Steampunks wielding clockwork-activated switchblades got into futile staring contests with cyberpunks in their surgically-implanted mirrorshades.
— Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space by Odon
genres are a generalization of Cyberpunk
into other periods or with other genres mixed in. In the 1980s, authors like William Gibson
and Bruce Sterling wrote dystopian novels set Twenty Minutes into the Future
, where they explored themes such as the impact of modern technology on everyday life, the rise of the global datasphere as an arena for communication, commerce, conflict, and crime, and invasive cybernetic body modifications
. The heroes of these stories were marginalized, seedy, and rebellious, in other words "punks". Bruce Bethke called this Cyberpunk
, and it was good.
The original noir
flavor of Cyber Punk had disillusioned, cynical protagonists striving against overwhelming odds to avoid total defeat
. As other authors latched onto the genre they added another, more optimistic, flavor with badass longcoats
and using Impossibly Cool Weapons
and other gadgets to wipe out the opposition. They also took the Punk to other time periods and settings, creating Punk Punk genres. Common for all such genres is that the technology (and/or magic
) level is turned way up, an ultra-modern sensibility is grafted on, and that the protagonists are some kind of Antiheroes
living in a Privately Owned Society
. The world is on a sliding scale from a Crapsack World
to A World Half Full
(or, rarely, even more optimistic).
Aside from the above, however, it has also become a quick and lazy means of labelling new subcultures as they emerge. Is something becoming popular which is unfamiliar, and it doesn't seem to have a name? Come up with a one or two syllable prefix, (Steam, cyber, clock, Tesla, note
whatever else) throw the word punk on the end so that it appears fashionable to adolescents, and you're golden. Bonus points if the entire portmanteau does not exceed three syllables, which is a big part of the point.
No relation to "splatterpunk", a horror subgenre, aside from having attained popularity at about the same time. Tangentially related to Punk Rock
, in that both often have the same antiauthoritarian underpinnings, but other than that they don't really overlap much.
Shared genre conventions
Technology (and/or Magitech
- ... is ubiquitous and, in retro-futuristic settings, considerably more advanced than that available in the corresponding period.
- ... is a means to control the public. The actual form of government varies, but it is usually somewhat sinister and oppressive (Dystopia, duh?).
- ... provides some kind of medium for global or at least wide-ranging communication that is driven by research and/or business, piggybacked by military/political needs.
- ... is a strategic resource. In our timeline, this started in the 19th century with railroads, the telegraph, and the machine gun; in later settings wars are lost and won in cyberspace, before the army even leaves its barracks. Speaking of the army, while most of the soldiers are using relatively crude weaponry, there will often be an organization whose units pack state-of-the-art weapons and equipment for black-ops work.
- ... is regularly applied in transhumanistic ways, i.e. to make people stronger, faster, more perceptive, etc — for instance through body modifications/prosthetics. The science of medicine is typically quite sophisticated.
- ... can create Artificial Humans, Clockwork Creatures, or Ridiculously Human Robots.
- ... is developed with little regard for harmful consequences to society or nature.
If there is magic, it may...
In particular, it does not
involve divine miracles
, and will not depend on faith. Nor does it require a Deal with the Devil
. Magic users might suffer deleterious side-effects
Characters in a Punk Punk narrative can include:
A Punk Punk variant either exchanges the basic technology for that of another historical period
or mixes in another genre
- Stone Punk: (Stone Age) Bamboo Technology based Punk. The Flintstones plays this for laughs, and is probably the most famous version.
- Sandal Punk: (Bronze and Iron Age) Ancient Astronauts (or Atlantis) impact the dawning classical civilization.
- Clock Punk: (Renaissance/Baroque) Leonardo da Vinci-style clockwork mechanica and gunpowder. Gormenghast, some of the Discworld novels. Assassin's Creed II plays it literally by having Da Vinci himself build some Clockpunk machines.
- Steam Punk: (Victorian Era) Steam-powered machinery in the vein of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. This setting is often more romantic, heroic, and optimistic than other Punk Punk settings, but some works in this genre are every bit as cynical as the darkest Cyberpunk.
- Diesel Punk: (1920s - 1940s) Internal combustion engines and electricity. A fairly rare setting (well, compared to Steam, Atom, Cyber, and Bio); until the release of BioShock (which blends Diesel with Bio Punk) the most famous example was probably 2004's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
- Raygun Gothic, aka Atompunk : (1940s - 1960s) The world of pulp sci-fi where everything from inter-galactic space ships to pens is atomic powered. The Fallout series is a great example, running on Science!
- Cyberpunk: (1980s - 1990s) The original Punk Punk setting, see the first paragraphs on this page. It used to be a futuristic genre, but Society Marches On.
- Post-Cyberpunk: (Twenty Minutes into the Future) a much less dystopian successor to Cyber Punk. Appears in this list for completeness, but one of its defining elements is the absence of any 'punk' elements and in some cases even manages to almost completely dump the 'cyber' as well. It is now extremely popular to combine this with The Great Politics Mess-Up or The War on Terror. Examples: Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell (both by Shirow Masamune, and both written in the 1980's where Cyber Punk was still the norm and Post Cyber Punk was barely even conceptualized.)
- Bio Punk: (Twenty Minutes into the Future) An alternative to Cyberpunk with genetic engineering and/or Organic Technology instead of computing. Gattaca might be the most recognizable example of Bio Punk, although The Island of Doctor Moreau is a notable precursor. eXistenZ also comes to mind. Farscape was a Space Opera with a lot of this going on in various episodes, as Organic Technology was common to its setting.