Stephanie Sauvinet, World Weaver Press Reading Editor, shares her insights on the essence and development of the various subgenres of "punk" fiction:
If you look at the core of Punk fiction, you can see its roots sprung out of the same ideology that fueled the 80's punk rock. Punk rock lyrics were often confrontational, relating to political and social matters as the unruly, the rebellious, and the non-conformist rallied in a common culture.
Much like punk rockers donned mohawks and leather jackets, Punk fiction calls for writers to go against the grain by rejecting the imposed standards of classic science-fiction. By derailing standard genre tropes, Punk fiction gave rise to many subgenres focusing on various aesthetics and ideas: the consequences of technological progress of Cyberpunk, the repercussions of genetic advancements of Biopunk, the Industrial Revolution core of Steampunk...
Many of the punk genres are niches, only written and known by few. However, two genres have remained mainstream : Cyberpunk and Steampunk. Those two genres are each an evolution of Punk fiction, Cyberpunk through a futuristic perspective and Steampunk through a retrofuturistic approach.
Cyberpunk is considered by many to be the precursor to all other Punk subgenres. It was born in parallel with the technological advancement of computers. With any major scientific discovery (i.e. medical, pharmaceutical and technological) comes the fear that the populace, the society governed, will not be granted access to those innovations. Cyberpunk grew from that sentiment as its movement imagined a world dominated by corporations where the oppressed were forced to twist advanced technology beyond its intended use, all in the name of survival. That is where the "punk" element comes in, when the characters decide to rebel against the totalitarian system and challenge the status quo.
Does this sound familiar?
With the boom of Dystopian fiction in recent years, it definitely should. Cyberpunk, biopunk, and nanopunk all have a dystopian backdrop where people rebel against the political climate and the omnipotence of the few.
With the retrofuturistic approach of Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and Decopunk, technological advancement is not stretched in the future, but rather grafted in the past, before the 1960s. Corsets and steam machines are paired with various gadgets (tesla gun, anyone?) extrapolated from the era's actual technology.
Punk fiction has technology as a theme. This is one of the best outlets to imagine not only what will be but also what could have been.
However, Punk fiction still needs to be believable. The excitement of creating new technology cannot make you forsake believability. A chip in your brain? Camera for eyes? A telsa gun? Unless you decide to study biotechnology, physics or engineering, chances are your scientific facts will be stretched a little, and maybe even a lot. Make sure your concepts are believable. There is a reason writers do research while plotting their novel. Even though you aren't meant to master all sciences, sprinkling some basic concept within your novel will make your invented technology sound more authentic. Make. Me. Believe. It.
In his cyberpunk noir, The Electric Church, Jeff Somers did a wonderful job of making the reader believe a brain could actually be scooped out of a human head and transplanted into a cyborg. He explains in a very simple and concise manner how the brain is linked by microscopic threads and preserved. He could have gone further in his explanation, but most of us will believe him. Did it still sound stretched from reality? Of course, but not so much that my imagination couldn't keep up.
Technology is at the heart of Punk fiction but it cannot be the only driving force of your story. Readers want to lose themselves in a novel which is why character building is key. Your characters are meant to struggle to reach whatever goals you have set for them. Understanding their motivation and their background will not only help the reader relate to your characters but will also drive them to cheer them on, regardless of their flaws and shortcomings. You want the reader to side with your characters and to think with their voice: you want a reaction. It is all the more essential in Cyberpunk and Biopunk novels when the protagonist usually faces an enemy much more powerful than he/she and sometimes has to fight back in non-traditional or even questionable ways.
The Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia (also known as Repomen -- though the movie didn't do the book justice) had a voice that hooked me from the beginning. The novel portrays the standard "high tech and low life" aspect of Cyberpunk. It was gritty and raw and I could hear it as if the character was whispering his story in my ear. At first, most will hate the main character because let's admit it, he sounds like a prick, and not just because he nonchalantly repossesses organs. However, the reader learns quickly the protagonist is on the run after falling victim to the repossession trap. While this is a major discovery, and could have been kept secret longer to build suspense, it was necessary to be revealed early on. Why? Because the reader begins to feel sorry for him. The reader is thus invested and will keep reading to see what will happen.
Another part of relating to your characters is understanding the world and their specific adversities. Don't underestimate the power of world building. Science-fiction depends heavily on the world surrounding the characters. Readers of Punk fiction are fans of the global atmosphere of each subgenre. That atmosphere affects their reading experience and their perception of your characters. It is often hard to convey the vivid images from our writing minds without committing the deadly sin of info dumping. Weaving an ambiance can be done through your character's voice, their action and the use of their senses. Does that mean you have to describe every single thing in your novel? No, but make sure there is enough substance for the reader to buy it, or even better, to live it.
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi's biopunk novel, is an excellent example of world building. Bacigalupi's attention to detail connected every fiber of the world he created, fleshing out the characters' environment and making it believable. The author doesn't just state there is a black market for illegal fuels and goods, he actually works out the entire culture and political climate that developed and supported it. The reader doesn't just take in a stated fact but is guided through the intricate components building the black market. The reader is then left with the only possible conclusion that this world can be real.
In the end, rules can be bent. The space between the new and the norm is where innovation occurs and the next bestseller. Now, go write some Punk fiction.
Stephanie Sauvinet, Reading Editor
As the reading editor for World Weaver Press, Stephanie happily meddles in slush pile goodness. She wanted to be an archeologist for a long time just so she could find the Stargate but settled for the endless possibilities of the SF/F genres. She is a science-fiction nerd who doesn’t get tangled in the “Are you a Star Wars fan or a Trekkie?” debacle because she loves both and doesn’t see why she would have to choose between Luke and Picard (Pike or Kirk if you’re going old school.) When she doesn’t read or write, Stephanie practices as an oncology nurse, loves puzzling her cats by speaking French and enjoys the wonders of New Orleans. Her twitter: @StephanieSauvin
World Weaver Press
Publishing fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction.