Cyberpunk derivatives

Cyberpunk derivatives

A number of cyberpunk derivatives have become recognized as distinct subgenres in speculative fiction. These derivatives, though they do not share cyberpunk's computers-focused setting, may display other qualities drawn from or analogous to cyberpunk: a world built on one particular technology that is extrapolated to a highly sophisticated level (this may even be a fantastical or anachronistic technology, akin to retro-futurism), a gritty transreal urban style, or a particular approach to social themes.

Many, but not all, of these subgenres have the suffix -punk in their names, having been added in a continuing play on the habit of creating portmanteau words as in the cyber/steam-punk naming convention.



American author Bruce Bethke first coined the term "cyberpunk" in his 1980 short story of the same name, proposing it as a label for a new generation of punk teenagers inspired by the perceptions inherent to the Information Age.[1] The term was quickly appropriated as a label to be applied to the works of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Rudy Rucker, Michael Swanwick, Pat Cadigan, Lewis Shiner, Richard Kadrey, and others. Science fiction author Lawrence Person, in defining postcyberpunk, summarized the characteristics of cyberpunk thus:

Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body.[2]

The relevance of cyberpunk as a genre to punk subculture is debatable and further hampered by the lack of a defined cyberpunk subculture; where the small cyber movement shares themes with cyberpunk fiction and draws inspiration from punk and goth alike, cyberculture is much more popular though much less defined, encompassing virtual communities and cyberspace in general and typically embracing optimistic anticipations about the future. Cyberpunk is nonetheless regarded as a successful genre, as it ensnared many new readers and provided the sort of movement that postmodern literary critics found alluring. Furthermore, author David Brin argues, cyberpunk made science fiction more attractive and profitable for mainstream media and the visual arts in general.[3]


As new writers and artists began to experiment with cyberpunk ideas, new varieties of fiction emerged, sometimes addressing the criticisms leveled at the original cyberpunk stories. Lawrence Person wrote in an essay he posted to the Internet forum Slashdot:

Many writers who grew up reading in the 1980s are just now starting to have their stories and novels published. To them cyberpunk was not a revolution or alien philosophy invading science fiction, but rather just another flavor of science fiction. Like the writers of the 1970s and 80s who assimilated the New Wave's classics and stylistic techniques without necessarily knowing or even caring about the manifestos and ideologies that birthed them, today's new writers might very well have read Neuromancer back to back with Asimov's Foundation, John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, and Larry Niven's Ringworld and seen not discontinuities but a continuum.[2]

Person's essay advocates using the term postcyberpunk to label the new works such writers produce. In this view, typical postcyberpunk stories continue the focus on a ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information and cybernetic augmentation of the human body, but without the assumption of dystopia (see Technological utopianism). Good examples are Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age and Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire. In television, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has been called "the most interesting, sustained postcyberpunk media work in existence."[4] In 2007, SF writers James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel published Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. Like all categories discerned within science fiction, the boundaries of postcyberpunk are likely to be fluid or ill defined.[5]

Cyberprep is a term with a very similar meaning to postcyberpunk. The word is a portmanteau combining "cybernetics" and "preppy", reflecting its divergence from the punk elements of cyberpunk. A cyberprep world assumes that all the technological advancements of cyberpunk speculation have taken place but life is happy rather than gritty and dangerous.[6] Since society is leisure-driven, uploading is more of an art form or a medium of entertainment while advanced body modifications are used for sports and pleasure.

Retrofuturistic derivatives

As a wider variety of writers began to work with cyberpunk concepts, new sub-genres of science fiction emerged, playing off the cyberpunk label, and focusing on technology and its social effects in different ways. Many derivatives of cyberpunk are retro-futuristic, based either on the futuristic visions of past eras, or more recent extrapolations or exaggerations of the actual technology of those eras.


Steampunk, based on an era (c. 1820-1910) centered on the Victorian period, is one of the most notable developments of the cyberpunk concept. The genre initially combined extrapolations of Victorian technologies and styles with cyberpunk's bleak film noir world view. It has since developed in a less dystopian direction.

