Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Steampunk Killed Alternate History?!?!

I know the title sounds a little over-dramatic, but that is the gist of the article from Abraham Riesman over at Motherboard. Before you get huffy, know that Abe has some pretty good sources to back up his claim. He based his arguments from statements made by Robert Schmunk, admin of Uchronia, and Evelyn C. Leeper, one of the judges for the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History. So these guys know what they are talking about...probably even better than I do!

Here is a quote from Schmunk that best captures the theme of the article:
“In the past several years, alternate history has been fading, or perhaps I should say morphing, because there’s been a big increase in the publication of steampunk stories and novels...Many steampunk works are legitimately alternate history, but a lot are not.”
Now we know computers have predicted steampunk to be the next big thing and I already shared my doubts about alternate history breaking into the mainstream (although Sean Korsgaard took a more optimistic approach) but is this really the end for the genre? Has our golden age come and gone (which according to the article was in the 1990s)? Did steampunk kill alternate history?

Probably not.

Why you ask? As the article itself admitted, alternate history has been around for a long, long time. People have been asking what ifs for centuries, while steampunk is still relatively new. Alternate history can transcend genre and can encourage established literary authors to tackle an SF story without it ever being called "sci fi."

Furthermore, you just never know when a trend will change. Vampires can only be sexy for so long before they return to their horror roots. People's tastes can change with a wind, often before the entertainment industry even realizes what has happened. The bubble may one day burst on steampunk or it might evolve just as alternate history has over the years. Only time will tell.

What do you think?

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a volunteer editor for Alt Hist magazine. His fiction can be found at Echelon PressJake's Monthly and The Were-Traveler. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. William Peter GrassoApril 3, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    Put another way: can a subgenre grow to dominate a genre? Or does it merely cease to be a subgenre?

    I'm inclined to believe the latter. I don't think steampunk has "killed" anything. There's plenty of room for everybody.

  2. Steampunk is one part of alternate history - an important and popular one - but only one part. Althist embraces many other types of writing, PODs and historical periods and it's important to keep focused on that. Not a subgenre that I read much of but good luck to steampunk on its onward journey.

  3. Alternate History isn't going anywhere. Looking at Google's search data, there was a very slight decrease in the genre between 2004-2007. This decrease leveled off after 2007 and remains about the same today.

    Steampunk, on the other hand, has rocketed up in popularity, far beyond Alternate History (as a search term)starting in 2007.

    In terms of what people are searching for on the internet, the rise of Steampunk has not damaged Alternate History in any way.

    I wish I could add a graph here. If you want to see the data for yourself, visit Google Trends and type in 'Alternate History' and 'Steam Punk' to compare data:

    1. Interesting research Jordan. I see there was a huge spike on interest in alternate history in August 2011, but I believe that could be attributed to Spike TV's Alternate History special.

    2. I don't that it is steampunk killing AH, but I think it's more that Steampunk is just so overrated right now. Everyone is talking about it and wants to get in on it, which is pushing AH out of the limited limelight it normally has. Just like how zombies and sparkly vampires are pushing other genres (like normal vampires) out of their limelight. It's not like it will go away, but it will be changed, like science fiction was changed after the 1930s when fantastical H.G. Wells devices was replaced with space flying and fighting fantastical aliens and weapons and such.

  4. I think it's in part due to the overuse of certain key AH themes that people may want to avoid, the American Civil War and WW2. WW1 might become the new WW2 at least for awhile.


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