Cyberpunk, Steampunk and other Punk Universes
We will make you discover the neighboring Universe of Steampunk in just a few minutes. Do Cyberpunk and Steampunk have points in common ? Discover genres that are apparently distant but very close by their community and their ideas. Discover little-known sub-genres, some of which are extraordinary. So here we go, let's start with the grandfather of them all ...
It is the literary genre of science fiction that created the tendency to add "punk" to various words to describe a new genre. Cyberpunk is characterized by a dark and dystopian vision of the future. Technology has reached a point where it has merged with humanity. It has increased it but also serves to enslave it.
The world has become unhealthy through pollution, overpopulation and the oppression of companies called corporations that have surpassed the nation-states which are now nothing more than empty shells. In the streets it is the matrix (an ultra-connected internet) and implants, ghettos and gangs, fluorescent lamps and digital fights.
This vision has become so ubiquitous in books and movies that it is the default way we think about the future, even though we already experience it in many ways. And for good reason, we are soon approaching the period described in the 1980s in Neuromancer, the epitome of William Gibson's cyberpunk novel.
Although it came out two years after Blade Runner and is not recognized as the first cyberpunk novel, it is probably the best example of the genre and has become synonymous with cyberpunk.
And if the analogy with our time is shocking, we are still far from the extremely dark universe of Riddley Scott's film, which is the reference to the cinema of the cyberpunk universe. Curiously, Blade Runner is much more cyberpunk than the book on which it is based, "Do androids dream of electric sheep" by Philip K. Dick.
Little by little the genre has dried up and almost disappeared today. The genre needs to reinvent itself and move away from our present, which has joined fiction on too many points. Our present becomes even darker in many ways. Contrary to the retrofuturist style ..
So what do the two genders have in common apart from the ending. Well, not much in terms of period, aesthetics or even the themes addressed. Of course technology is at the center of the genres, cyberpunk is about the future that could be, steampunk is about the past that could have been. But apart from that the term was badly chosen by K.W. Jeter. You probably know the story, he just wanted to make a mark and separate the genres.
The strength of Steampunk is a timeless uchrony, although it is marked as taking place in the Victorian era. So it's easy to play with the codes of the industrial revolution, steam and gears, and to move all this into another universe. Another force is the magic, the fantastic, included in steampunk. Everybody is aware that to make this machinery work would have been impossible in the real Victorian era (automatons, computers etc...). Fantastic and supernatural elements are often integrated in retro futuristic fictions without any problem. But isn't there any resemblance?
What brings the two genres together is more a matter of the community and the soil that gave birth to these dystopian worlds. It is the refusal of conformity, of the consumerist world and of a dark vision of the future. Where cyberpunk warns that the future could be dehumanized and gives up, steampunk wants to be a little more optimistic and committed. It's possible to make yourself, recycle, reuse and be responsible for your own future, without waiting for someone to chew you up.
Now let's see the neighboring universes which are mostly subgenres of cyberpunk or steampunk.
This type of science fiction is a product of the 21st century, which began around 2001, although various films and books have been playing with this idea for decades. The simplest way to describe Dieselpunk is steampunk where the technology of the industrial revolution is replaced by the combustion engine. The technology is newer and the appreciation of styles and world views are those of the late 1930s to the 1950s. Instead of giant airships made of wood and brass, think of giant steel zeppelins.
The period of reference is the Second World War with all the clichés of the period sprinkled with fantasy. These are large, unlikely machines and diesel engines emitting black smoke. Dieselpunk is much more present in movies and television than in books, as in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or The Rocketeer. There is, however, a growing contingent of novels, of which the best known is probably Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan's series.
Dieselpunk ends where peace and the Cold War take place ...
Yes, there's a genre for almost every decade of the 20th century. Atompunk takes modern mid-century style, the nuclear revolution and Sputnik's space age and mixes them all together to create something pretty smooth and shiny. The quirky humor is more than welcome in light of this perilous and sometimes post-apocalyptic period when everything was devastated.
The series Fallout, Futurama, The Jetsons and the movies The Incredibles sum up the genre well. Orbit City, from the cartoon The Jetsons, is a great example of the genre. Atompunk has its own punk elements, set in the context of Macarthyism, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Technology was advancing rapidly and society was struggling to keep up. The genre has fertile ground for re-imagining these social struggles.
