When I was a kid, SteamPunk basically didn’t exist. The Difference Engine had come out, sure, but there wasn’t a recognized genre. Nowadays even people who aren’t big into SF/F know what SteamPunk is.
We like Rationalist fiction. I would like for it to be a genre, so I could go and pick up a novel marketed as “Rationalist,” rather than having to hope someone stumbles across one and shares with the rest of us. We’ve adopted several books/author’s as Rationalist (Watt’s “Blindsight”, much of Greg Egan, most of Ted Chaing), but it’s not a recognized genre in the wider culture, and none of them self-identify as Rationalist writers. There are those who could accuse “You’re just appropriating especially well-written SF and trying to use it to make your genre look good!” We currently only have one really exquisite and shining example of self-identified Rationalist fiction, and it can’t be published via traditional means for legal reasons.
So what can we do to promote rationalist fiction? I think the most important step is to continue what we’re already doing – promoting HPMoR via word-of-mouth. It is/will be to Rationalist fiction what Perdido Street Station was for New Weird – the amazing ground-breaking work that gets a core base excited and wanting more. But this alone isn’t enough. Right now, only rationalists read Rationalist fiction. OTOH, a fair number of people regularly read SteamPunk and New Weird, even if they aren’t hardcare fans of the genres, because the genres exist and are accepted in the SF spectrum. They are genres that writers write in. They are genres that publishers publish. And both of these things are true because people are willing to pay money to read those genres.
To expand from a niche internet interest to a full genre there must be money in the game. There are people whose job it is to find stories that they think readers will be willing to pay money to read, and buy those stories from authors. If they are right, and the works are popular, and readers start asking for similar stories, those editors will start to pay attention to the label being used to describe that type of story. “The last rationalist story was well-received. I should try getting another one of those.” And as other authors are exposed to the same works, and find them intriguing, they’ll want to write stories in that style as well. Most SteamPunk writers didn’t create the idea Ex Nihlo, they discovered it via reading and decided “This is really cool, I want to do something like this too!” And when this happens enough times, a genre comes into being.
Right now a lot of us are cutting our teeth, figuring out how to write a thing. But eventually we need to up our game. Maybe you don’t much care if it becomes a recognized genre, you prefer the close-knit community of internet publishing. If you’re like me though, and you want this to bloom, take that next step – try to get published in a recognized market, while publicly identifying your work as “rationalist fiction.” Ideally in a pro-paying market, which SFWA guidelines say is $0.06 per word or more. Failing that, semi-pro is a good close-second.
Yes, it’s hard. It’s painful to be rejected over and over again, often after months of waiting. But it makes you better. It makes the writing better. And it will help the genre to become established. We can’t all be Eliezer (some people would claim only one of us can be!), but we can help expand the genre in other ways.