Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines is one of the best young adult novels I've read. So I'm really disappointed in his recent blog post, "The Stink of Steampunk," where he bags on all the writers jumping on the steampunk bandwagon, while admitting that pretty much everything he's ever written utilizes the same tropes. He claims that his own work is exempt from his criticism on the grounds that it uses a non-Victorian setting and mixes in other elements amid the tropes. Oh, and is well done. Then he is snide about Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, despite the fact that that too uses a non-Victorian setting and mixes in other elements. Of her, he says, "As if the authors can already scent the whiff of decay rising from their chosen genre some recent books have started throwing in elements from other mini-ghettoes; Cherie Priest's Boneshaker added zombies to the mix, and is highly regarded by people who don't seem to care that it is itself a kind of literary zombie." This in the same paragraph wherein he says, "I'm not singling out any particular books or individual authors when I say this." Right.
To be fair, I do take his point about the greater potential of SF. He says, "What I used to love about Science Fiction as a teenager was the way that, when you picked up one of those yellow Gollancz SF titles at the library, you had no idea where it would take you; it might be to some dazzling technological future or post-apocalyptic wasteland; it might be to another planet; or it might all be set in the present, just around the corner. But when you pick up a Steampunk book you know pretty much exactly where you're going."
That he says all this below a website banner that has him posed with a cup of tea and an umbrella in front of an airship and a row of Victorian style houses atop a big, hulking city on treads is just laughable. I can't think of a clearer case of "do as I say, not as I do." Dude, you might want to put the brolly down before you bag on Victoriana.
More to the point, steampunk has already begun to evolve outside its confines in exactly the way he says his own work does. As well as the aforementioned Priest, we have works like George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan, not so much steampunk as an American 1920s that has evolved out of it's 1890s steampunk past, or Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold, which sees the rise of technology in a fantasy setting.
But there will always be time-travel novels, outer space novels, vampire novels, parallel world novels, apocalyptic novels, and yes, steampunk novels. We work inside a genre that has established conventions and tropes. That's what a genre is. Personally, it's my believe that there are no good or bad tropes, simply varying degrees of skill on the part of the writer utilizing them. And steampunk wouldn't be popular now if it weren't popular now (duh! But think about that) and crying that other people are playing in your sandbox is dangerously close to telling readers that they shouldn't like what they like and you know better about what they do or should enjoy than they do. Reeve has a perfect right not to write any more steampunk himself if he's grown tired of it, but he shouldn't denigrate those who still chose to write - or read it. And when he complains about being swept up in a movement, he comes dangerously close to sounding like he's whining that he's managed to connect with a readership who like the sort of things he does. Don't tell us we're zombies for liking what we like. That's insulting to us all, readers and writers.
And that's what has me steamed.
Update: June 17, 2010 - Reeve's post seems to have been taken down. Meanwhile, it looks like Reeve and I agree on something, which is that we both think Paolo Bacigalupi's Shipbreaker is genius.