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  1.  (9099.1)
    I am becoming annoyed by the current glut of Steampunk that is being foisted on the SF-reading public via the likes of and io9.

    It's not that I actively dislike steampunk, and indeed I have fond memories of the likes of K. W. Jeter's "Infernal Devices", Tim Powers' "The Anubis Gates", the works of James Blaylock, and other features of the 1980s steampunk scene. I don't have that much to say against the aesthetic and costumery other than, gosh, that must be rather hot and hard to perambulate in. (I will confess to being a big fan of Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius.) It's just that there's too damn much of it about right now, and furthermore, it's in danger of vanishing up its own arse due to second artist effect. (The first artist sees a landscape and paints what they see; the second artist sees the first artist's work and paints that, instead of a real landscape.)

    The Hard Edge of Empire

    I have made similar comments in #Whitechapel before. I am interested in reading what other people think.
    • CommentAuthorkperkins
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010
    I like the second artist analogy, and think it fits quite well. As for steampunk, well I think it's "jumped the shark". Everything is getting labeled steampunk now, even if it has nothing to do with the genre. And of course we now have *punk which labels every new genre as some sort of "punk" thing just to make it edgy or cool. Blegh.
  2.  (9099.3)
    Charlie's "damn kids get off my lawn" episodes are always funny. Usually fairly incoherent, and leaving the walls coated in his spittle, but fun nonetheless.
      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010
    My dream library just spawned another couple of shelves: the novels that Mr Stross was too angry to write.
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010
    I'm not a huge fan of steampunk but I haven't really cared enough to give it that much thought. It's just around and I don't really bother with it. I've read Blaylock and Powers, as well as THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE and I do like what Bryan Talbot has done with it but I don't really go out of my way to buy stuff. I think that BURTON AND SWINBURNE IN THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF SPRING-HEELED JACK is the last steampunk-related novel I read and that's because it was so unashamedly pulpy more than anything else.
  3.  (9099.6)
    I don't think personal statements were required or anything.
  4.  (9099.7)
    Stross' comment about a steampunk novel that would have accurately reflected 19th-century political realities made me wonder about steampunk novels set in worlds where Marx' Communist Manifesto sparked a successful European worker's rebellion in the 1800s or where the Boxer Rebellion succeeded in kicking out those Western imperialist bastards.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010 edited
    Did anyone happen to pay attention to the timescale of steampunk as literary genre moving to alt-fashion then club nights through to this as backlash?

    Oh, and if you enjoy Stross' 'books he hasn't written on various subjects', he actually did write one on James Bond - The Jennifer Morgue - which is absolutely brilliant. Probably the best book I've read this year and almost up there with Snow Crash in my completely subjective list of best genre books eva.

    The high concept is:

    that a rich industrialist who has learnt of Lovecraftian type beasties actually existing decides to become a Bond-style super-villain by means of a magic spell, which means that he can't be defeated, because James Bond doesn't really exist. So, the British occult secret service creates a fiction-suit type counter spell to turn one of its agents into a James Bond analogue and unleashes him. And the glamourous (ha...) female assassin sent by a rival spy outfit, as is traditional in the Bond mythos, is a sex-demon mermaid (or Lovecraftian 'Deep One').

    Hilarity ensues.

    - edited for spoilers.
  5.  (9099.9)
    Oddcult — SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS. Seriously, that's like all the reveals in the first half of the book spoiled right there.

    The thing of most interest here is the term "Second Artist Effect." It's a principle I think about a lot — I was thinking about it this morning, in fact — but I've never had a term or a succinct description for it. Stross obliquely mentions Twilight in the essay, which is one of my prime examples of it — the "sparkly vampires" idea is based on the assumption that vampires can't go out in daylight, but that's an assumption that started in 1922, when Nosferatu featured a vampire that was killed by sunlight; it wasn't part of vampire canon until then.

    I do think steampunk suffers from second artist — especially the costumery.
      CommentAuthorJon Wake
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010
    I do think steampunk suffers from second artist.

    Shit, what doesn't?
  6.  (9099.11)
    Shit, what doesn't?
    Some things suffer from it more than others. The steampunk costumery I've encountered, by and large, has come off as fantastically incestuous and underinspired. If I see another heaving bosom in the same ren faire shirt and brown leather waist-cincher...
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeOct 27th 2010
    Don't forget the goggles.
  7.  (9099.13)
    StefanJ — Yes, thank you.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2010
    Sparkly vampires are about, oooh, fifth or sixth artist though. It's probably even fair to say that Stoker was second artist.

