The forgotten punk

Posted on: October 6th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

The ranks of the steampunk genre continue to swell. Tor.com is wrapping up it’s third annual Steampunk recognition (Steampunk Week, as compared to 2010’s Steampunk Fortnight and 2009’s Steampunk Month), so I thought I’d take some time to pick on a “steampunk” nit. Actually it’s more of a nit that I have with the use of “punk.”

I grew up during the ’80s, when “punk” actually meant something. So it doesn’t surprise me that I find myself amongst the group of people a bit irritated by the over usage of the -punk suffix in SF/F genres. Don’t get me wrong. I love steampunk, but the meaning of punk seems to have been forgotten and diluted.

  • 1896 (Algonquian): inferior, worthless, wood used as tinder
  • 1904: a worthless person
  • 1920: a young hoodlum

It was the “young hoodlum” usage that was copied by the Punk movement in music circa 1974, and by Bruce Bethke in his genre-defining short story “Cyberpunk” in 1980. Bruce Bethke was focused on the criminal element: hoodlums, vandals, troublemakers, delinquents, misguided, disenfranchised youths; in other words: young street punks. In his terms, cyberpunk denoted “the juxtaposition of punk attitudes and high technology.” This was followed by the other canon cyberpunk works (Neuromancer, et al.) which also focused on the same elements.

Based on Bethke’s initial usage, for a work to be truly “punk” the central conflict should revolve around clashing with the status quo. You can see this in Sterling & Gibson’s novel The Difference Engine, in which they set out to write what they call a true steampunk work, rather than a work like Jeter’s Morlock Nights, which I think would be more appropriately classed as gonzo-historical.

Jules Verne’s adventure fiction was the antithesis of the garden party, the Victorian Romance, the popular parlor fiction of the Victorian-era (the fiction of the status quo). People of the Victorian-era “punk” analog would also be people from the bohemian lifestyles: the travelers, artists, poets, and wanderers, such as Michel Ardan in “From the Earth to the Moon.” What’s striking is that this is often the element that modern steampunkers look back to. Look back at the anti-hero Captian Nemo — a wanderer and man without a country — and we see the epitome of the juxtaposition of anti-establishment attitudes and high technology. Verne’s fiction had with much more in common with the youth centered fiction of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens and even the frontier fiction of Fenimore Cooper and Owen Wister.

I’ve seen suggestions for various other “punks” offered up for use: biopunk, bitpunk, dungeonpunk, etc. If a cyberpunk story centers around a world in which computers are accessible to such a degree that kids are using them for acts of low level vandalism, then similarly a biopunk story would be about a world where the biological sciences have reached such a saturation point that even young hoodlums have access to gene altering technology. I wish this were the way that “-punk” was being used and it’s the core of my irritation: “-punk” shouldn’t be synonymous with “genre” (and neither should “opera” for that matter). Unfortunately that has become the common usage of it, in much the same way that the press overuses “gate” when describing scandals (note to future historians: Watergate was a hotel, it wasn’t a scandal about water).

For the record I much prefer the more descriptive term “gonzo-historical” (also coined by Jeter).

Jocks + geeks = zombies?

Posted on: September 28th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

I’ve been getting myself fit for a little over a year now. During this time I discovered obstacle races, like the Warrior Dash and the Spartan Sprint. However, I always thought it’d be cool if someone could combine fitness adventures with geekdom. Well, someone has.

I’ve just signed up for the first zombie obstacle run: Run for your Lives in Baltimore, MD on October 22nd. I’m hoping that some of my ZTOP (Zombie Troopers of Pennsylvania) friends will be joining me.

From the website:

Protect your brain and run for your life. This is one race where your legs giving out are the least of your problems. Run For Your Lives is a first-of-its-kind event, one part 5K, one part obstacle course, one part escaping the clutches of zombies — and all parts awesome.

Runners will navigate a series of 12 obstacles throughout a 5K course in an attempt to reach the finish line — all while avoiding zombies. At the end of this adventure race, you get to celebrate survival (or zombie transformation) with live entertainment and music, local celebrities, vendors, food, and of course, beer!

There are still a few spaces left in the morning and evening heats. If you see me there, say “Hi!”

Fake X-files novels

Posted on: September 27th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

I found these this past weekend on the GreenTentacles servers:

Backstory: Keith DeCandido (interview with him on Space Westerns Magazine) was having a bad day with random rumors and he mentioned how in the thread someone was complaining about his X-files novels. Of course, Keith has never written an X-files novel. I made these fake X-files novel covers to cheer him up.

Interviewed about Containment by John Joseph Adams

Posted on: September 9th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

Because I’ve been making updates to Containment and trying to get it filled up with next year’s conventions, I happened to stumble across an old interview that John Joseph Adams did with me on Tor.com: Convention Finder Makes It Easy to Plan Geektastic Getaways. I had completely forgotten that I did it.

Backstory: in 2008 John Joseph Adams (hugo award nominated editor/anthologist, for those who need a clue) mentioned on his blog that he was looking for a list of conventions that was searchable by ZIP code. I stepped up to the challenge and had a working version shortly thereafter. Containment was born. John then interviewed me which helped get the word out about the new site.

Seeing this interview made me realize that I’ve been interviewed quite a number of times. I’ll have to track down all of my previous interviews and put up the links.

