Thursday, May 24, 2012

Steampunk is dead, long live Cowpunk.

Steampunk lost its appeal for me a few years ago when it simply turned into brown goth (swap out ankhs for gears).  While I was glad to see the renewed interest in Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, dirigibles, and British Imperialism I rapidly became disgusted with this kind of mentality:


My own relationship with steampunk began in 1988 when I read about Frank Chadwick's Space: 1889 (GDW: 1988) in Dragon magazine.  Not long after I got hooked on Philip Jose Farmer's Dungeon series.  This series remains one of my favorite "fantasy" series and after rereading them a few years ago - probably not something I should have read when I read it for the first time (see also George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails).  I had forgotten about steampunk, for the most part, save for a manga here or there, Otomo's Steamboy (2004), and to a certain extent Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the graphic novel not the shite movie).  In the late 00s the steampunk subculture went mainstream and for a brief period of time I thought it was pretty cool.  Then the subculture seemed to blow up and you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a top hat with shit on it.  I think DragonCon 2010 was the final nail in the coffin for me (though there were some slammin hot cosplayers in steampunk gear but then again those men and women would look attractive in damn near anything).  It wasn't even a scene I was "into" or directly involved with (apart from living with a borderline steampunk-former goth-super crafter-ubergeek) so I my disinterest did not stem from my "scene" being taken over by n00bs and kindergoths.  No, I just got over-saturated and that resulted in me turning into a crankasaurus.

Recently a dear friend, fellow Havenite, and longtime fan of steampunk declared that she was done with the subculture and was ready to move on.  In the ensuing snark we batted around other ---punk genres that could be gotten into.  Personally I'm tired of 99% of (insert term)punk including but not limited to dieselpunk, atomicpunk, cuttlepunk (enough with the god damn Cthulu stuff people.  Lovecraft's best works didn't even involve Elder Gods), and coalpunk.  My money is still on the Weird Western; that brilliant genre that ranges (in my experience) from the classic show The Wild, Wild West (1965-1969), horror folk tales I grew up with (some with historical roots - the Donner Party - and a lot of Native American things that go bump in the night) to some of the works of Joe R. Lansdale to Ravenous (1999), The Missing (2003) and The Burrowers (2008) to a great deal of bizzaro sci-fi and horror that shared the same bottle as splatterpunk (I can't forget Red Dead Redemption either).  A number of excellent (now out-of-print) graphic novels appeared in the early 00s that did the Weird Western bloody justice.  Hell, I might even call Preacher a Weird Western at it's heart.  I was recently skimming through the brilliant Too Much Horror Fiction blog (seriously, if you're a horror fan you'd do well to check it out) and found a brief write-up of Razored Saddles, a Weird Western anthology edited by Joe R Lansdale and Pat Lobrutto.  I found it on amazon and bought a couple of copies (don't give me that look).  I haven't started it yet but the list of authors is fucking impressive.  Besides Lansdale, it features Robert R McCammon, Richard Matheson (yes that Richard Matheson), Richard Laymon, and F. Paul Wilson.  There are quite a few authors I don't recognize off the topic of my head but their names look familiar from other anthologies (e.g. Chet Williamson).

What brought on the whole ---punk blog was when I was shelving the extra copies I noticed that Avon had categorized the anthology as "Cowpunk/Horror".  "Cowpunk"?  Nani?  So I took a look at wikipedia and found out that a good number of bands I am very, very familiar with bore the cowpunk moniker (including The Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets, The Cramps, The Mekons, and a number of bands I just thought were psychobilly -e.g. Nashville Pussy and Reverend Horton Heat).  Well, I'll be shipped in dit.  I didn't see any authors or mention of Weird Westerns on the wiki though.  I'm kind of curious how Avon came to slap cowpunk on the book and if there are other books drifting around in the sub-subgenre.  Mr. Lansdale and Mr. LoBrutto explain in the introduction:
But, the term Cowpunk is a joke, nothing more.  It is not the beginning of a movement.  No secret handshakes or code rings here.  It is a playful poke at such "movements" as Cyberpunk and Splatterpunk as it is anything. - xii
This makes me fucking happier than listening to Deadwood dialogue.  It's been a long time since I was genuinely "fat kid dancing with cotton candy" happy to read something.  Razored Saddles is also a little nostalgic for me.  This book reminds me of anthologies and assorted horror I cut my teeth on, starting around age 12 (most of which I should not have read until I was old enough to buy smokes).

I'll be making a follow-up/review post soon but in the meantime I'm gonna crack open a Lone Star and fresh pack of Pall Malls and get to reading.    

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