The word "steampunk" was invented in 1987 as a jocular reference to some of the novels of Tim Powers, James P. Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter. When Gibson and Sterling entered the subgenre with their collaborative novel The Difference Engine the term was being used earnestly as well.[7] Alan Moore's and Kevin O'Neill's 1999 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book series (and the subsequent 2003 film adaption) popularized the steampunk genre and helped propel it into mainstream fiction.[8]

The most immediate form of steampunk subculture is the community of fans surrounding the genre. Others move beyond this, attempting to adopt a "steampunk" aesthetic through fashion, home decor and even music. This movement may also be (perhaps more accurately) described as "Neo-Victorianism," which is the amalgamation of Victorian aesthetic principles with modern sensibilities and technologies. This characteristic is particularly evident in steampunk fashion which tends to synthesize punk, goth and rivet styles as filtered through the Victorian era. As an object style, however, steampunk adopts more distinct characteristics with various craftspersons modding modern-day devices into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style.[9] The goal of such redesigns is to employ appropriate materials (such as polished brass, iron, and wood) with design elements and craftsmanship consistent with the Victorian era.[10]


Teslapunk, named for scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, refers to fictional narratives or visual styles inspired by 18th, 19th, and early 20th century pioneers of electricity and electrical devices. This narrative or style commonly imagines an alternate history where widely available cheap (or free), clean, and often highly portable electrical energy replaces all previous energy sources (such as wood, coal and oil, and the steam engines that were fueled by them), but has yet to be replaced (or is never replaced) by other energy sources itself (such as diesel or atomic power). In some stories, free-energy technologies are largely forgotten in the present day, but only because they were kept secret by some government or other organization that used the technologies to control the masses.


Atompunk relates to the pre-digital period of 1945-1965, including mid-century Modernism, the Atomic Age and Space Age, Communism and concern about it exaggerated as paranoia in the USA along with Neo-Soviet styling, underground cinema, Googie architecture, the Sputnik programme, superhero fiction, the rise of the US military/industrial powers and the fall-out of Chernobyl. Its aesthetic tends toward Populuxe and Raygun Gothic, which describe a retro-futuristic vision of the world.[11]


Clockpunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction which is similar to steampunk, in that it portrays advanced technology based on pre-modern designs, but the technology used is based on springs and clockwork, and is usually set during the Renaissance, in the vein of Jay Lake's novel, Mainspring,[12] and Whitechapel Gods by S M Peters.[13] The term was coined by the GURPS role playing system.[14]



Dieselpunk is based on the aesthetics of the interbellum period through World War II (c. 1920-1945). This sub-genre is sometimes named Decopunk, referring to the Art Deco art style (including its Streamline Moderne variant). The genre combines the artistic and genre influences of the period (including pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pin-ups) with postmodern technology and sensibilities. First coined in 2001 as a marketing term by game designer Lewis Pollak to describe his role-playing game Children of the Sun,[15] dieselpunk has grown to describe a distinct style of visual art, music, motion pictures, fiction, and engineering. Examples include Crimson Skies, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, the BioShock series.[16]

Futuristic derivatives


Biopunk emerged during the 1990s and focuses on the near-future unintended consequences of the biotechnology revolution following the discovery of recombinant DNA. Biopunk fiction typically describes the struggles of individuals or groups, often the product of human experimentation, against a backdrop of totalitarian governments or megacorporations which misuse biotechnologies as means of social control or profiteering. Unlike cyberpunk, it builds not on information technology but on synthetic biology. As in postcyberpunk however, individuals are usually modified and enhanced not with cyberware, but by genetic manipulation of their chromosomes.


Nanopunk refers to an emerging genre of speculative science fiction still very much in its infancy in comparison to other genres like that of Cyberpunk.[17] The genre is similar to biopunk, but describes a world in which the use of biotechnology is limited or prohibited, and only nanotechnology is in wide use (while in biopunk bio- and nanotechnologies often coexist). Currently the genre is more concerned with the artistic and physiological impact of nanotechnology, than of aspects of the technology itself.[18]

Other proposed derivatives

There have been a handful of divergent terms based on the general concepts of steampunk. These are typically considered unofficial and are often invented by readers, or by authors referring to their own works, often humorously.

