That's how you know a book isn't worth reading; if it's got gears on the cover.
A close friend of mine and I have a running bet on the nature of steampunk. I think the premise of steampunk as a genre is inherently flawed whereas my friend thinks the genre has potential to be good, if done right. It seems like a somewhat unfair bet; If he can provide one example of a good and well written steam punk novel he wins the debate, while I can only be right if from now until the end of time no one ever creates a steampunk masterpiece.
I am fairly confident in my chances of winning.
|Steampunk does have some pretty... aesthetics.|
To be fair I think the steampunk aesthetic works really well in visual mediums like artwork, video games, movies, and book covers, but that's the upper limit of what it can do: provide a cool visual. So steampunk books fall into one of two problems: either they focus on characters and plot -- and rightly so -- but leave the steampunk aspect in the background making the steampunk designation pointless to begin with; or they over-focus on their cool visual which leaves the characters and plot in the dust.
Now let us use the Dune series to explore both problems.
|World's first sandpunk novel.|
On the other hand, the flip side of the problem can be shown to be just as silly with the help of Dune. Let's say that because of Dune's popularity people started to actually write sandpunk. They imagined these fantastic worlds powered by giant worms. Ok... now what? You still need a story. If you just describe the different ways giant worms can be used to power your cool sandpunk city then you forgot the most important part of telling a story... the story. Well then, what about castlepunk were people use castles to power other even larger castles that fight super castles? Or how about somethingpunk where you use something technology to something or whatever. See the problem? Your book has to do something more then throw out a cool idea with no real storytelling to back it up.
Sadly, all steampunk, in my opinion, seems to always fall for one of these two traps. On one hand we can have a good sci fi book that could stand on its own without the steampunk element. It may feature a clockwork robot, but the robot could have just as easily been a magic golem without affecting the story in any major way, making the steampunk element unnecessary. On the other hand, you can have a book that just sounds like a couple of teenagers throwing out cool ideas that don’t really necessitate a whole book to answer.
Maybe that is what is really wrong with steampunk: it asks a question that doesn’t need a book to answer. Steampunk wants to ask us: “Wouldn't it be cool if steam technology and gears were used instead of oil, and ladies still wore corsets and men still wore top hats?”
To which we can answer; “Yeah I guess all that stuff would be pretty cool steampunk, but I'm going to go see what sci fi is up to he actually wants to tell me a real story.”
And there you have it; the question steampunk asks and the answer all wrapped up in under 5 sentences without the 300 pages of filler.