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Best "Punk" Novels (Steampunk, Cyberpunk, etc.)

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Philip Overby, Mar 15, 2011.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm not sure where the fascination with the term "punk" came from, but there are lots of these sub-genres lurking about. I have a handful of cyberpunk books, Neuromancer and the Takeshi Kovacs series stuff. Also I guess some of Philip K. Dick's writing is cyberpunk (namely Minority Report and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, although most of it may not be. The Man in the High Castle
    doesn't seem very punky.

    I have one steampunk book by Cheri Priest, who seems like a decent enough writer. Apparently Jeff VanderMeer put out an anthology that got mixed reviews.

    I'm interested in the genre to some extent, although I haven't found any authors that really stand out.

    To people in the know, what are some good books in the steampunk and cyberpunk sub-genre?

    And what's with it with all the "punk" names anyhow? Steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, splatterpunk, biopunk, coalpunk, hydropunk, Punky Brewsterpunk
    etc.

    I realize it is a marketing technique more than a specific style, but just wondering what are the best in your opinions.
     
  2. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I find that the more 'steampunk' a story is, the more likely it is to be utter shite. They over emphasize the aesthetic and ignore the importance of character and plot in favor of descriptions of cogs and airships. Still, there are good books that fall into the genres. China Miéville is perhaps the best example.
     
  3. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    I haven't read much if any 'punk books, but the way I see it one of these genres came first and was subsequently decribed as Punk referring perhaps to the supposedly "gritty" nature of the setting. Then of course the others follow when someone uses a similar ethos of writing in a different way hense dieselpunk, but coalpunk... hydropunk? I haven't heard of some of those haha. Well each to there own.

    I remember 'punk was discussed on Writing Excuses one time and the book they plugged was of this genre [something along the lines of what war would have been like if darwin was really a mad genius scientist in true steampunk fashion. It sounded interesting hehe] But sorry I can't think of the name of it, or the author.

    Not much help... just wanted to express some interest in this topic =D
     
  4. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I made-up coalpunk and hydropunk. Maybe it will catch on. :)

    Seems like most of this kind of stuff is more "setting" based than "theme" based. I guess if you like reading alternate history (which I do) it could be interesting to play with the different settings.

    Like I said, I don't know much about these sub-genres, so I don't know if there is something deeper I'm missing.
     
  5. Mythos

    Mythos Troubadour

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    You're thinking about Leviathan, Behemoth, and the third book whose name escapes me by Scott Westerfield.
     
  6. Jimmy deadcode

    Jimmy deadcode New Member

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    Spares by Michael Marshall Smith.

    Excellent premise and setting. Pure cyberpunk dystopian future, where violence abounds. The technologies that the book focuses on are believable and thought provoking too. Nice pacing as well, there aren't any boring bits at all.

    Probably not technically the best novel in the category, but my personal favourite.
     
  7. Bry has some Cyberpunk table top books... I have no clue LOL I don't know what it is.. and it really doesn't interest me anyway LOL
     
  8. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

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    The books by Gail Carriger aren't great, but they're lightly enjoyable when you just want a fast, fun read. Soulless, Blameless and Changeless are out so far, I think. They're about as good as the Scott Westerfield ones - not much content but have a few laughs.

    Other than that, The only praise I hear is for China Miéville - I tried one of his, Perdido Street Station, and just couldn't get into it. My friend utterly adores him though, and her taste is pretty decent.
     
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I think most people put China Mieville in the "New Weird" camp, Jeff VanderMeer's bunch of writers that are writing stuff reminiscent of pulp-ish type writing of the past. I can't really classify Mieville though, because each one of his books seems to differ stylistically and thematically. For instance, Perdido Street Station is rather dense, but ultimately I think it is rewarding if you stick with it. On the other hand, Kraken is not quite as dense to read.

    I've mostly not heard anything praising steampunk for instance. It's out there and it seems lots of amateur writers are interested in the idea of steampunk worlds. But it seems only a handful of writers are actually good at writing it.

    There are some pretty good steampunk anime, a couple of Miyazaki's movies seem to use those sort of worlds.

    I read about "dieselpunk" on the NaNo forums, but I have no idea what it is supposed to be. I guess it's like Mad Max style? I really have no idea.

