: I understand that it is a bit of a cliché to re-launch old projects as the New Year opens, but this is as good a time as any to try. So, here it is… the new blog. I do plan to post twice a week (Monday and Thursday, probably) as a way of developing discipline in my writing practice.]

2011 wasn’t the best of years for me or for my family. But it did serve as a prolonged learning experience, and that is a good thing. Here are some of the things that I have learned. (Warning: some things are rather mundane. I don’t have any followers yet, so this is more about developing some writing discipline.)

 

1) Star Wars is a lot better in my memory than in reality. As a child, the Star Wars movies really excited me. The lightsaber duels still get my heart pumping. But I’ve purged from my memories all kinds of things: the plot holes, the uneven performances of the actors, the melodramatic dialogue, and particularly the Ewoks. In fact, most of my favorite memories of Star Wars come not from the movies, but from the scenarios that my friends and I came up with while playing with the action figures.

And while I am at it, Star Wars isn’t science fiction. It is mythic fantasy that uses some science fiction tropes and techniques. But really, Star Wars has much more in common with The Belgariad or The Wheel of Time than it does with Asimov’s Foundation or Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

2) Being vegan does not equal automatic weight loss. Full disclosure: my wife and I are no longer vegan. But we tried (for health reasons, not moral ones), and found that we were feeling so deprived of the things we needed and wanted that we were stuffing our faces with the rather limited diet we actually could eat. I suppose the real lesson we learned from this is that “all things in moderation” would be a better nutritional philosophy than “suffer now for a reward later.”

3) I’m finally ready to write my novel. If anyone who knows me reads this, they might say, “Wait, you told me that you’d written novels, just not gotten them published!” I used to think that I had written some novels. Now, I think what I’ve written were Novel-Like-Objects (or what I have been calling NovLObs). A NovLOb looks an awful lot like a novel on a first glance: it is a prose work with a lot of pages. It allegedly has a plot and characters. But the difference between the writer of a NovLOb and a novelist is like the difference between a guy who plays pick-up basketball in the park and Kobe Bryant. The vast majority of “writers” (even some published ones) are NovLObers.

However, I think I’ve learned enough about myself as a writer that I am ready to really write my novel. In part, the change has come because of the discipline I learned while writing my thesis. And in part, I’ve been watching the process that a friend has gone through as he has become a working writer. Between those learning experiences, I think I am finally ready to put my hand to it.

4) Worrying is like borrowing extra trouble. My wife had a few health problems this year, and one of them was a scare that was potentially quite serious. While we waited for the results of some tests, I spent quite a bit of time in worry and fear. When I was worried and afraid, I couldn’t concentrate on anything and life became unbearable. On top of that, when I worried time seemed to slow down to an unbearable crawl. But between bouts of worry and fear, I actually just sat with my wife. In those moments of just being with her, everything seemed like it was going to be just fine. And then, when we finally got the test results we discovered that all was just fine. At that point, I cursed the fact that I wasted several days in worry. I realized that I could have spent the entire time in the pleasant, happy state I felt in between my worrying spells. Worrying wasted several days for us.

 

Hopefully, 2012 will bring new lessons!

I’ve been away from the blog for a few days, mostly because real life keeps getting in the way. (Who knew yard work could be so brutal?) But as of today, I have posted the last of my class documents to this blog.

I do intend to keep blogging, so fear not (the three of you who have actually read this). However, I don’t know how likely I am to keep blogging on education right now. We will see. But if I do create a personal blog, I will make sure that I link to this one as well.

I have added another piece to my portfolio. (Two in one day… an embarrassment of riches!) It is a bit more vague than I had intended, but there are some specific ideas in there that I intend to return to and flesh out.

Also, a thought just struck me: lectures. I love them, but most students do not. But one reason for that is that the lectures are being delivered to students on OUR time, not theirs. What if we were able to change that? As I see it, we can. Most students have ipods or some similar mp3 device. I am considering the idea of putting my entire year’s worth of lectures online, and instructing students that they are to listen to them on their own time… while driving to school or work, while working out, doing dishes, or playing video games. If students were able to listen to lectures at their leisure, including the ability to stop and take a break or review information that was unclear, they might make more of a connection!

I know that this is not an original thought, but I don’t know anyone who has done it. I wouldn’t know where to begin with this. If you’ve had experience with this, I’d love to hear it!

I understand that some students will simply not listen to the files, but I don’t know if the numbers of intentional “non-listeners” would be any greater than the number of students who simply “tune out” lectures, anyway.

Thoughts? Am I totally idiotic to think that mp3 lectures would make sense? Has anyone tried this with their students?

My online portfolio is an in-process work, but I have uploaded a tools review and an educational philosophy as it relates to technology in the classroom.

I hope to have some more interesting materials here in the near future.

I’m still playing with this whole blogging thing, so I am not sure what I should say as of right now. However, I hope to have something useful and interesting to say in the near future.

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!