Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction. As such, it shares many similarities with sci-fi in general. However, there are other subgenres that are even more tightly connected with cyberpunk, some of which are its direct descendants or variations.
One of the most distinctive branches of classical cyberpunk is post-cyberpunk. This genre puts the same emphasis on advanced technologies of the near future (such as cyberspace, cyborgization, and artificial intelligences), but without a dystopian society and corporate rule. It shows a world closer to the one we currently live in, but enriched with advanced technology and its imagined impacts. One of the most influential works is The Diamond Age (1995) by Neal Stephenson.
“Which path do you intend to take, Nell?” said the Constable, sounding very interested. “’Conformity or rebellion?”
“Neither one. Both ways are simple-minded – they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity.”
- Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age (1995)
Hard science fiction takes a similar approach to the future as post-cyberpunk. It concentrates on scientific and technological accuracy. All technologies presented tend to be developable in reality, at least theoretically. One of the finest examples is Tau Zero (1970) by Poul Anderson.
“Their flight was not less exhilarating for being explainable.”
- Poul Anderson, Tau Zero (1970)
Biopunk is a twin brother to cyberpunk, but it replaces cybernetics, mechanical devices, and cyborgs with gene manipulation and cloning. In biopunk stories, we encounter biohackers, bioterrorists, experiments on humans, etc. The elements of dystopian society and corporations abusing power are generally present. A good example of biopunk is the movie Gattaca (Andrew Niccol, 1997).
[Vincent is looking at a 12-fingered pianist]
Irene: “You didn’t know?“
Vincent: “Oh, I knew.”
Irene: “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
Vincent: “Twelve fingers or one, it’s how you play.”
Irene: “That piece can only be played with twelve.”
- Gattaca, 1997
Dystopian fiction was in many ways the inspiration for cyberpunk. Works of George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and Aldous Huxley are often mandatory reading in high schools. Contrary to cyberpunk, protagonists of dystopian fiction tend not to be outsiders, but instead members or even representatives of the society they live in who start to doubt its foundations. A nice example is Player Piano (1979) from Kurt Vonnegut.
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1979)
Military science fiction focuses on armed conflicts (possibly with alien species) and military use of technology. Cyborgization, genetic engineering, and totalitarian systems are frequently depicted – however, unlike in cyberpunk, there is usually no overtly negative connotation. Rather, these elements are handled as necessities in the military environment. The most famous representative is Starship Troopers (1959) from Robert A. Heinlein.
“Social responsibility above the level of family, or at most of tribe, requires imagination– devotion, loyalty, all the higher virtues — which a man must develop himself; if he has them forced down him, he will vomit them out.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1959)
Future Noir/Tech Noir
Inspired by film-noir, tech-noir takes its visual style and atmosphere from urban America of the 1930s with its private detectives, gangsters, newspapers, etc., and adds advanced technology on top of it. A famous example is Dark City (1998) directed by Alex Proyas.
John Murdoch: “When was the last time you remember doing something during the day?”
Inspector Frank Bumstead: “What do you mean?”
John Murdoch: “I just mean during the day. Daylight. When was the last time you remember seeing it? And I’m not talking about some distant, half-forgotten childhood memory, I mean like yesterday. Last week. Can you come up with a single memory? You can’t, can you? You know something, I don’t think the sun even… exists… in this place. ‘Cause I’ve been up for hours, and hours, and hours, and the night never ends here.”
– Dark City (1998)
Influencing literature, art, and fashion, steampunk embodies cyberpunk ideas in a world that is at the technological level of Victorian England (19th century). The name comes from cyberpunk rather formally, since it often doesn’t emphasize the “punk” aspect (fighting against the system and authorities, etc.). Steampunk became popular mainly due to its use in art and fashion featuring stylish suits and steam machines replete with copper pipes, cogwheels, clockwork engines, etc. As for its literary representations, one of the most famous works is The Difference Engine (1990) by W. Gibson and B. Sterling.
“Pausing in admiration, he was very nearly run down by a steel push-cart, stacked to the gunwales with decks of punch-cards.”
W. Gibson and B. Sterling, The Difference Engine (1990)
Dieselpunk takes a similar approach to steampunk, but is set in the era of diesel engines, between the two World Wars. The genre is mainly inspired by pulp magazines, Art Deco, and the “dirty” technologies of its given era. A nice example is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) directed by Kerry Conran.
Joe ‘Sky Captain’ Sullivan: “It’s a mobile airstrip. Dex had a hand in designing it. It’s kind of a secret. You can keep a secret, can’t you, Polly?”
Polly Perkins: [raising her camera to photograph it] “Yeah. I can keep a secret.”
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
There are more connections with other genres, even outside the field of science fiction. We only wanted to cover the most notable genres and the authors and works within them that we can recommend. If you are drawn to reading/seeing some of the above-mentioned pieces, we wish you a great experience! And as always, feel free to share your recommendations and comments below the article.