READING 3: Steampunk Guide to Subgenres
Not all of the following terms are actual official subgenres. They are methods, however, to divide up the different fads and avenues (or should I say backalleys) that Steampunk has taken over the years. Boilerpunk
The blue-collar answer to aristocratic Steampunk, incorporating the experiences and hardships of the workers actually shoveling coal to brain steam to the upper classes. Cattlepunk
A setting which otherwise more or less resembles your typical John Ford film will have things like robots, super-weapons, and wacky gadgets tossed in. Interestingly, the heroes of such stories are usually pretty normal considering the setting- they'll use weapons like pistols and shotguns to take down warmechs. This kind of plot usually takes place either on another planet or in a very obvious Alternate History, since making it work on Earth seriously messes up the space time continuum. This setting is unusual among the Punk Punk subtropes in that it actually predates Steam Punk, which is generally considered the ur- trope. For this we can thank The Wild Wild West, which pioneered the genre by thinking in terms of The Western meets Spy Drama- which, in practice, ends up looking a lot like Steam Punk. Expect ample Schizo Tech in this setting. This a bit of a variation on the IN SPACE! model, though characters here rarely ever actually go into space, at least for extended periods of time. See the inversion, Space Western. A related genre is the Weird West, for when the west gets a supernatural treatment. Not to be confused with Cowpunk, a form of music combining (you guessed it!) Country and Punk, which existed mainly in the 1980s. Although a Cattle Punk movie with a Cowpunk soundtrack would be a good idea.
Examples: The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr definitely qualifies, being a Western adventure with steampunk technology and an Imported Alien Phlebotinum "orb". The Wild Wild West. The series is the Ur Example of this genre. Legend (the TV series starring Richard Dean Anderson and John de Lancie) The Firefly verse , though nominally a Space Western, could also be considered a Standard Sci Fi Setting crossed with this. The Doctor Who episode "A Town Called Mercy" has futuristic sci-fi technology, moved to the Old West via Time Travel. Wild Wild West, which provides the page image and the infamous Giant Spider. Westworld was kind of an inversion: Late 20th century robotic and Artificial Intelligence technology were used to re-create the Wild West for entertainment. Cowboys and Aliens Back to the Future Part III has this to a mild extent: Doc Brown is the only character with this kind of technology and his attitude is such that he probably does everything he can to keep anyone else from finding it.
Clockwork technologies replace or supersede traditional steam power. A Setting trope similar to Steam Punk relying on artsy clockwork mechanica. Essentially, identical to Steam Punk, but with intricate clockworks replacing steam power as the technology of choice. This is a Speculative Fiction setting that takes place prior to the industrial revolution. Gears and other simple machines predominate virtually every mechanical construct, heavy machinery, or portable device in the setting. Usually the machines must be wound with a key, but they can also be powered by gunpowder or Functional Magic, or more often, Hand Waved. Even when they are wound, science-savvy audiences may note that the amount of energy apparently stored in a Clock Punk device often seems far greater than the amount of energy it takes to rewind them. The mechanisms and casings will typically be adorned with intricate decorations and carvings, making some very beautiful-looking machinery if done right. Another element of this setting type is that while Steam Punk generally has a Jules Verne-esque Sci Fi sense to it, Clock Punk settings tend to have a mix of a renaissance or baroque era feel, and lighthearted fantasy; due to Fantasy Gun Control, mixing Clock Punk with Functional Magic is less a strain on Willing Suspension of Disbelief than more advanced technologies. The setting is often populated by Clockwork Creatures. Expect invocations of Leonardo da Vinci. Cyberpunk
Cyberpunk is a Speculative Fiction genre centered around the transformative effects of advanced science, information technology, computers and networks ("cyber") coupled with a breakdown or radical change in the social order ("punk"). A genre that is dark and cynical in tone, it borrows elements from Film Noir, hard-boiled Detective Fiction and postmodern deconstruction to describe the Dystopian side of an electronic society. The plot will more than likely take place Twenty Minutes into the Future in some City Noir, Industrial Ghetto or Crapsack World that tends to be marked by crime, cultural nihilism and bad weather, where cutting-edge technology only ends up being used by everyone for the sake of selfish profit and pleasure ("the street finds its own uses for things"). Heroes are often computer hackers or rebels, antiheroes almost to a man. These characters — "criminals, outcasts, visionaries, dissenters and misfits" — call to mind the private eye of detective fiction. This emphasis on the misfits and the malcontents is the "punk" component of cyberpunk. On the other hand, major villains are almost inevitably Police States or multinational conglomerates led by powerful businessmen with a number of gun-toting Mooks and corrupt politicians (or even an entire nation) at their beck and call. Expect the scientific philosophy of transhumanism to be a feature, what with Artificial Limbs and cable jacks in the skull that allow access to artificial realities. Artificial intelligences and artificial humans (sometimes corrupted) are everywhere, while Everything Is Online. This leads to a theme of "loss of distinction between real and artificial" on which philosophical and existential conflicts about transhumanism can arise, such as questions on the nature of identity and "What Measure Is a Non-Human?." The genre's vision of a troubled future is often called the antithesis of the generally utopian visions of the future popular in the 1940s and 1950s, but keep in mind that it is not a term that should be applied to every Speculative Fiction dystopia or Bad Future ever in the history of the genre, and does not need to always have an anvilicious Science Is Bad message to it. Desertpunk