Thaumatrope writer open pimp thread

Posted on: September 6th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

This is an invitation for all writers who have been featured on Thaumatrope to pimp themselves in this thread. Feel free to make it as long as you like, but if your comment contains multiple links then it’s likely to go into moderation (so please be patient while it’s in the queue). Also, pending editorial approval, writers who post a comment under 140 characters may have their pimps tweeted to the Thaumatrope timeline for all 2,206+ followers to see (include your twitter account and the #pimpage hashtag in the comment). For example:

@nelilly has been working on the back-end web development needed to revive Space Westerns Magazine @spacewesterns #pimpage

The #pimpage tweets will also appear on the main Thaumatrope website under the interviews section.

All right, tell me what you’ve been up to!

I have altered the Star Wars saga…

Posted on: August 31st, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

…pray that I don’t alter it any further.

With every new addition George Lucas keeps making tweaks to the Star Wars movies. From the classic “Han shot first” scene and adding Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett in Episode IV, through to his most recent tweaks in the new blu-ray release due to be released September 16th. His latest Star Wars changes were to replace the Yoda puppet with CGI in Episode I to better match the CGI Yoda in Episodes II and III. He also added CGI work to make the Ewoks blink. And then there’s this wonderful addition:

I concur: NOOOOOOO!

Please George, leave it alone. Leave it alone! Leave it alone! Leave it alone! Leave it alone! Leave it alone! Leave it alone!

Containment convention open pimp thread

Posted on: August 30th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

I’ve repaired some of the twitter scripts, so, this is an invitation for all geek (science fiction, fantasy, horror, anime,steampunk, etc.) conventions to pimp themselves in this thread (and submit their info on Containment).

Leave a comment here that tells me why your con is special. Feel free to make it as long as you like, but if your comment contains multiple links then it’s likely to go into moderation (so please be patient while it’s in the queue).

Conventions who post a comment under 140 characters in length will have their pimps tweeted to the @confinder timeline for all 733+ followers to see (don’t forget to include your twitter account and the #pimpage hashtag in the comment). For example:

@Yourcon is the largest steampunk con in Eastern Gwandanaland, with extra special guest: Willie Wonka #pimpage

All right, now have at it!

Looking for conventions

Posted on: August 20th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

Some of you know that one of the websites that I run is Containment (containment.greententacles.com). At the moment I need people to submit conventions to the site. If you know of a convention intimately enough, or can prod the organizers into doing it, please add your favorite conventions to the site on the consubmit page.

Thaumatrope payments sent

Posted on: August 14th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

Let me just start by saying that I’m very embarrassed that it took me this long to do this: I’ve sent out every outstanding payment request that I had in my e-mail inbox for Thaumatrope. I’m sorry that it has taken me this long. I hope that I can be forgiven for making the writers wait. I don’t have any excuse, but I can try to do better in the future. I hope that the people who don’t accept my apology, will at least accept my money.

If anyone cares to chastise me about how long I’ve taken to do this, please feel free to do it in the comments. I won’t harbor any ill will towards any writer who feels the need to vent at me. I deserve it.

If you requested a payment and haven’t received it, then I haven’t received the request: please contact me and I’ll settle my debt to you.

The theory for this payment system was that, rather than being sent several payments of $1.20 by Paypal, the writer would be able to allow the payments accrue to a threshold that they felt comfortable with before submitting a payment request. I was then able to process payments ranging from $1.20 to $12.00 (or more, as needed). It saved time, but it did cause a little confusion. In the future I would make sure to add more information about this payment style.

I still have more work to do to close up Thaumatrope (and other markets) but the payments are my biggest outstanding obligation, maybe not in terms of currency, but in terms of goodwill.

Wall Street Journal Interview

Posted on: August 8th, 2011 by Nathan E. Lilly

I was interviewed by Don Steinberg for an article about Cowboys and Aliens that appeared on The Wall Street Journal: Hollywood Frontiers: Outer Space and the Wild West. He tracked me down from Space Westerns.com and my article on Strange Horizons: The Emancipation of Bat Durston. Here’s the relevant part of the article that was paraphrased from our interview:

“Avatar,” set on a distant moon in 2154, isn’t obviously a Western—but hold on, says Nathan Lilly, who runs SpaceWesterns.com, a website dedicated to the subgenre. The Na’vi tribe are classic movie Indians. They may be 10 feet tall and blue, but they shoot arrows, wear their long black hair in ponytails and live in harmony with the land. The greedy white mercenaries intent on snatching the land’s precious minerals are familiar characters, as is the one renegade who falls in star-crossed love with a native woman. In “Avatar,” it’s Marine Jake Sully, who inhabits a lab-made body that resembles the natives, under orders to embed with them and gather intelligence. He romances the lovely Neytiri, and as the invading soldiers try to destroy the tribe’s sacred tree and mine the valuable ore beneath it, Sully leads the resistance, with help from an alliance of clans from around the planet.

Falling for the squaw is very “Pocahontas” (1995) and very “Dances With Wolves” (1990), but there are earlier precedents. In “Broken Arrow” (1950) Jimmy Stewart is a former Union Army soldier who befriends Cochise in 1870 to learn Apache ways and stop their attacks. He marries an Apache girl and is seen as a traitor. In “They Died With Their Boots On” (1941), Errol Flynn is General George Custer, leading the 7th Cavalry. Pioneers pushing west want every scrap of Indian land. Anthony Quinn, as Sioux chief Crazy Horse, says his people will give up everything except the sacred Black Hills, where “the spirits of our fathers dwell,” warning that if those hills are infiltrated, all the tribes will unite and fight back. Just as in “Avatar,” greedy bureaucrats direct soldiers to invade the sacred territory, tribes unite, and we know what happened to Custer.

We did speak more about Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Westerns in general, but it seems to have overlapped with other interviews where it may have been more relevant to quote or paraphrase someone else.