12 December 2013

Cyberpunk meets Steampunk in Geek Romance...Say what?

As my better judgment would have it, I have dared to list THE DREAM LAND Trilogy under the categories of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and also Steampunk. Then, after some thought, I went further, labeling the trilogy as being also Cyberpunk. I cleverly announced to the reading world that my trilogy was "Cyberpunk meets Steampunk" in a vain attempt to draw in both audiences. Then I dared further and added "in Geek Romance"--which may [I know I'm seriously tempting Fate by writing this] have gone too far and crossed a line many readers are not prepared to cross.

Now I'm kept awake at night worrying whether or not the new readers of THE DREAM LAND Trilogy will accept my "version" of Steampunk or Cyberpunk or Geek Romance. Perhaps the trilogy could use a bit of explanation, just so we get our sub-genres straight.

We all know what "Geek" means; it's commonly used in popular media today. To me, the word refers to a person possessing scientific or mechanical expertise, whose expertise and attention to such interests waylays his or her interest in other, more popular activities. Another term, "Nerd," is similar in the focus on the scientific and mechanical at the expense of the social and popular but with the added characteristics of lacking in attention to social mores, personal hygiene, and relationship options. Correct me if I'm wrong; neither term existed back when I was in school. And we have "Romance," which is an oft-mistaken word, originally referring to an heroic journey yet today meaning a love relationship. 

Those terms being clear as slightly muddy water, let us proceed to the more disputed terms and their designation of variety of punkness.

For the most part, each term seems to designate the kind of power source used by a society; that is, after the wheel and the horse and all manner of delicate clockwork devices and whatever else there was, there came steam. Specifically, the steam engine: heat some water, make some steam, the steam pushes turbines or pistons and around and around we go, providing endless energy! This coincided historically with the so-called Victorian era (and includes Edwardian, depending on the strength of the purists) in the latter portion of the 19th century and early 20th century--in Earth history.

Hence, STEAMPUNK is a categorization of literary genre, fashion, indeed, a whole lifestyle to some, which appears to be stuck in that era of steam-powered everything. Seeming to replicate that society, fashions include waistcoats, high boots, top hats, long coats, and goggles to protect the eyes in lieu of windscreens. Ladies also embrace the corset and all manner of dresses and apparel about which I am [officially] not privy. In short, Steampunk is the Victorian era revisited, or, as one aficionado put it: Steampunk is "what would have happened if technology had not advanced beyond steam as a power source" with or without advancement in other aspects of a society such as politics and military activity and other rubbish.

When I first encountered what I came to know as Steampunk, I had a simple definition: science fiction or fantasy set in an older (rather than futuristic) setting; that is, anything that did not make use of the kinds of technology we have today. No spaceships. Other good gentlefolk in the genre/fashion/lifestyle have sought to correct me, informing me that after Steampunk comes DIESELPUNK, which, as the name would seem to suggest, involves an advancement of technology to petroleum as a fuel for engines. Following that pattern, we would next come to...let's see...Nuclearpunk? Or...Dilithiumpunk? How about Ram'ot'ixpunk (probably the post-2130 version)? or dare I even speculate about Ogpunk?

Of course, all of these terms originate from CYBERPUNK, they and others playing with variations and derivatives of that first term "cyberpunk"--which appeared in a 1980 short story: "Cyberpunk" by Bruce Bethke. In it, the setting was a highly technologized world rudely contrasted with a dark, fearful cityscape of dilapidation. In essence, high tech crossed with low society. I've always seen the genre as one full of hackers and crackers trying to make it in a world not worth saving. Dreary, indeed--but what else would you expect from postmodern literati? The downward spiral began with T.S. Eliot and his Wasteland, after all.

(In one novel-length work of poetry I produced not too many years ago [Think Nabokov's Pale Fire on steroids], the poet-protagonist looks beyond that dreariness to a bright and optimistic future and dubs it Futurianism: the belief that everything will work out fine and until everything does work out fine we have not yet arrived at the Future. Yes, lots of esoteric gobbledygook, but it was poetry, after all, and I'm digressing....)

Therefore, if we were to proceed backward in time from Steampunk, pursuing a rough, retrograde path through the history of power and energy, we might find ourselves somewhere in BAROQUEPUNK. We would likely be required to wear huge fluffy wigs and too-short pants and play clavichords and lutes, and partake of stately dances. Think Johann S. Bach and you get the idea: a neat and elegant world of trivial lives playing out as stage actors, all the while the peasants starve and so on. It's always the so on that disappoints.... 

