February 3, 2012

Book 101 - Punk'd

As a big fan of the science fiction genre it may comes as quite a surprise that I'm fairly new to the in recent years growingly popular Steampunk sub-genre. Maybe it's simply because science fiction offers a huge variety of sub-genres or maybe it's because the word as such is slightly irritating - probably both. I mean, seriously. Steam? Punk? In one word?

Steampunk is actually more than a simple sub-genre of science fiction, as it can also dip into fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction. While there are a few classic works - just think H. G. Wells and Jules Verne - out there, this genre only ever reached its mainstream fame during the 1980s and early 1990s. As the name already suggests, it involves a setting where steam power is still widely used, usually Victorian era Britain or "Wild West" era United States. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as people in Victorian times might have envisioned them, spruced up with a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style and art. Contemporary authors of the genre would be Gail Carriger and Scott Westerfeld among many others.

While I was looking up clever things to say about Steampunk I also found out about sub-sub-genres that were completely new to me. Decopunk is a recent subset of the Steampunk genre, centered around the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne art styles, and based around the period between the 20s and 50s. Sometimes it is also called Dieselpunk though critics usually claim Dieselpunk to be a gritty version of Steampunk while Decopunk is more of a sleek, shiny very Art Deco version of the same period.

Think I'm finished with all those punks? Not quite.

Sticking to the science fiction genre, there is also Cyberpunk which is a postmodern sub-genre focusing on "high tech and low life". The name was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story Cyberpunk, published in 1983. It features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order. Cyberpunk often centers on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorporations, and tend to be set in a near-future Earth, rather than the far-future settings or in outer space environments. Can you say post-industrial dystopia?

Straying from the science fiction genre let's have a look at a whole different genre that only shares the second part of the name with each other. If you're a fan of horror you will at least have heard about Splatterpunk or maybe even read a book or two. The term was coined in 1986 by David J. Schow and it refers to a movement within horror fiction distinguished by its graphic, often gory, depiction of violence and "hyperintensive horror with no limits." If you're more into traditional, meekly suggestive horror stories, this sub-genre certainly isn't for you. Best known author in the genre are probably Clive Barker and Richard Christian Matheson. Interestingly the term gained prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, just like the Steampunk and the Cyberpunk genres, so maybe it was something in that era that made the addition of the term "punk" obligatory for new word creations.

What's your take on Steampunk? Ever heard of the sub-sub-genres of Decopunk and Dieselpunk? Ever thought about Cyberpunk as dystopia? And how about some Splatterpunk as late night read?

Oh, and in case you should be aware of any other genres that include the word "punk", please let me know!


  1. I posted a list today of steampunk books I plan to read later this year. I've read a few here and there but I feel I've overlooked the sub-genre. But no more!

  2. All the concepts in this post are totally new to me. I have only heard about steampunk, but didn't have any clue what it meant. Now I know, thanks! :)

  3. ^^ i know cuberpunk thanks to the roleplaying game

    and i have one book steampunk from Devon monk but i still have to read it