Friday, April 20, 2007

On Rocketpunk

So ... here we go, with roughly the one-billionth blog on the Web. Is it really needed? On the other hand, is any justification really needed? So here it is.

As good a place to start as any is with the name, Rocketpunk Manifesto. What is rocketpunk? Google reports (as of now) about 400 hits on "rocketpunk," then boils them down to 85 "most relevant results" - mostly some people's screen names, apparently in both the Hispanosphere and Japan, a clothing store somewhere whose website has vanished. A 2004 post entry in the Wikipedia backroom discussion area on Steampunk, however, uses it in much the sense I intend:

Steampunk is science fiction, but it is science fiction set in a past era, specifically the victorian era. Do were consider 1950s science fiction "rocketpunk?" Of course not, but if someone were to set a story in that era and write it as though it was a 1950s science fiction novel, then it would be considered "rocketpunk."
Needless to say I had no idea of these pretty obscure sources when I hit on the term in a post on the SFConsim-l discussion board at Yahoo Groups:
Steampunk is now a familiar SF subgenre, set in a retro-futuristic vision broadly inspired by Verne and Wells. Among other things it requires a special kind of magitech, really magi-science, with things like aether ships.

Surely there is now a place for a retro-future based on the vision of 50 years ago, on the verge of the actual historical space age. I will call this rocketpunk.
The 1950s were the golden age of The Future - monorails, personal rocket packs, and of course regular scheduled flights to the Moon. Steely Dan, no surprise, nailed it in IGY
What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free
Monorails were always a silly idea (good old standard gauge railroad tracks work just fine), but the Moon trips would have been seriously cool. Instead, here we are in 2007, and the new Official Space Vision is warmed-over Apollo capsules. The old Heinlein and Clarke stories had the space technology pretty much right; what they horribly underestimated was the cost. You actually can go into space as a tourist now - all you have to do is wave $20 million in front of the Russians, and up you go.

(Remember when we used to scoff at Russian space technology? But how long since they had a fatal accident?)

If we can write about steam-powered aether ships, surely we can write about rocket ships as they were supposed to be - perhaps blowing up now and then (the 1950s were pretty casual about safety), but usually getting where they were supposed to go: a real space station, the wheel kind; the Moon base; and in due course to the colonies on Mars, the asteroid belt, and on to the stars ...

That, more or less, is what Rocketpunk is about.

This being a blog, however, I have no intention of confining myself only (or even mainly) to rocketpunk as such - but it is a handy center of gravity for a scope of discussion that includes science fiction in general, fantasy, historical fiction - including imaginary history - and actual history. All of which are either part of or provide source materials for a genre that fills half the bookstores but has no common name. I'll get to that in a future post.

Meanwhile, welcome to Rocketpunk Manifesto!


Canageek said...

It sounds like a cool genre, but I've got to say, I object to the -punk label. Cyberpunk was originally about portraying the increasing divide between rich and poor, and addressing social issues related to the rise of multinational corporations.

Steampunk tried to do the same thing by metaphor to the Victorian period, but has since mostly degraded into an aesthetic glorifying the upper classes.

So, I've got to say, Rocketpunk doesn't sound very punk to me.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the divide be between the people and corporations who are in space, and those who are not? The Moon is a Harsh Mistress seems like a stellar example of the rocketpunk subgenre.

Anonymous said...

I think that the Iceni Queen: A Pirate Yarn: Book 1 is a good example of punk in Rocketpunk.

Steampunk seemed to be purely aesthetic, not intellectual from the start. I think that any victorian novel concerning marginalized individuals in the steam technology world of XIXth century could be considered Steampunk.
For example books about Indians affected by government brutality driven by railway companies or workers suffering bad conditions/exploitation in factories. I think that Gangs of the New York could be considered Steampunk.

Canageek said...

Anon: I recommend reading The Steampunk Bible by Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers, it has a very good history, and interviews with a bunch of authors, including Bruce Sterling. Another good history is Steampunk by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. It is a short story collection they coedited, and the first chapter is a history of the genre. Actually Steampunk 2 focuses on international steampunk and has some of the stuff you mention.