Spy-fi is just around the corner

With Tor.com’s steampunk month now behind us, I would like to ponder what may come next. Certainly, steampunk as a genre and as a subculture is here to stay, there’s no doubting that; in all ways, steampunk is still heating up and will probably continue to grow for years. However, trends naturally evolve and new ones come into being, and I have pondered what the next aesthetic of interest will be. There is no doubt in my mind that the whole neo-vintage trend is still going strong, so the next big genre will be another subset of retro-futurism.

Simple chronology would suggest that the next trend will be pulp, which is a genre of sci-fi and adventure fiction drawn from the 1920s through the 1950s. As a style of story, a pulp adventure can be found in just about any setting, but in terms of an aesthetic pulp is inspired by the interwar period and the Second World War. Pulp sci-fi enjoys ray guns, rocket packs, fighter planes and over-the-top adventure heroes. Examples of the genre include many well-known films, like Indiana Jones and Sky Captain. However, as many fans of steampunk will note, there is already a great deal of interest in pulp (in some cases, it is even mistaken for steampunk, although the two are distinct genres). One might say that pulp is already enjoying a burst of interest alongside steampunk. So what then can the next trend be?

I would like to take this opportunity to officially predict that the next big trend to follow steampunk will be mod-era spy-fi. Now, I hear you asking, what is “mod” and what is “spy-fi”?

Mod is an aesthetic style and subculture that came into being around the turn of the 1960s. Historically, the mods were young people in urban Britain who put a great emphasis on appearance and fashion trends, and who stayed at the cutting edge of 60s fashion. “Mod” as an aesthetic style can be expanded back to cover the beatniks of the 1950s (among whom the mods may well have had their origins) and forward into the cutting-edge trends 1970s (though at this point it culturally runs into other non-mod subcultures, like the hippies and the punks). In all, the characteristic sharp aesthetics and fashions of the atomic age blend together to encompass a truly unique look that is mod.

Spy-fi is a genre of fiction that combines espionage themes with science fiction, often in the form of gadgets and spy devices. It is perhaps best known for its associations with the Cold War, which was the heyday of the genre. In spy-fi, characters (often but not always spies) become embroiled in a world of adventure and espionage, where they struggle against the agents of an opposing power, which may be something as realistic as a foreign government or as fanciful as a diabolical mastermind. Technology is ultra-modern for the time and place of the setting, and it is often disguised as innocuous objects. While the most famous examples of the genre reach incredible heights of fanciful science fiction (Moonraker and many other Bond films), the genre can also include the realistic and serious (I Spy and Danger Man), the humorous (Get Smart) and even the philosophical (The Prisoner). The British television series The Avengers covers a wide range of spy-fi’s themes depending on the season and corresponding female protagonist, ranging from the gritty (1962-1964 with Cathy Gale), to the witty (1965-1968 with Emma Peel), to the semi-absurd (1968-1969 with Tara King). Other major examples of the spy-fi genre include The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Charlie’s Angels, and even Austin Powers (which is a parody of certain more ludicrous aspects of the spy-fi genre).

So, there you have it. I predict that when the next trend surfaces it will be spy-fi with fashions inspired by the 1950s-1970s. I can already see a mod fashion influence surfacing in the form of the television program Mad Men, and numerous modern spy-fi stories are already in public view (consider the current incarnation of Bond films or the TV show Chuck). It is only a matter of time before the two are rejoined.

Or perhaps this is merely wishful thinking, because I desperately desire people to understand what I’m talking about when I make an Avengers or Prisoner reference. Either way, I intend to enjoy the continued growth of steampunk and the parallel development of pulp (though when people start tossing around the combined word of “steampulp” I may well head for the hills).

G. D. Falksen enjoys reading, watching and writing all of these genres. He is firmly convinced that John Steed could take James Bond armed with nothing but an umbrella and a bowler hat. More information can be found at his website (www.gdfalksen.com) and his Twitter (twitter.com/gdfalksen).


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