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.
- Retrofuturistic derivatives
- Other proposed derivatives
The most successful of these subgenres, Steampunk, has been defined as a "kind of technological fantasy", and others in this category sometimes also incorporate aspects of science fantasy and historical fantasy. Scholars have written of these subgenres' stylistic place in postmodern literature, and also their ambiguous interaction with the historical perspective of postcolonialism.
American author Bruce Bethke 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. 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.
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.
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 biorobotics and synthetic biology. As in postcyberpunk however, individuals are usually modified and enhanced not with cyberware, but by genetic manipulation of their chromosomes. A notable example is the TV series Dark Angel.
Nanopunk refers to an emerging subgenre of speculative science fiction still very much in its infancy in comparison to other genres like that of cyberpunk. The genre is similar to biopunk, but describes a world in which the use of biotechnology is limited or prohibited, and only nanites and 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. Still, one of the most prominent examples of nanopunk is Crysis video game series. And much lesser famous examples is Generator Rex and Transcendence.
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 in 1998:
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.
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 social implications within a post-third industrial-era society, such as a ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information and cybernetic augmentation of the human body, but not necessarily with the assumption of dystopia. It is rather characteristic for postcyberpunk to portray a utopia or to blend elements of both extremes into a more mature (to cyberpunk) societal vision. Rafael Miranda Huereca states:
In this fictional world, the unison in the hive becomes a power mechanism which is executed in its capillary form, not from above the social body but from within. This mechanism as Foucault remarks is a form of power, which “reaches into the very grain of individuals, touches their bodies and inserts itself into their actions and attitudes, their discourses, learning processes and everyday lives.” In postcyberpunk unitopia ‘the capillary mechanism’ that Foucault describes is literalized. Power touches the body through the genes, injects viruses to the veins, takes the forms of pills and constantly penetrates the body through its surveillance systems; collects samples of body substance, reads finger prints, even reads the ‘prints’ that are not visible, the ones which are coded in the genes. The body responds back to power, communicates with it; supplies the information that power requires and also receives its future conduct as a part of its daily routine. More importantly, power does not only control the body, but also designs, (re)produces, (re)creates it according to its own objectives. Thus, human body is re-formed as a result of the transformations of the relations between communication and power.
The Daemon novels by Daniel Suarez could be considered postcyberpunk in that sense. In addition to themes of its ancestral genre postcyberpunk might also combine elements of nanopunk and biopunk. Good examples of postcyberpunk novels 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". 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.
As a wider variety of writers began to work with cyberpunk concepts, new subgenres 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, especially from the first and second industrial revolution technological-eras, or more recent extrapolations or exaggerations of the actual technology of those eras.
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 1990 collaborative novel The Difference Engine the term was being used earnestly as well. Alan Moore's and Kevin O'Neill's 1999 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen historical fantasy comic book series (and the subsequent 2003 film adaption) popularized the steampunk genre and helped propel it into mainstream fiction.
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. 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.
Dieselpunk is a genre and art style based on the aesthetics popular between World War I and the end of World War II. The style combines the artistic and genre influences of the period (including pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pin-ups) with retro-futuristic technology and postmodern sensibilities. First coined in 2001 as a marketing term by game designer Lewis Pollak to describe his role-playing game Children of the Sun, dieselpunk has grown to describe a distinct style of visual art, music, motion pictures, fiction, and engineering. Examples include the movies Iron Sky, Rocketeer, K-20: Legend of the Mask, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Dark City, and the games Crimson Skies, Greed Corp, Gatling Gears, BioShock and its sequel BioShock 2, The Legend of Korra and Skullgirls.
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, and transistorpunk. These terms have seen very little use outside GURPS.
Stonepunk refers to works set roughly during the Stone Age in which the characters utilize Neolithic Revolution–era technology constructed from materials more or less consistent with the time period, but possessing anachronistic complexity and function. The Flintstones franchise and its various spin offs, Roland Emmerich's 10,000 BC, and the flashback scenes in Cro fall under this category. Literary examples include Edgar Rice Burrough's Back to the Stone Age and The Land that Time Forgot, and Jean M. Auel's "Earth’s Children" series, starting with The Clan of the Cave Bear.
Clockpunk portrays Renaissance-era science and technology based on pre-modern designs, in the vein of Mainspring by Jay Lake, and Whitechapel Gods by S. M. Peters. Examples of clockpunk include Astro-Knights Island in the nonlinear game Poptropica, the 2011 film version of The Three Musketeers, the game Thief: The Dark Project, and the game Syberia.
The term was coined by the GURPS role playing system.