    I'm hoping coalpunk will catch on though...:)
     
  10. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    @Phil, China Miéville and most halfway decent 'steampunk' writers are ones who only take the term after someone else puts it to them. And to be sure, Miéville's worlds ARE steampunk. One of the best examples of it. They have magic as well, which some 'purists' hate, but he's still among the best. Same could be said of Verne and them. Obviously the term didn't exist for them, but we call them that because it fits.

    As for what dieselpunk is, some popular (attributed) examples: The Iron Giant, Nineteen Eighty Four, most H.G. Wells, Tank Girl, things like that. Generally more of a 1930s to 1950s sort of theme. Some of the *punk genres are absurdly specific to a single book, and it is just a way of giving every minor aesthetic a term. Not entirely a bad thing, and the aesthetics are often rather fun, but it is generally best not to write "steampunk" but instead to have "steampunk" in your novel. I guess you could make that analogy as the magical realism to fantasy or something.
     
  11. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    Yes thats exactly the one! Haven't read it, but the writer sure sounded like he knew what he was talking about when it came to the "craft"
     
  12. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    It originated as part of "cyberpunk," to describe a dichotomy between high-tech corporate and low-class street cultures that appear in parallel in the fiction, usually in very near-future settings–initially, a very narrow set of works, and more specifically William Gibson's Neuromancer. (The term appeared in a short story a year before that, but its application as a genre label derived from Gibson's success, without which the label would probably never have caught on. Neuromancer, by the way, is the only book that has won the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards–SF's version of the Triple Crown.) The name has since been applied to numerous other works, with Gibson still considered the paradigm author; Bruce Sterling, Neil Stephenson and Walter Jon Williams are also notable for their cyberpunk work; Ian MacDonald wrote a couple cyberpunk books; Bruce Bethke, Rudy Rucker and Pat Cadigan are also often associated with it, though since I haven't read anything by any of them, I can't help you out on their quality. Miéville is sometimes associated with the term; again, he's on my get-to-it-someday list, but by all indications I've seen he's worth a read. It has also been applied retroactively to other authors' work, including some of Dick (yes, Androids is generally cited here, as well as its movie semi-adaptation Blade Runner–which provided the visual paradigm for the genre; I'd add Flow My Tears the Policeman Said (which is in my opinion his best novel) and A Scanner Darkly; The Man in the High Castle definitely would not count as cyberpunk), as well as occasionally (and with less precision) to some of Harlan Ellison's and Samuel R. Delany's stories.

    I can strongly endorse Williams' Hardwired and Voice of the Whirlwind; the latter is a bit more futuristic than is usual from this genre, but it's still a very good book (as is nearly everything Williams has written–with the notable exception of Ambassadors of Progress :p ); Hardwired is outstanding, perhaps the zenith of books written deliberately as "cyberpunk" after the genre had been defined. Sterling is competent but hardly as fast-paced as is usually associated with the genre… some would say "tendentious"; I still find him worth reading–not everything needs to race at breakneck speed. (Take my posts.…) Stephenson's Snow Crash is reasonably good ("reasonably" because he takes it in a direction I didn't care for, but that's personal bias: nothing wrong with the writing itself); if nothing else contains one of the best opening chapters of any SF book I've read–pick it up and read it to the point where you know what the protagonist ( ;) ) is actually engaged in. If that doesn't grab you, skip the rest. He's also responsible for another "sub-genre," "cypherpunk" (coined for his novel Cryptonomicon… I have no idea who was responsible for the term itself; it makes a good pun, at any rate).

    Other representative movies would include, yes, The Iron Man (which, however, I have not seen), the Matrix series, Tron (maybe: cyber yes, punk, not so much), Videodrome, Freejack (a B-movie that exceeded itself: I recommend it in spite of what you might think looking at its cover), Johnny Mnemonic (which I don't–as usual with "adaptations," don't hold this one against William Gibson if you've only seen the movie), Total Recall (based on a Dick story), the Robocop and Cyborg movies (meh…), possibly Split Second (visually, if nothing else–another B-movie that far exceeded itself: it's amazing what you can achieve when you don't take yourself seriously), and the sadly little-known but outstanding Wim Wenders movie Until the End of the World (which I recommend even if you aren't into cyberpunk–or even SF; it's easily one of my ten favorite movies of all time). In television, Max Headroom (classic!) and TekWar (a series I found thoroughly enjoyable, in spite of Shatner's involvement with it) I can endorse; VR.5 and Wild Palms fit the description, but I haven't seen anything from either, even though I meant to. (I don't watch much TV any more.)

