"Steampunks wielding clockwork-activated switchblades got into futile staring contests with cyberpunks in their surgically-implanted mirrorshades."
— Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space
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 in dark and cynical
stories were marginalized, disillusioned, and rebellious "punks" striving for survival against overwhelming odds, often futilely
, in corrupt megacities
and surreal cyberspace
realms. Bruce Bethke called this Cyberpunk
, and it was good.
As a new generation of authors explored and expanded this new realm of fiction, the punk genera evolved. Many stories began to depart from the nihilistic
tone and introspective
focus of the early works of cyberpunk, expanding the genera to encompass a wider range of characters and broader plots and settings. The original angsty
punks began to find themselves side by side with fewer melodramatic nihilists
surrendering to their fates, and more of a new breed of punks. These newcomers are often still fully aware of the Crapsack
, Half Full
(or, rarely, Crapsaccharine
) state of their worlds, and the protagonists are still nearly always outsiders, but to these punks the world isn't unlivable or irreparable
, and the fight for survival may not be so futile
. Some even go so far as to embrace the worlds they live in, and find a niche they can thrive in on the fringes of society
. Others remain Rebels and outsiders
- but now they stand not alone, but together
, and they may even have a cause
, even if they remain fully aware
that they are likely doomed. Success isn't guaranteed- but it can help the odds when you aren't bound up by things like playing fair
and don't really care about keeping the moral high ground
William Gibson and Bruce Stirling's The Difference Engine
was a landmark book, codifing a new movement grafting the cyberpunk asthetic into an alternate Victorian era
where electromechanical calculators had been embraced instead of treated as a novelty, spawning a cascade of advanced technology powered by steam engines and clockwork computation. For obvious reasons, this was soon dubbed "steampunk
". This opened the floodgates of the Punk Punk generas, spreading punkness to other time periods and settings ranging from the distant past to wildly varied possible futures. Common for all such genres is that the technology (and/or magic
) level is turned way up, an ultra-modern sensibility is grafted on (or its absence is highlighted), and the world is frequently either an ultra-regulated Privately Owned Society
, a world in turmoil
, or some combination of the two
. Badass Longcoats
and adventurers sporting goggles and toolbelts
are a common sight, as are brilliant eccentric tinkerers
in garage laboratories
building fantastical feats of SCIENCE!
and Impossibly Cool Weapons
from scavenged parts
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 Magitek
- ... 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.
- ... is found throughout the world as artifacts of a lost golden age, variously viewed by individuals as precious objects of study, useful curiosities, or dangerous black magic that destroyed the world.
If there is magic, it may...
It typically does not
involve divine miracles
, and will not depend on faith. Nor does it require a Deal with the Devil note
Magic users might suffer deleterious side-effects
or risk their own sanity
, especially if this power does stem from forbidden sciences or knowledge
. Spells occasionally go horribly right
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. Gilligan's Island also does it, to a lesser extent, but still Played for Laughs.
- Sandal Punk: (Bronze and Iron Age) Technology based around legendary inventors and inventions of the ancient world, both historical (Archimedes, Hero of Alexandria, aeolipile, Antikythera mechanism...) and mythical (Hephaestus, Daedalus, bronze automata...). Alternatively, 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.