Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We'll Have a Yabba-Dabba-Dystopia

Today marks the publication of the latest edition of PlasmaFrequency, including my "flintpunk" story The Petrologic Engine.

Flintpunk? Well, let me explain how this story came to be. As you probably know, the "punk" genres have really taken off in recent years. It started with cyberpunk, but it was steampunk which really set the pattern, with its concept of retro-future science and technology — steam-powered spaceships, clockwork robots and the like. The range has varied from mannerpunk to dieselpunk — I'm just waiting for someone to come up with "punkpunk".*

A while ago, I took part in a writing challenge to write a story in one of the punk genres. Since I don't believe in doing things by halves, I came up with my own: flintpunk, retro-futurism set in the Neolithic age.

So what do I mean by flintpunk? Well, I have been known to describe it as "a serious, dystopian version of the Flintstones". Imagine if the Neolithic age had progressed to modern-level technology and social structures, but without ceasing to be Neolithic. Megavillages instead of cities; multi-storey roundhouses instead of skyscrapers; shardcasters instead of guns. And megafauna operating machinery, but no dinosaurs, of course. Cavemen and dinosaurs side by side only really work in the context of a kids' cartoon**.

It's not a good society, though, and I think that makes sense too. Creating a modern-style society out of Neolithic resources isn't going to be as easy as making one out of the resources we have, and it's going to need a very strong, centralised government. Strong, centralised governments have a way of getting paranoid and deciding that the ends justify the means.

And the Petrologic Engine of the title? Sorry, you're going to have to read the story to find out what that is.

I thought I was being very clever inventing flintpunk, till I discovered that there's already a recognised genre called stonepunk. On the face of it, they're much the same thing, but not entirely. Most of the works I've seen cited as examples of stonepunk don't seem to have the retro-future aspect, but are simply fantasies or semi-fantasies set in a stone age society, such as Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children series.

The Flintstones have also been cited. As we've seen, they have retro-future technology, but a cosy family setting hardly qualifies for the "punk" aspect. Though I'd certainly watch a version where Bedrock is a police state, and the Flintstones and Rubbles are members of the resistance. Perhaps Pebbles and Bam-Bam have been brainwashed at school into spying on their parents. Perhaps Dino is really a government agent. The possibilities are endless.

But that's another story. I'm pleased with the way The Petrologic Engine turned out, and especially that a magazine I respect seems to agree. Maybe I'll return to the megavillage sometime for more flintpunk, though only if a good enough story comes to me. Maybe flintpunk will come to be acknowledged as the name of a genre — the same as I'm still hoping for flintlock & sorcery, which I coined for The Treason of Memory. I seem to like flint, don't I?

* And I'm sure one of you is going to tell me that someone already has.

** Or in the context where no-one's looking at anything except Raquel Welch's fur bikini.

Plasma Frequency Issue 14 is on sale from today in print, Kindle, ePub or PDF format. Besides The Petrologic Engine, it features work from Jes Rausch, Andrew Knighton, DeAnna Knippling, Damien Krsteski, Jamie Lackey, Sylvia Anna HivĂ©n, Nicole Tanquary, John Zaharick, Steve Coate and Frances Silversmith, with a beautiful cover by Jon Orr.

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