At this point, most people are aware of the steam-powered, brass-goggled mayhem that is the steampunk genre. And many people probably can recognize the neon, holographic entertainment riot which constitutes the cyberpunk genre. There are, however, many other punk genres that don’t get nearly the same amount of attention and publicity that they perhaps should.
If you have no idea what “punk” subgenres are, here’s a quick explanation. Punk is a tag that is often used to describe a number of sci-fi/alternate history genres that heavily rely on “retro-futurism.” That is, the combination of the technology, fashion, and tropes of specific historical eras with a fantastic futuristic spin. With the exception of cyberpunk and nanopunk, which are more like a retro idea of what the far future would look like, the punk genres operate with the idea that futuristic technologies evolved within the context of past eras. Thus, steampunk is full of steam powered jet-packs, airships, and outlandish Victorian vehicles all encased in brass and glass.
But if the be-goggled, Victorian steampunk doesn’t quite do it for you, and you’re not into the neon, holographic mohawks of cyberpunk, maybe some of these sub-punk genres will be more to your liking.
This subgenre assumes that early western iron-age civilizations never fell, and essentially, ancient Greece and Rome continued to evolve to develop advanced technology. This one tends to include a lot of fantasy elements as well, with colossal bronze statues, mechanical gorgons, and machine driven chariots A bit silly? Yes. Still freaking awesome? You bet! Check out The Hesperian Trilogy by Alan Smale.
Silkpunk consists of motor-driven technology with far east aesthetics using ancient eastern materials such as silk, bamboo, and paper, as well as the island aesthetics of south-east Asia using coral, feathers, and coconuts. This one is relatively new on the “sub-punk” scene, but it already has several amazing literary examples that we highly recommend! As one of the few sub-punks that does not heavily rely on western or European themes, Silkpunk is poised to be the next big, unique punk genre. We cannot recommend enough The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu and The Red Threads of Fortune by J.Y. Yang.
Jumping just a little bit ahead in time, Candlepunk, also sometimes called Castlepunk, assumes that the medieval era kingdoms continued to develop future technologies. The best part of this one, however, is its own subgenre, Plaguepunk. Think alchemical guns, plague masks, and a grim-dark medieval setting! Try The Plague Tales by Ann Benson and Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
Much of the fashion of the Rococo era already lends itself well to “punk” genres, with its outlandish, ship covered wigs, porcelain doll-esque makeup, and excessively frilly clothing. It’s not a huge stretch to imagine these aesthetics being applied to porcelain mechanized butlers or clockwork powered ships. Rococopunk exists in the space between Steampunk and Candlepunk, slightly more silly than both, but definitely more punk. The unique thing about this particular sub-punk genre is that it also focuses on the era in which so many wars, particularly Revolutionary wars, took place. So it presents an interesting dichotomy between beautiful fashion with retro-futuristic war machines. Check out Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson.
This one takes the beautiful aesthetics of art deco in the 1920’s and applies retro-futurism to that. It usually features mobsters, gold guns, and lots of heavy deco architecture. Outside of literature, one of the best examples of decopunk are the first two Bioshock video games, which mix decopunk and biopunk in the wonderfully derelict underwater city of Rapture. If you are interested in decopunk be prepared to be assaulted by lots of gold and intricate designs with hard lines; it’s wonderful! Try BioShock: Rapture by John Shirley.
This list hardly scratches the surface of the many sub-punk genres, and if you love alternate history, we highly recommend you check them all out! Which sub-punk genre is your favorite? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!