The Word Spy for 07/12/2002 -- steampunk

Gareth Branwyn garethb2 at EARTHLINK.NET
Sat Jul 13 16:09:49 UTC 2002

Good one, Paul. I created the 1991 e-book/catalog Beyond Cyberpunk! (on
HyperCard) that covered the various sub-genres of cyberpunk sci-fi and
the burgeoning "cyberculture" of the Internet. Some other cyberpunk
"micro-genres" of the time:

Ribofunk - Created by sci-fi author Paul DeFilippo, ribofunk was sort of
an inversion of cyberpunk. Where c-punk focused on the mind, computers,
logic, the virtualizing of the human body, ribofunk emphasized the body,
bio-technology, the libido, A-life (artificial life), etc. Where
cyberpunk's musical muse was punk rock, ribofunk's was funk and soul.

Splatterpunk - Took the alienation, dystopian near-futures and
amphetimine-fueled prose of c-punk into the horror genre. Chief
practitioners were Clive Barker and John Shirley (a.k.a. "cyberpunk
patient zero").

Cybergoth - More of a marketing tag than anything else, "cybergoth" was
used by Games Workshop to describe their Road Warrior meets Eldritch
magick post-apocalyptic game Dark Future (and used in the series of
novels that supported it). Some of this "cybergoth" influence lives on
in Games Workshop's far-future "gothic sci-fi" game Warhammer 40,000.

Freestyle - A shortlived sub-genre of c-punk practiced by then-Bay Area
writers Rudy Rucker, Marc Laidlaw, Richard Kadrey and others. Inspired
by freestyle surfing and chaos theory (no, really). The idea was to damn
all genres and "write like yourself, only moreso."

Transrealism - Taking off on the "write like yourself, only moreso"
adage of freestyle, Rudy Rucker published his Transrealist Manifesto. It
called for combining the intensity of cyberpunk prose and the "fifteen
minutes into the future" immediacy of the genre with the anything-goes
openess of freestyle and the use of your own life experiences as your
muse in writing fiction. Rucker claims that all of his work has become
"transrealist." He takes real characters and situations from his life,
grossly exaggerates them and projects them into the near future. Rucker
says that, eventually, he wants to publish a CD-ROM will all of
his novels on it. The reader will be able to click on any passage, in
any book, and be linked to Rucker's journals, so one can see what was
going on in his real life at that point and how it got mutated into fiction.

Re: Steampunk
One of the central inspirations of steampunk was Charles Babbage's
"Difference Engine," a proposed computational device that many speculate
would have worked if the technology had existed at the time to machine
the many mechanical parts. So steampunk asks the question: what would
have happened to history if computers and the information age had
existed concurrently with the industrial revolution of the 19th century?


Paul McFedries wrote:

 > steampunk (STEEM.punk) n.
 > A literary genre that applies science fiction or fantasy elements to
 > historical settings and that features steam-powered, mechanical
 > machines rather than electronic devices. Also: steam-punk.
 > Arcanum is a prime example of steampunk, a subgenre of science
 > fiction that explores the displacement of ancient ways by modern
 > technology. Like Thief, with its steam-powered mechanical robot
 > guards, Arcanum reconfigures the fantasy genre by imagining a past of
 > magic and sorcery clashing with a present distinguished by advanced
 > mechanical technology.
 > --Charles Herold, "Yielding (or Not) to the Magic of Exotica," The
 > New York Times, October 4, 2001
 > See Also:
 > chick lit:
 > hiss and tell:
 > Kmart realism:
 > issue literature:
 > Judas biography:
 > me-moir:
 > plutography:
 > tart noir:
 > Backgrounder
 > ---------------------------------
 > Although there are antecedents, William Gibson's 1982 novel
 > _Neuromancer_ is generally considered to be the first example of
 > a literary form called "cyberpunk." This science fiction subgenre
 > places computers, networks, and electronics (the "cyber-" part)
 > inside a future that is anarchic and often dystopian (the "punk"
 > part; from the anarchic, dystopian punk rock music of the mid- to
 > late-70s). Move the setting to the past, especially the Victorian
 > age, take out the electronics and replace them with mechanical
 > devices, especially elaborate, steam-powered contraptions, and
 > you have a new genre: steampunk.
 > Steampunk imagines what the past would have been like if the future
 > hadn't happened so quickly. It imagines, in other words, what
 > engineers and inventors might have come up with if they'd had
 > another, say, one hundred years to tinker with mechanical and
 > steam-powered machines. (Some examples: a steam-powered
 > flamethrower; a spaceship made of steel and wood.)
 > I should note, as well, that people are also describing other media
 > as "steampunk," especially video games and movies. For the latter,
 > the steampunk label has been applied to films such as Wild, Wild
 > West, Brazil, and even Edward Scissorhands.
 > Here's the earliest citation I could confure up for today's word:
 > Jeter, along with fellow novelists Tim Powers and James Blaylock,
 > seems to be carving out a new sub-genre of science fiction with his
 > new book. Whereas such authors as William Gibson, Michael Swanwick
 > and Walter Jon Williams have explored the futuristic commingling of
 > human being and computer in their "cyberpunk" novels and stories,
 > Jeter and his compatriots, whom he half-jokingly has dubbed
 > "steampunks," are having a grand time creating wacko historical
 > fantasies.
 > --Michael Berry, "Wacko Victorian Fantasy Follows 'Cyberpunk' Mold,"
 > The San Francisco Chronicle, June 25, 1987
 > ========================================================
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