I think Cyberpunk will literally outlive Steampunk

Cyberpunk and Steampunk as literature genres are of literally (no pun intended) roughly the same age. In fact, K. W. Jeter coined the term Steampunk as a counter to Cyberpunk. This has been pointed out and explained on numerous occasions in the past, so I will not go into detail here.

Cyberpunk has existed as a subgenere of science fiction in varoius media for a while now, but has always been somehwere on the edge, underground, out of sight, you get the idea. It is a subgenre and likely always will be.

All in all, the various incarnations of Cyberpunk-themed works in media is quite extensive, as this (incomplete) list shows.

But you do not find big Cyberpunk conventions nor dedicated Cyberpunk cosplayers in the same way you find Steampunk conventions and steampunked versions of various cosplays. Cyberpunk simply never became something the public or pop-culture focused on in the same way they focused on Steampunk.

It may simply be because we live in Cyberpunk times. Many of the things that were written about in the Cyberpunk novels, novellas and short stories of the 1980’s and 1990’s have already come to pass and when you look at what high-tech computers were supposed to be capable of as described in the first edition rules of Shadowrun and what they can do now (although we are at the time of writing 33 years away from 2050), we have partially outpaced fiction already.

Cyberpunk times in deed. And there is Cyberpunk fashion, by the way (sSteampunk does not have a monopoly there).

And this is one of the reason (although it pains me a little to say it) why I think Cyberpunk is going to outlast and quite literally outlive Steampunk.

Cyberpunk is the genre of now. Writers will for a long time coming take cues from the present, look into emerging technologies and weave their tales from the mix. The Expanse is a good example (which also picks up on some transhumanist ideas) of that.

Steampunk on the other hand is by design stuck in a relatively small bracket as far as techology is concerned with little room to maneuver (unless you turn Steampunk into Steamfantasy and add some magic to the tech).

And although there are tons of events going at the moment (the list is also incomplete), there are a few things that are hard to miss (as far as I can tell and it may well be different elsewhere):

  • There are very few Steampunks who consider Steampunk their primary subculture and who cannot be found elsewhere.
    Most Steampunks are also „general“ cosplayers, goths, LARPERs etc.
  • At least regarding my immediate contacts in the scene and the events I attend another thing stands out:
    The youth is missing. The most active steampunks I know are well into their 30s or even older and the few younger Steampunks who were active when the scene first made a big splash have mostly moved on into cosplay and other stuff
  • There are not many new faces when I visit dedicated Steampunk events (at least around here)

The other thing with Cyberpunk outliving Steampunk is literally outliving. Because as far as I can see, the base age of Steampunks is old when compared to other subcultures and there seems to be very little new blood coming in, the scene might be in danger of quite literally dying out eventually.

I hope it will still be some time until this happens but for some reason, Steampunk does not seem to attract a lot of today’s youth. At least not in Europe and especially not in Germany (where I attend most conventions for geographic reasons).

Also: For the Steampunk scene the main focus appear to be the conventions and the literature is, while not a mere sideshow, not the primary playground of the subculture. It is very much a scene that likes to dress up and be seen. Once a convention dies, the incentive to be a Steampunk also goes away.

Steampunk literature may stand the test of time (I hope so) and it might not be as dependent on events as other aspects of the subculture are.

Cyberpunk has been going strong without very visible cosplay, conventions and other subculture events while Steampunk lives by and through these things but the people participating in these events do not appear to grow anymore, i.e. no new faces and hardly any youth.

Steampunk may well be gone in 10 or 15 years if the trend continues, while all that Cyberpunk has to do is being at the edge of technology and tell tales about it for as long as there is an edge of technology.

I hope I missjudge this. After all, Steampunk is hwat started this blog and if anyone of you has made different observations at events, please let me know!


4 Responses to I think Cyberpunk will literally outlive Steampunk

  1. Avatar Hydroxide
    Hydroxide says:

    Cyberpunk has plenty of issues of its own in my eyes. It’s always been heavily focused on the information technology side while, with rare exceptions, leaving the biotech side as a sideshow. But in a day and age where we found out why chimpanzees, despite having an extremely similar genome, have significantly higher physical strength, in which we think about whether gene doping is a thing of the future or already here, in which CRISPR has revolutionized genetic engineering, how likely is it that twenty, fifty years from now, someone is going to deliberately have their arm cut off just to replace it with a piece of machinery if similar effects could be achieved while keeping your arm? And stories as to what makes us human are quite a bit more convincing when talking about how human we are when a lot of our genes have been tailored to task than when suggesting that someone with a high calibre prosthesis is anything less than human.

    Granted, the „age of genetic engineering“ has been prophesied repeatedly, but as our knowledge continuously increases, it’s less a question of „if“ but of „when“.

  2. I can give you some hard figures from Weekend at the Asylum as the world’s largest steampunk festival in relation to your observations and hope they are useful to you. Not counter arguing at all by the way just responding to your final paragraph. Please note these comments are about steampunk as sub culture and not as literary genre.

    The single biggest age group attending the festival is 15-25. The second biggest is 45-55.

    Of the 3644 attendees of the paid festival (as opposed to the free festival) our research suggests 18% are newcomers to the event and thus new, or relatively new to the community.

    On an anecdotal level I can say that I know hundreds of steampunks who consider Steampunk to be their primary subculture – many of whom consider themselves to be former goths, live role players etc who have moved on. Qualifying this though I do interact with thousands of steampunks globally.

    Asylum is the largest steampunk festival in the World and is also the longest running. It has continued to grow year on year over its nine years but we never know what the future may bring.

    This year for the first time we have a cross disciplinary academic symposium on Steampunk as part of the festival. We hope this will become an annual feature and ultimately lead to more anthropological work on Steampunk as a sub culture as well as studying the literature etc.

    • Hey John,

      Thanks for the reply and the uplifting news. I was involved in an online discussion about that topic a few days back and the situation in the Netherlands is very much the same as you describe it, same for the US.
      Unfortunately, my observations are accurate as far as the German, Austrian and possibly French scenes are concerned.
      So the Steampunk scene across the world is developing differently in every country, unfortunately, in Germany it seems to be withering a bit.

  3. We were worried here in the New England area of the US a few years ago. A lot of hotel-based conventions died dramatic deaths. But what happened is that completely new to the scene people started creating town-based festivals inspired by the success of the Watch City Festival. It’s completely changed the landscape. So far, our scene has evolved and remained strong. It decentralized greatly, for the better. But also, we, as the community that are united, have worked very hard to make sure we are inclusive and welcoming. And thankfully, we’ve not had a lack of youth (especially because of these small festivals).