What is Superpunk?

It is every author’s hope and dream to one day be embroiled in a controversy.

You think I’m joking, don’t you?

Well, think again. Because, as a new author, shining attention on your book is an impossible challenge. There’s no foolproof way to make a splash. And your best efforts may not always be enough for people to realize, “Oh yeah, there’s a new idea in the world.”

The one shortcut that seems to work without fail is controversy. Does your book about a magic school raise accusations of satanism? Congratulations, you’re now a bestseller. Does your romance featuring a two-headed man and a one-headed woman suggest, if you squint, that you are endorsing polyamory? Congratulations, you now have a major musical based off your book.

But if you really want book sales to take off, you need to get it banned. And this ban needs to be heated. It needs to be the kind of thing that not only pulls your book off library shelves, but also the bookstore shelves of certain U.S. counties. You need D-list celebrities whose only viable career move is to hold an extremely virulent public policy initiative to denounce you, loudly and with extreme prejudice.

In a word, you need to be HATED.

My Hopes for Advent 9‘s Hate Campaign

Even as I was writing the first draft of Advent 9, long before I landed Dave Wolverton as an editor and mentor, I hoped, in my heart of hearts, that someone, somewhere, would find the book to be absolutely objectionable.

And I knew parts of the narrative were shocking. This is a book where the bad guys are real bad and the good guys are morally dubious. But I never intentionally put anything in the book that I was sure would be utterly heinous—mostly because shoehorning extra plot elements into any story, regardless of intent, damages the overall structure.

Still, it was my hope that some busybody lunatic would grasp at some particular straw of my story and run with it. The more obviously unintended the offense, and the more over-the-top hair-on-fire reaction, the better.

I am still waiting for this game-changing conniption. But, in the meantime, something has come up.

How Dare I?

Some initial objections to Advent 9‘s marketing have surfaced. And I could not be happier.

The trouble—which I can only hope will be as profitable as my wildest dreams want it to be—stems from my use of the word “Superpunk” to describe the book’s genre. This word is important because it was coined by Dave Wolverton (who wrote his own bestselling novels under the penname “David Farland”).

Dave was my editor, and upon finishing his first read-through of Advent 9, had this to say to me in an email:

Dear Alan:

I’ve finished editing Advent 9, as has my assistant Diann, and I have to say that I enjoyed it and I thank you for the privilege. You’re going to notice in the manuscript that in several places I mention that you are doing things that are fascinating and ingenious. I rarely do that. I’m a very jaded critic, and after 35 years, I’m pretty tight-fisted with praise, so let me explain something.

For the past 20 years I’ve been watching the superhero genre and been waiting for someone to make a breakthrough—advancing the superhero genre to new heights by dealing more maturely and seriously with its underlying themes. Some people have managed to do it in the comics themselves, but I haven’t seen anyone do it in novel form. I think you did it.

In fact, I get superhero stories in every quarter of the Writers of the Future [contest], and every three months I have to reject those stories as finalists because I think that the author “just isn’t quite there yet.” Sometimes the author is a beautiful stylist or a master of dialog, but at the level of just creative concept, they just aren’t quite there yet. You are.

Dave then requested to speak to me over the phone. We scheduled a time, and then he told me a few more things about my book.

“What you’ve done here,” he told me, “is invented a new genre. Other authors have attempted to write superhero novels. But none of these have caught on unless they are some kind of superhero parody. There has never been a novel that treats superhero stories as serious dramas the way that the best comic books have done. No one has ever been able to write a novel that rises to the level of Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. You are the first author to make this leap.”

Dave continued: “You’re going to call this new genre ‘Superpunk’, because it features fully-realized characters fighting not only each other, but the world. This distinguishes your novel from all the attempts at superhero novels in the past.”

Dave was extremely insistent on this. He said that Advent 9‘s examination of these larger-than-life characters as proxies for different societal ideals was pivotal—thus constituting the “punk” part of Superpunk. Similar to how the Cyberpunk genre derived its name from stories where heroes not only fight villains, but the system itself.

This was all very new to me. I had never set out to create a new genre, after all. I just wanted to give the world a story it had never seen before. But since that time, Dave’s words have been burned into me—particularly after his untimely passing and the introspection brought on by losing my mentor.

I think I’m finally grasping what Dave tried to tell me. Advent 9 is a “punk” novel as much as a superhero one. The term Dave invented is tailor made for it—so much so, that I’m considering calling the name of the larger Advent 9 series, “The Superpunk Cycle”. Though if I do this, I may need to get approval from Dave’s heirs for use of the term he coined.

The Objections Come Rolling In

In accordance with Dave’s wishes, I have done exactly that: announced to the world that Advent 9 is the first installment of the superpunk genre. I even made a press release about it.

To my surprise, this ended up being the first controversy my book caused. People on a number of forums have taken umbrage with the term.

“People have published superhero novels before. How could David Farland claim that T. Alan Horne invented a new genre, just because his novel features a superhero?”

Of course, that’s not what Dave meant when he invented the word. Neither he nor I ever claimed this was the first novel to feature superheroes. Qualifying as a Superpunk novel requires more than that, in the same way that a Cyperpunk novel isn’t merely a story that has computers in it.

I Am Delighted

I am certainly not going to defy the wishes of the man who was my mentor and my first fan. I continue to claim the word “Superpunk” as a new genre of novel, exemplified by Advent 9.

Anyone who wishes to claim otherwise may read the book and try to contradict me.

And while I remain hopeful that a bigger controversy may arise from Advent 9, this one will do for now.

I owe it to Dave, to myself, and—most importantly—to the book. I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t something new and extraordinary.

It deserves to be acknowledged.

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