Monday, May 13, 2013

LTUE--Punk Literature

Punk literature is loosely defined as being "non-mainstream," or covering genres that are not commonly used. Some examples of punk literature are steam-punk, cyber-punk and bio-punk.

There are a lot of them out there, and if you read anything but contemporary chances are good that you've read something in a punk genre without knowing it.

Generally with punk stories there's some historical event which forced technology in a different direction. Steam-punk deals with steam fueled technology, bio-punk deals with genetic engineering and physical modification of the body (human or otherwise). The event doesn't have to be identified, but in each case the technology creates or contributes to a different situation. Sometimes the differences are disguised and the society visibly the same (such as "regency" steam-punk which uses mechanical horses to pull a carriage) but in other books the differences can be enormous.

Punk literature basically opens up the imagination. In science fiction, for example, the writer is expected to stay within certain bounds of real world science. In cyber-punk the writer can open that up, create technologies that fundamentally alter the society without having to stick to any level of real-world science. Of course it has to be done carefully so that the reader can suspend disbelief.

I read a steam-punk novel a few months ago (I was doing research and looking for urban fantasy) and found the technologies quite interesting. Because steam had taken the place of coal and gas, steam engines were used for all sorts of purposes. The character had built tiny robots that took the place of human maids. She went to a party and the hostess had a steam-fueled "orchestra" playing. Horses pulling carriages were robotic and also steam fueled.

The interesting thing the author didn't address was what changes this would make to the society. This type of society (regency England) used an enormous number of people just to keep it running. If the orchestras, the servants, the drivers, the horses and even the pets were all mechanical, that would put a large percentage of the population out of work. Where would they go? What would they do? What are the fundamental changes that this would create in the society at large?

Because punk stories explore cultures that have turned in a different direction than our own, the writer needs to be even more careful to make the world believable. This author made no attempt to address these problems.

The genres that were discussed on the panel were cyber-punk, steam-punk, splatter-punk, diesel-punk and bio-punk.

If you could make up a punk genre, what would it be? Or if you already write in one, what is it?

I think I'd make up rock-punk, where everything is driven by magnetism and rocks of various kinds are used to change the power into other forms.


  1. Interesting. I always wondered hat those Genres meant. Bio punk interests me the most.

    1. I avoided them simply because of the connotations of the word "punk," but I've read several in the last few months.