    Quite a few people commenting on this are making the point that steampunk is a fantasy genre as closely related to reality as sword and sorcery is to actual iron age history. Although, isn't steampunk also second artist as a genre, with Jules Verne and HG Wells as first artists? So the modern stuff is third artist? We could go on forever there, though, I suppose., if we overanalysed it.

    I think it's cool that the alt scene embraced it as an aesthetic and 'discovered brown' as the cybergoth thing was extremely played out, but I'm eager to see what's going to come next. Anyone care to speculate?

    Just another thought on steampunk - part of the appeal is nostalgia for an empire in which you were in a privileged position though, surely? And if only you could have had Babbage engines and super-efficient miniature boiler technology, you could have brought fresh drinking water and manners and etiquette to the Moslems and Hindoos. It's as much a product of guilt for the actions of past generations and seeking to rewrite those circumstances as it is celebration of the culture.
      CommentAuthorJohn Skylar
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2010 edited
    Hasn't the second artist effect been a critical drive in the advancement of visual arts? I seem to recall that Impressionism was maligned much for that reason, and that "Impressionism" itself as a name was intended as ridicule for the style's weak concept of the real.

    My point is that creating art to look like other art doesn't have to be a bad thing, and I'm not sure that purism is even healthy in the advancement of art. I mean writing, too. Luke Skywalker suffers from second artist effect, but I don't see too many people buying Gilgamesh action figures.

    Another question that seems to have been healthily answered via second artistry is "What does a superhero look like?" So there's that.

    Basically I'd just like to see a better definition of when something moves from "inspired by" to "a derivative crap copy of," because as it is it doesn't seem like the complaint being lodged is necessarily a bad thing, just that it can be.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2010 edited
    I know some people who abandoned Steampunk for the voyages fantastique as the second artist wave came in but that seems to be missing part of the interest aspects of the changes. You basically get to see a genre evolving and it is always fascinating in itself.

    The "type books" for the genre (like a "type fossil"/holotype for defining a species) aren't really that Steampunky with hindsight, Moorcock's "Nomad of the Time Streams" is actually closer despite pre-dating the genre.

    As the second artist effect kicked in (and Steampunk as a subculture developed) you start you start to get genre conventions defined and these become cliches. I suppose this could be off-putting to some (and you are always going to get people cynically jumping on bandwagon), but is always an intriguing process to watch. This codifying of genre conventions then sparks another wave of innovation as people can then subvert them or invert them. It is surely this phase that Stross is getting at towards the end of his piece, but it would be difficult to arrive at that point without the Second Artist wave.
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2010
    I think there's a subtlety of the second artist effect being lost here. To my mind, the second artist effect occurs when the second artist sees a painted landscape and paints from it without looking at the original landscape. That gets very abstract in the case of steampunk, but the general idea remains, I think. Has the author of the derivative work actually "seen" the ideas which inspire the aesthetic? I think that's an important dividing line, and I think it is a scarcity of this vision that Mr. Stross is upset about.

    But it's a popular genre. It's gonna happen.
  8.  (9099.18)
    To my mind, the second artist effect occurs when the second artist sees a painted landscape and paints from it without looking at the original landscape. That gets very abstract in the case of steampunk, but the general idea remains, I think. Has the author of the derivative work actually "seen" the ideas which inspire the aesthetic?

    @Artenshiur — High five for clarify!

    The example of Second Artist I encountered yesterday morning that made me think about it, before I had the convenient term to use, was seeing zombies from Hollywood that... look more like zombies from previous movies than either one looks like an actual rotting corpse. Or seeing anatomy in superhero comics that's based on anatomy from other artists' superhero comics rather than on the actual life drawing the earlier artists was working from.

    A couple people in this thread are taking the metaphor a bit literally — hearing "Second Artist" and thinking that means there's only *two* artists. I think it's useful as a general term for being influenced by the other people working in your field moreso than by the sorts of outside inspiration that influenced them in the first place. And the easy way to avoid the intellectual inbreeding that stems from it is... to widen your field of influences. John Munger who chimed in earlier has produced a good example of this — his comic Virtuoso is steampunk-influenced, but moves it to a completely different setting and has a markedly different aesthetic based on that setting.
    • CommentAuthormunin218
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2010
    I dont completely find rants of that type to be helpful, as they point out things that are not only obvious, but inevitable with every new cultural "thing".

    And honestly, complaining on things because they're not scientifically accurate or appropriate to period is kind of absurd.
      CommentAuthorJon Wake
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2010
    Thanks for the shout out, Brandon. I remember when I was writing up my proposal to Kickstarter, I agonized over applying the 'S' word. When Stoss goes off on his 'this is what Empire looks like' rant, that's pretty much exactly the kind of story I'm interested in telling.