A large number of terms have been used by the GURPS roleplaying game Steampunk to describe anachronistic technologies and settings, including stonepunk, bronzepunk, sandalpunk, candlepunk, transistorpunk and atomic punk. These terms have seen very little use outside of GURPS.[14]


Elfpunk was proposed as a subgenre of urban fantasy in which faeries and elves are transplanted from rural folklore into modern urban settings. During the awards ceremony for the 2007 National Book Awards, judge Elizabeth Partridge expounded on the distinction between elfpunk and urban fantasy, citing fellow judge Scott Westerfeld's thoughts on the works of Holly Black who is considered "classic elfpunk — there's enough creatures already, and she's using them. Urban fantasy, though, can have additionally made-up creatures."[19]


Described as a subgenre of mythic fiction, Catherynne M. Valente uses the term "mythpunk" to define a brand of speculative fiction which starts in folklore and myth and adds elements of postmodern fantastic techniques: urban fantasy, confessional poetry, non-linear storytelling, linguistic calisthenics, worldbuilding, and academic fantasy.[citation needed] Writers whose works would fall under the mythpunk label are Catherynne M. Valente, Ekaterina Sedia, Theodora Goss, and Sonya Taaffe.[20][21]


Nowpunk is a term invented by Bruce Sterling, which he applied to contemporary fiction set in the time period in which the fiction is being published, i.e. all contemporary fiction. Sterling used the term to describe his book The Zenith Angle, which follows the story of a hacker whose life is changed by the September 11th, 2001 attacks.[22]


Splatterpunk, a term that David J. Schow coined in the mid-1980s at the World Fantasy Convention in Providence, refers to a subgenre of horror fiction distinguished by its graphic, often gory, depiction of violence.[23] It often overlaps with body horror. Though it gained some prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, and attracted a cult following, the term "splatterpunk" is currently used less often than other synonymous terms for the genre.[24]


  1. ^ Bethke, Bruce (1997, 2000). "The Etymology of "Cyberpunk"". Archived from the original on 2008-01-08. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  2. ^ a b Person, Lawrence (1998). "Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto". Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  3. ^ Brin, David (2003). "The Matrix: Tomorrow May Be Different". Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  4. ^ Person, Lawrence (2006-01-15). "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex". Locus Online. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  5. ^ Person, Lawrence (1998). "Notes Towards a Postcyberpunk Manifesto". The Cyberpunk Project. Retrieved 2007-06-18. 
  6. ^ Blankenship, Loyd. (1995) GURPS Cyberpunk: High-Tech Low-Life Rolepaying Sourcebook. Steve Jackson Games. ISBN 1-55634-168-7
  7. ^ Berry, Michael (1987-06-25). "Wacko Victorian Fantasy Follows 'Cyberpunk' Mold". The San Francisco Chronicle (Wordspy). Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  8. ^ Damon Poeter (2008-07-06). "Steampunk's subculture revealed". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  9. ^ Braiker, Brian (2007-10-31). "Steampunking Technology;A subculture hand-tools today's gadgets with Victorian style". Newsweek. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  10. ^ Bebergal, Peter (2007-08-26). "The age of steampunk". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  11. ^ Sterling, Bruce (2008-03-12). "Here Comes “Atompunk.” And It’s Dutch. So there". Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  12. ^ Sawicki, Steve (2007-06-12). "Mainspring by Jay Lake (Review)". Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  13. ^ "SFRevu Review". 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2011-03-07. 
  14. ^ a b Stoddard, William H., GURPS Steampunk (2000)
  15. ^ 'Piecraft'; Ottens, Nick (July 2008), ""Discovering Dieselpunk", The Gatehouse Gazette (Issue 1): page 3,, retrieved 2010-5-23 
  16. ^ Krzysztof, Janicz (2008). ""Chronologia dieselpunku" (in Polish)". 
  17. ^ "Nanopunk definition". 2007-06-12. Retrieved 2011-03-07. 
  18. ^ Hawkes-Reed, J. (2009). "The Guerilla Infrastructure HOWTO". In Colin Harvey. Future Bristol. Swimming Kangaroo. ISBN 1934041939. 
  19. ^ Hogan, Ron (2007-10-15). "2007 National Book Awards". Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  20. ^ "Interview with Catherynne M. Valente". 2007-11-02. Retrieved 2011-03-07. 
  21. ^ Walter, Damien G (2008-02-14). "New women's worlds in fantasy". Retrieved 2011-03-07. 
  22. ^ Laura Lambert, Hilary W. Poole, Chris Woodford, Christos J. P. Moschovitis (2005). "The Internet: A Historical Encyclopedia". The Internet: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 224. ISBN 1851096590. 
  23. ^ Carroll, David (1995). "Splatterpunk". Tabula Rasa #6. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  24. ^ Remy, J.E. (2007-07-24). "Types of Horror/All Sorts of Punk". Die Wachen. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 

External links

  • Die Wachen, a concise overview of literary punk genres.

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