What kind of punk are you?

Hoping to expand my reading knowledge, I’ve recently been attending a number of genre workshops sponsored by the Mid-America Library Alliance in pursuit of their Reader’s Advisory Certificate, which is intended to provide individuals in the RA field with a well-rounded foundation. Yesterday, I took a trip over to the North Independence branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library system to attend the workshop,Choose Your Illusion: A Look at Steam, Cyber and Splatterpunk Fiction. Another opportunity for me to peek into the world of a few genres I’ve pretty much no experience with, the workshop supplied me with interesting facts about Steampunk, Cyberpunk and Splatterpunk fiction, some tips on how and what to recommend to interested patrons, and several titles to get started with.

The first presentation was on Steampunk, given by Susan Schafer, a Public Services Specialist at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Citing the Urban Dictionary definition, she explained that Steampunk basically offers and idea of “what the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.” With very early roots, which include H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the genre has seen a resurgence in the past few years. The Clockwork Century Series by Cherie Priest, the Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, and the Burton & Swinburne Series by Mark Hodder were among the more recent titles Susan featured in her presentation. She also pointed out that Steampunk wasn’t just about books – from music, movies and television to modded tech items, websites and conventions, Steampunk has become a lifestyle.

Up next was Kelly Fann, director of the Tonganoxie Public Library, and her presentation on Splatterpunk. A long time fan of all that’s horror, Kelly explained that Splatterpunk sets itself apart with its graphic, gory and over the top descriptions of violence. The term was coined by the author David Schow, and the movement was initiated as a revolt against traditional horror stories that were meekly suggestive at best. Kelly covered several gut wrenching titles, including Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, Joe R. Lansdale’s The Drive-In, and Schow’s The Kill Riff. She cautioned that unless someone specifically asks for Splatterpunk, these titles should be suggested with careful knowledge of a patron’s interests. Someone who approaches the desk and asks for some good horror starter titles may be turned completely off by some of these titles. However, as Kelly explained true Splatterpunk titles were written only in the 80’s and 90’s, chances are a lot of these titles won’t be on your library’s shelves.

The final presentation was given by Lorna Condit, an English instructor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, on Cyberpunk. Starting with a few thematic questions – What does it mean to be a human in an increasingly post human world? What role do art and imagination have in a world dominated by technology? – Lorna provided the attendees with an academic look at the genre. Published in 1983, Bruce Bethke‘s short story Cyberpunk is known as the first use of the term, which now is used to describe science fiction with a focus on “high technology and low life.” William Gibson’s Neuromancer, though, is considered the premier Cyberpunk novel, and it earned him recognition as the “father” of the genre. Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, Pat Cadigan and Shariann Lewitt were among several authors known for their Cyberpunk novels that Lorna also mentioned.

Overall, it was another good workshop and I’m glad I got the chance to attend. Of the three genres, I think I’m most interested in looking more into Steampunk – I’ve already picked up and am eager to get started with my library’s copy of Westerfeld’s Leviathan! I may take a chance with Splatterpunk too…

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