Backlashery

In case you’ve been living somewhere without regular internet access, it seems backlash season is in full swing.

Exhibit 1: Steampunk

With the steadily growing popularity of Steampunk, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable backlash appeared. And last week, we got it.

Here is Charles Stross complaining that Steampunk frequently tends to gloss over the dark side of the Victorian age, as if no one had ever noticed that before.

And here is Catherynne Valente who even admits that her main reason for disliking Steampunk is that it’s popular and commercial. Though she backpedals a bit later and even posts a list of things she likes about Steampunk.

Tor.com’s recent “Steampunk Fortnight” not only served as the trigger to the backlash (though it is interesting that Tor.com had a whole Steampunk month last year and no one complained) but also included several critical articles by Jaymee Goh), Nisi Shawl and Amal El-Mohtar, all of which made some very good points and went beyond “This subgenre I don’t like is getting popular”, which seems to be the gist of the Valente and Stross posts.

And where we have backlashs, we have backlashs against the backlash. So here is
Scott Westerfeld’s rebuttal to the current Steampunk backlash. Here is Amberite with some interesting thoughts on why Steampunk is important (found via Jay Lake). Finally, here is Sophia McDougall rebutting the Stross and Valente posts point by point.

I think McDougall calls it best, at least with regard to the kneejerk Steampunk backlash (unlike legitimate concerns about the inherent glorification of colonialism, imperialism and all the other dark sides of the Victorian era). It’s just people annoyed that some subgenre they personally do not care for is getting popular. We saw and continue to see much the same reaction of almost the entire SFF community towards the popularity of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, with some misogyny added for good measure. In fact, many comments on many of the anti-Steampunk posts somehow managed to drag urban fantasy and paranormal romance into the mess and in one case even managed to get in a dig against cozy mysteries featuring baking, cooking, quilting, knitting and other pursuits viewed as feminine (another subgenre that inspires virulent hatred in those that don’t read it).

Actually, the backlash against urban fantasy and paranormal romance in the genre community is even worse, because a lot of the anti-Steampunk discussion at least took Steampunk seriously and conceded that it was important (well, inside the SFF community. Outside of it, most people don’t have a clue what Steampunk is), while no one took urban fantasy and paranormal romance seriously, since everybody just knew they were crap. Never mind that those “crap books” sell a boatload of copies and currently occupy seven spots on the New York Times adult mass market bestseller list as compared to two epic fantasy novels (the latest Wheel of Time installment and a roleplaying tie-in) and no SF or Steampunk at all. So a lot of people obviously read and enjoy “those books no one takes seriously”.

Anyway, here is Sophia McDougall again with a handy flowchart for proper genre bashing. So very, very true, including the obligatory Twilight dig, usually by people who have never even bothered to read Twilight.

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