The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
Welcome to part three of my series, “Morgan Gets Very Nerdy,” better known as “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Sci-fi Subgenres.” In this post, we’ll talk about punks—sci-fi punks. While there seems to be more and more of this particular flavor of subgenre (solarpunk, dieselpunk, stitchpunk, etc.), we’ll focus on two of the most popular. I’ll offer a ‘classic’ and ‘popular’ example of each.
If you like your stories with gritty dark alleys, bright neon lights, and the whirring of cyborgs, cyberpunk might be your genre. Stories in the cyberpunk genre usually focus on the underdog fighting against massive corporations or running from a corrupt government using hacking, programming, and technology to help them out of tough scrapes.
Loosely based on the Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 1982’s film Blade Runner is a classic of the cyberpunk genre. Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a “Blade Runner,” a bounty hunter that chases down rogue bioengineered beings known as “replicants.” The film deals with themes of identity, humanity, perception, and more while presenting a sci-fi version of the noir genre. In 2017, the sequel Blade Runner 2049 was released starring Ryan Gosling.
The trilogy of movies written and directed by the Wachowski sisters (both trans women) stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Hugo Weaving, among others. Reeves plays Neo, an incredible hacker who discovers that the world as he knows it is a program designed to keep humans asleep while they’re harvested by robotic overlords. The film was so influential that in 2012, the Library of Congress chose it to be preserved in the National Film registry for being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”
The key to steampunk is anachronisms: things, in this case technologies, that are chronologically out of place. The most typical imagery of the steampunk genre is a person in Victorian dress decorated with watches and gears and goggles while flying a steam-powered airship. As might be guessed by the name, most of the technological advances in the genre are run by steam rather than other forms of energy in alternative versions of our history.
You don’t get more classic steampunk than Steamboy, an anime movie from Katsuhiro Otomo. Set in an alternate 1863 where steam-powered technologies rule, boy inventor James Ray Steam (yes, that’s really his name) finds himself inheriting a mysterious spherical device and a letter from his grandfather ordering him to guard it. James must decide whether to trust his family or serve his country and who, if anyone, is deserving of the power of the Steam Ball.
Though the movie may not demonstrate the usual array of steampunk assets, the books most certainly do. The strongest example is in Tik-Tok of Oz where the main character, the aforementioned Tik-Tok, is a mechanical man made of copper and clockwork springs who needs to be wound up like a toy. Fun fact, Tik-Tok is considered one of the first robots in all of literature!