Or further backwards, we might land in MONGOL EMPIRE PUNK. They were all punks back in that era, I think most would agree. Not much to do other than ride horses across the steppes, wind in your hair...and once in a while crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women. If that sort of thing appeals to you, of course. Note: this is likely the instigating connection which allows stories set in the past or in a primitive world to be included in the otherwise futuristic category of "science fiction"--in my humble opinion. 

Needless to say, we could continue our retrogression through the lineage of punk, perhaps all the way back to CAVEMANPUNK, of which I have an interesting entry: a heroic novella of two caveman brothers who fight over a cavewoman, eventually splitting the tribe. It's set on the edge of the European ice sheet in Neanderthal days. Then the alien spacecraft arrives.... Well, it was quite well-received by two or three people who offered to read it, but I'm digressing once more....

Obviously, there are plenty of Cyberpunk derivatives from which to choose. 

Some people, I'm sure, would even dare to suggest there is a BREWSTERPUNK, named for that cuter-than-should-be-allowed girl of the same name. One would expect, given that theme, a story in which childish, playful energy was used to power everything and cuteness was both the lingua franca and currency of trade. Thankfully, it is not. But I dare digress....

So how do any of these terms possibly relate to THE DREAM LAND Trilogy? That is the question at hand. I have said aloud (and often out loud) the tag line for my "sci-fi" trilogy: "Cyberpunk meets Steampunk in a Geek Romance." How does that all fit together? What laws have been broken? Let me explain.

In Book I ("Long Distance Voyager"), our protagonists journey to a world which is, for most of their adventures, not as far advanced technologically as the world of the late 20th century USA they left. Their new world has primitive vehicles, including steam-powered cars and airships. There are no cameras, radios, motion pictures, telephones, or advanced military apparati. In that respect, I choose to equate that setting with Steampunk, even though the story unfolds on a world different from Earth. Their new world does have a Victorianesque quality to it. So I think I am within the bounds of the broad definition of Steampunk. In fact, I went out of my way during edits to make sure the comparison held true.

In Book II ("Dreams of Future's Past"), our hero revisits that "earlier" era I've just described as Steampunk, so there is not much change from being Steampunk. 

In Book III ("Diaspora"), however, after wrapping up the story lines of the principal cast members from Books I and II, the novel boldly launches into the story of the heroine, Gina Parton, and her adventures in the far future of that world. Ah hah! Her world is full of technological marvels yet the society around her is crumbling and decadent. The reason? A comet is on its way to destroy the planet. They have about 40 years to go when we meet her and begin following her in this era. That high tech / low society dichotomy fits the bill for calling this volume of the trilogy Cyberpunk.

However, our heroine is not a computer whiz, nor is she any kind of cyborg or part machine. Nevertheless, she does carry a few nifty devices, such as communication and personal defense devices. The communication gadget, however, is anachronistic; just for fun, that society's inventors created a device with no direct voice-to-voice connection but, rather, a mechanical interface which artificially replicates vocalization much like a robot voice. Meanwhile, people are giving up and going rogue: doing drugs to forget their fears, praying to the gods and goddesses, digging tunnels, lighting themselves on fire, fighting over food, competing for a seat aboard one of the evacuation spacecraft--

Wait a minute! Spacecraft? But she flies around on an airship, doesn't she?

What's wrong with airships? On a world where petroleum reserves are much more limited than on Earth, society would not be so quick to rely on airplanes for travel. Or gasoline engines in automobiles. Besides, air pollution from such petroleum fueled engines would be dangerous, they may have decided, and so they are perfectly happy with airships and steam-powered cars. And magnetic monorail systems within and between metropolises! 

Cyberpunk enough for you? Steampunk fitting nicely? And Gina Parton, our lovely heroine, certainly fits the model of geek. She and her hero, Sebastian Talbot, provide the proof of the "romance" designation--geeks attract geeks. Something about all that science.... 

And there you have it: Cyberpunk meets Steampunk in a Geek Romance. Wonderful, isn't it?

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(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. I recognized the correlation between the use of airships and lower fuel reserves, and have never felt blimps were simply steampunk.

    Miyazaki, the great anime genius (now officially retired) frequently used blimps in his post-apocalyptic works such as 'NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind.' I am an inveterate gamer, and the RPG game that I am most enthralled with is Final Fantasy XII, and it encompasses both airships and space-travel.

    I think your work definitely does encompass all three genres, and does it well! Hopefully your new labels will sell more books!

    1. Thanks for backing me up on the airship issue. Sometimes "advanced civilization" is one that realizes it does need to advance in certain ways.