    As for the other "punks": as far as I know, these were initially fueled by a symbiosis between fiction and RPGs–which create new settings at the drop of a hat. I think in most cases, the "sub-genre" names are actually misassembled–they should, as often as not, be "cyber-X" as opposed to "X-punk." Apparently the people coining the names thought "punk" was catchier. On the other hand, if the setting involves gritty urban realism, then "punk" is probably applicable as well (or instead, if there's no computer component).

    "Steampunk" is again represented by Gibson and Sterling, in their collaboration The Difference Engine. It's… strange. Not bad… but I'd somehow expected more from them. Beyond that, I can't help you: Stephenson has written some books that would qualify. The movie Wild Wild West would count here… and it's a real hoot. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics (and, yeah, I suppose, the movie too…) qualify. "Dieselpunk" I would assume is essentially indistinguishable from steampunk, unless it is for some reason restricted to settings in which the internal combustion engine had become common (i.e. early C20). "Coalpunk" would be the opposite, I suppose: early 19th century, when coal power first came into common use (and almost certainly before electricity became widely available). I've never seen either term before; I suspect they were created by some marketing geek who thought he was being clever.

    "Splatterpunk" should be about what you'd expect from the name: slasher horror on possibly near-future city streets. I couldn't even begin to give you recommendations, as I don't read this sort of thing.

    "Hydropunk" I also am unfamiliar with. If I had to guess, it was coined to describe Waterworld (the awful Costner movie I've successfully avoided to date).

    "Biopunk" I also don't know; presumably that would be a "punk" setting where biological technology was the most important component. 12 Monkeys, perhaps.

    If you add magic to cyberpunk, you either get the Shadowrun RPG (and attendant fiction: the couple books I've read from it are quite good) or Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan and City on Fire; the latter will generally be grouped under "science fantasy," though, as opposed to "magicpunk" (or whatever: I just now made that one up).

    You missed "Cthulhupunk," by the way. I would like the world to take note that I invented that genre independently of its appearance elsewhere; unfortunately, since I didn't get anything into publication, I'll never receive credit for doing so. (Actually, in my formulation, it was "cybercthulhu," though both terms would be equally applicable.) It is, at any rate, exactly what you would expect from the name. There's no reason you couldn't do other "monsterpunk" as well (vampires, etc.); the fact that I haven't seen this yet should not be taken as an indication that someone hasn't done it. (Or even "hick-vs.-monsterpunk": the Tremors movies… the fourth one being "steamhick-vs.-mosterpunk".…)

    I like it. Have to give some thought using it for a story–not. LOL!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  13. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Ooh—I've got it! A gritty, near-future urban setting involving antisocial, three-chord-crunching rock bands.…
     
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I made up hydropunk, coalpunk, and biopunk, but wow...I guess I'm some marketing geek, or at least could be. Give me a job! The wonders of imagination. :)
     
  15. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Heh. I've been told by more than one person that if I ever go into advertising, they're going to track me down and kill me.

    I meant to mention, but forgot, Alfred Bester: some of his works fall into the "retroactive" cyberpunk designation, in particular The Demolished Man. Others that I haven't seen the designation applied to, but which arguably could, include John Brunner (Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up–the former is a masterpiece; the latter is similar in writing but something of a downer in tone) and J. G. Ballard (Crash, possibly others, though I'm not sufficiently familiar with his work to say).

    Think I've just thought of my next "challenge" to throw out, too.…
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  16. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    On an impulsive whim I picked up a copy of Perdido Street Station. The opening, for me, reeeeally hits the mark on the feel of stream punk (regardless of the "new weird" fantasy feel the novel is supposed to take on). The description of the city... Mieville has a way with words, and as a side note was oddly enough born in the same city as me (bonus points for the man in my book! haha)

    I'm sure my purchase will not have been a mistake. High hopes!
     
  17. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    I can only think of one 'punk' novel I've read, so I guess I'll pick that one. Scar Night, by Alan Campbell. I'm pretty sure it would be classified as steampunk, though maybe I'll make one up and say it's ironpunk. That sets the atmosphere, but my favorite thing about the book is actually the name of one of the characters - an insane, psychopathic, mass-murdering Angel named 'Carnival.'

    Perfect.
     
  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm actually reading Scar Night and Perdido Street Station right now. About half-way through both of them. Both don't seem to rely on the fact they are steampunk-ish worlds. It enhances them, yes, but they don't seem to be their selling points.

    Both get thumbs up from me.
     
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