Think of the Earth as destroyed, or cannibalized. A holocaust. Men moved to the Stars. Using the Earth as a basis for the “new world” makes it easy for the writer and reader to conceptualize. When life becomes hard, and on such a world, it usually is, morals are the first thing you throw away. Law and order are swift to break down, and suddenly we have The Wild West on another planet. Usually dystopic in quality. Dieselpunk
A heresy in which diesel fuel and nuclear power replace steam power in alternate histories that often have a political component. Dungeonpunk
A Punk Punk genre which tries to apply the gritty, cynical tone of Cyber Punk and Steam Punk to a Heroic Fantasy setting. Usually, this takes the maxim "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." and turns it on its head. As we get more proficient with the use of magic, it takes on characteristics of technology. We have railroads, but instead of burning coal to work a steam engine, they have a bound air elemental. We have radios, but instead of sending electromagnetic waves across space, they work by sympathetic magic. Note, however, that not all Magitek falls under this trope; it requires a slide toward the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism as well. This always involves Functional Magic of one kind or another. Depending on the dark tone of the piece, one may find things are often Powered by a Forsaken Child. Gaslight Romance
A mainly British term for alternate histories that romanticize the Victorian era. Some Brits might argue that all American Steampunk is actually gaslight romance. Mannerspunk
Fiction that may o rmay not be deemed Steampunk, in which elaborate social hierarchies provide the friction, conflict, and action of the narrative, usually in the context of endless formal dances at parties in mansions. Post Cyberpunk
Where Cyberpunk is dystopian and Grim Dark with a disillusionment for Utopian science fiction, Post Cyberpunk is positive yet more realistic than both cyberpunk and utopian sci-fi. Where Cyberpunk is anti-corporate and anti-government, Post Cyberpunk is willing to give both parties redeeming features. Where Cyberpunk portrays the future as a Crapsack World, Post Cyberpunk posits society will probably be about the same, just with cooler gadgets. Where Cyberpunk is futuristic, forward thinking and on the cutting edge...so is Post Cyberpunk. Post Cyberpunk involves reconstruction of concepts Cyberpunk deconstructed, or deconstruction of Cyberpunk Tropes (such as the Dystopia). The Cyberpunk genre itself was meant as a reaction to utopian fiction popular in the 1940s and 1950s while exploring technology's possibility for abuse Twenty Minutes into the Future (tech from Star Trek will just result in Brave New World), but as the genre itself got so Darker and Edgier to the point of being just as unrealistic, it was predictable that Cyberpunk itself will get a deconstruction. What the old and new Cyberpunk genres share is a detailed immersion in societies enmeshed with technology. They explore the emergent possibilities of connectivity and technological change. What Post Cyber Punk has that separates it from pure-Cyperpunk works, is an emphasis on positive socialization. Aside from this main difference, the two sister-genres share many themes, tropes and story elements to the point that many question the legitimacy of this genre as separate from Cyber Punk, and contend that Post-Cyberpunk is simply Cyberpunk expanded beyond its base and taken further logically. Purists, however, see a definite difference. Raygun Gothic
Although not strictly a subgenre, this type of retro-futurism based in part on art deco and streamlined modern styles has been used for a variety of science fiction settings, usually in movies. Coined by William Gibson, the term has become more useful in the context of Steampunk as the fiction has come to feature more and more tinkers and artists. (Think Firefly.) See also Raygun Gothic Steampunk
We’re covering a lot of Steampunk qualities and tropes in this class so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. Retro-style Speculative Fiction set in periods where steam power is king. Steampunk has some significant overlap with its more magic-oriented counterpart Gaslamp Fantasy and its more advanced cousin, Diesel Punk, and usually exists side by side with Clock Punk. Stitchpunk
Fiction influenced by the DIY and crafts element of Steampunk, with a prime example being the animated movie 9, in which cute Frankenstein doll-creatures stitched together from bits of burlap sack try to save the world. In a wider context, Stitchpunk emphasizes the role of weavers, tinkers, and darners in Steampunk.
References & Further Reading
Cyberpunk Dieselpunk Desertpunk Fabulous Worlds of Jules Verne, LocusMag History of Steampunk, A by Cory Gross “New dress code? No, it’s steamunk” by Trevor Keiser, Clarkstonnews.com Post Cyberpunk Raygun Gothic The History of Steampunk The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer & S. J. Chambers.