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 11, 2001 attacks.
Elfpunk is subgenre of urban fantasy in which traditional mythological creatures such as faeries and elves are transplanted from rural folklore into modern urban settings and has been seen in books since the 1980s including works such as 'War of the Oaks' by Emma Bull. 'Gossamer Axe' by Gael Baudino, and 'The Iron Dragons' Daughter' by Michael Swanwick. 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 some totally made-up f*cked-up [sic] creatures".
Catherynne M. Valente uses the term "mythpunk" to describe a subgenre of mythic fiction which starts in folklore and myth and adds elements of postmodern literary techniques. As the -punk appendage implies, mythpunk is subversive. In particular, it uses aspects of folklore to subvert or question dominant societal norms, often bringing in a feminist and/or multicultural approach. It confronts, instead of conforms, to societal norms. Valente describes mythpunk as breaking "Mythologies that defined a universe where women, queer folk, people of color, people who deviate from the norm were invisible or never existed" and then "piecing it back together to make something strange and different and wild."
Typically, mythpunk narratives focus on transforming folkloric source material rather than retelling it, often through postmodern literary techniques such as non-linear storytelling, worldbuilding, confessional poetry, as well as modern linguistic and literary devices. The use of folklore is especially important because folklore is "often a battleground between subversive and conservative forces" and a medium for constructing new societal norms. Through postmodern literary techniques, mythpunk authors change the structures and traditions of folklore, "negotiating—and validating—different norms."
Most works of mythpunk have been published by small presses, such as Strange Horizons, because "anything playing out on the edge is going to have truck with the small presses at some point, because small presses take big risks." Writers whose works would fall under the mythpunk label include Ekaterina Sedia, Theodora Goss, Neil Gaiman, Sonya Taaffe, Adam Christopher, and the anonymous author behind the pen name "B.L.A. and G.B. Gabbler." Valente's novel Deathless is a good example of mythpunk, drawing from classic Russian folklore to tell the tale of Koshchei the Deathless from a female perspective.
"Dreampunk" is a fledgling genre of post-modern, dystopian fiction that concentrates on the alchemical power of dreams and the exploration of 'Countercultures'. Dreampunk is influenced by other punk genres such as steampunk and cyberpunk but also from more classical literary genres, mythology, process-oriented psychology, Jungian Archetypes and shamanic traditions. Dreampunk, as the name suggests, is inspired by dreams, and thus uses "dream logic" or fairy tales to convey themes and meaning. A complex and nuanced genre of fiction, dreampunk narratives are layered and can be interpreted on many levels, with superficial narrative elements suitable for all audiences as well as deep and chilling archetypal references that are more intriguing for readers interested in alchemy, psychoanalysis or the occult. Works cited as dreampunk include many of the works of filmmaker David Lynch and Lewis Carroll's Alice series.
Works concerned specifically with dreampunk themes include the works of EC Steiner, an Atlanta-based artist, designer and sometimes storyteller, and Yelena Calavera, a writer, journalist and multimedia storyteller from Johannesburg, South Africa. Calavera's extensive writing actively aims to flesh out the dreampunk genre and publish literary titles that best articulate the main themes of the genre.
Decopunk is a recent subset of Dieselpunk, centered around the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne art styles, and based around the period between the 1920s and 1950s. In an interview at CoyoteCon, steampunk author Sara M. Harvey made the distinctions "...shinier than DieselPunk, more like DecoPunk", and "DieselPunk is a gritty version of Steampunk set in the 1920s-1950s. The big war eras, specifically. DecoPunk is the sleek, shiny very Art Deco version; same time period, but everything is chrome!" Its fandom arose around 2008. Possibly the most notable examples of this are the first two BioShock games, and the cartoon Batman: The Animated Series which included Neo-noir elements along with modern elements such as the use of VHS cassettes.
Atompunk (sometimes called "atomicpunk") relates to the pre-digital short twentieth century, specifically the period of 1945–1965, including mid-century Modernism, the Atomic Age, Jet Age and Space Age, Communism and concern about it exaggerated as paranoia in the USA along with Neo-Soviet styling, underground cinema, Googie architecture, Sputnik and the Space Race, superhero fiction and comic books, 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. Among the most notable examples is the Fallout video game series and the film Fido.
Cyberprep is a term with a very similar meaning to postcyberpunk. The word is an amalgam of the prefix "cyber-", referring to 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 utopian rather than gritty and dangerous. Since society is largely leisure-driven, uploading is more of an art form or a medium of entertainment while advanced body modifications are used for sports, pleasure and self-improvement. An example would be Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.