One wonders if Atompunk is a synonym of Raypunk and Teslapunk. The main difference is that they don't usually include nuclear power, but have the same aesthetics. Not surprisingly, they have been popular in recent years. There's also a real renaissance of architecture and design inspired by mid-century modernity, so maybe we'll see Atompunk's popularity increase?
Speaking of a colorful and tangy universe, here's another one ...
An unclassifiable style quite different that takes root in the imagination and the world of dreams. The reference is like everything derived from the steampunk from the Victorian era in Lewis Caroll's well known Alice in Wonderland. Another classic comes to mind, L.F. Baum's Wizard of Oz. The Dreampunk is therefore confusing and even crazy, one disguises oneself as a mad hatter or a bell fairy. The accessories come from magical universes and finally the only limit is our imagination.
They are colorful and surrealist universes populated by mystical creatures, unicorns and dragons are quite well represented. Little by little they moved away from magic and closer to technology, often mechanical. A kind of steampunk associated with the fairy world. A more recent example of these alternative worlds is Arthur and the Minimoys or adaptations of Philip K. Dick's novels (Total Recall, Minority report or Blade Runner, here you go). These works have in common the imaginary, the conflict between dream and reality ... do the replicants have an imaginary? Am I really "me" or the memories of another?
Biopunk is the biological cousin of Cyberpunk. They often take place in a very similar period, where Biopunk is the successor of Cyberpunk. Metal and technology are being replaced by bio-piracy, genetic modification and organic enhancement. Biopunk asks existential questions further than Cyberpunk. Technologies such as genetic tracking, custom babies and massive cloning are recurring themes. Welcome to Gattaca.
Cyberpunk is often interested in man versus machine, but biopunk tackles the themes of man versus post-human. The big question that biopunk asks is: where does the human being stop? When neither genre is pushed to the extreme, you can find biopunk and cyberpunk elements in the same frame.
But many authors imagine the cybernetic technology of cyberpunk as the more primitive cousin of the bioengineering of biopunk. Jurassic Park or the Activision Prototype game both embrace the implications of biopunk bioengineering, but not its aesthetics. The short films Love Death & Robots on Netflix, is a recent example that encompasses both technology and aesthetics.
WESTERN PUNK OR CATTLEPUNK
Different names for the same thing, the little known niche of science fiction dedicated to a retro-futuristic western, a Far-west that never existed. Many examples in this genre are underground, some gems and others a bit weird. If you would like the Lone Ranger to be equipped with unlikely gadgets, the Cattlepunk genre may be for you.
The best known example is Wild Wild West, it is technically the first steampunk TV series. Just imagine an alternative Wild Wild West that has advanced technology, based on steam engine. Other examples of films in this genre, Cowboys & Aliens and of course the huge Back to the Future 3.
So much for all these often teeming universes that compete with ingenious ideas and concepts. We've skipped over the more unknown and sometimes anecdotal ones, which we'll only mention briefly.
THE SUBGENRES IN "PUNK"
- Clockpunk: a steampunk centered on rebirth that likes anachronistic mechanisms. It often features Leonardo da Vinci as in the TV series Da Vinci's Demons or the game Assassin's Creed 2.
- Decopunk: a pure, brilliant and very art deco version of steampunk. Fantastic films or with this aesthetics of the 30's are representative, like the Shadow (1994).
- Nanopunk : a version of cyberpunk close to biopunk where the central theme is nanobiology.
- Raypunk: very close or even similar to atompunk. This genre focuses on space and has little interest in atomic energy. Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon are very representative.
- Rococopunk : close to clockpunk and therefore steampunk, the aestheticism is that of the 18th century French rococo period. Widely used especially in fashion by Vivienne Westwood.
- Solarpunk: a subgenre of cyberpunk, which is the opposite of its model. The future there is optimistic. The themes are ecology and social inequalities thanks to technology.
- Steelpunk: a modified dieselpunk where the technology would be closer to the 80s. The universe is often post-apo as in the Transperceneige or Terminator.
- Stonepunk: an anachronistic prehistory as in the Flintstones family which serves as a pretext for a satire of the current era associated with offbeat humor.
- Teslapunk: from the name of the famous inventor. A science fiction where magnetism and electrical energy is at the center of the story and the visuals.
I hope you have discovered new worlds, you just have to explore them. Thank you for your reading ...
And see you soon vaporists for a new article on the intoxicating world of Steampunk !