Friday, October 22, 2010

Stop right there, punk

The other day, I was listening to a Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast featuring an interview with Catherynne M. Valente. Although I've never read anything by her, I really dig her conception of mythpunk, insofar as she conceives it as an angsty - or at least skeptical - revanchist assault upon the common tropes and themes of human literary-philosophical history (an ideological battle strategy I frequently employ in my own writing... I think).

Still, I had never heard of mythpunk before, and quickly found myself staring at a Wikipedia page detailing "Cyberpunk derivatives." The actual nomenclature is probably debateable, and the existence of "dieselpunk" and "atompunk" are highly circumspect (and would be more so without the success of the Fallout game franchise). Still... it pretty much made my mouth water.

Third point of reference for an as-yet-unstated thesis: an interview with some guy I've never heard of at Locus Online. The interviewee, Barry Malzberg, makes a swell point about how utterly absurd the new-punks are - how, in short, they are "decadent." I've heard the same complaint from other science fiction buffs, and although I believe SF authors' optimism represents a travesty of epistemic arrogance, it's not an argument I find intrinsic fault with - after all, it represents the kind of forward-thinking, pragmatic attitude that actually gets things done in the world.

Too bad I'm too cool for pragmatism!

This variegated conglomeration of stuff-that-was-read concludes in my belief that all I really want to write is Decadence. I don't mean sterling silver and Ceylon tea; I mean lush worlds that I've never seen before, that pull together images that don't imagine themselves together easily, or that provide radical, even subversive, conceptions of the futural-fantastical worldscape. After all, what is the Singularity if not the Unexpected (the Black Swan, as it were)?

I'm talking lesbian pirate-queens riding zeppelins through space, enslaving tentacle-monsters from the planet Neptune; I'm thinking brains trapped in vats inside the virtual world of a brain that's been uploaded in a videogame by the necromancer who lives next door.

Can you feel it?

My own enthusiasm for decadence was probably fermented by my recent readings of Steven Erikson ("The Malazan Book of the Fallen") and Iain M. Banks ("The Culture"), whose work is so far beyond the pale of the others I've read in their genres (F&SF, respectively) that, when I read them, I feel like I am eating fresh bruscetta after decades of eating dust.

I guess I've just never understood why, in writing science fiction or fantasy, anyone would still want to concern themselves with the "possible." Valente's conception of mythpunk has given me ideological tools (or, at least, a word) to describe the way I want to write things: characters whose lives, conflicts, and solutions, though fantastic, are still applicable to the lives of those doing the reading - and not only to people who have access to far-future (potentially possible) tech.

I'll leave the science to the scientists; me, I'm a fictioneer.



  1. Catherynne M. Valente's _The Orphan's Tale_ is really, really good (it is two books, of them duologies).

    In its use of an nesting frame narrative, I am willing to call it better than its obvious forebear, the Arabian Nights, because people from frame stories pop up in other stories and it all, like...has an ending and's good.

  2. If the tvtropes page is any indicator, "Pan's Labyrinth" is mythpunk.

    In my writing, I like to balance it out. I'll write Possible works, and then a healthy pile of zany and/or highly speculative pieces.

    I can't get too excited by claims of decadence. I read the science journals.

  3. Haha. Science - curses!

    I really liked Pan's Labyrinth... maybe it is a sign. A sign, in this case, is probably appropriate.