History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Punk in Science Fiction and Fantasy

At Norwescon, I spoke on a panel about punk in science fiction and fantasy. At first, I was pretty sure that I didn’t have very much to say on the subject, especially in comparison to my co-panelists. But it wound up being a great conversation about punk music, the punk aesthetic, and the many, many genres of stories that have the “-punk” suffix.

In introducing myself, I mentioned that I write steampunk, and one of the other panelists asked what it was about my book, in particular, that tied it to that genre. My honest answer is that it’s what other people would classify it as, because it involves steam technology and that sort of “Victorian world with the serial numbers filed off.” Is it punk? Nope, not really. But a lot of the “-punk” genres are marketing tools, more than anything else, hence why my book is steampunk.

(We had other thoughts about steampunk that actually is punk, like an old game that I ran and C.J. took up after me, which we called “God Attack the Queen,” where the player characters were actual counter-culture revolutionaries who happened to live in a Victorian-like setting.)

One of the things that I brought to the conversation was talking about hopepunk, which the other panelists weren’t familiar with. I have my friend Torrey to thank for my knowledge of the subject, which she gleaned from a post from Alexandra Rowland (who seems to be the one who coined the phrase). In short, hopepunk is the opposite of grimdark. Hopepunk’s protagonists don’t have to be amazing, they just have to people who continue to try–to have hope that what they are doing will make a difference. And I see a lot more parallels between hopepunk and punk than I do between steampunk and punk, in that hopepunk is often bucking the status quo. Much hopepunk is set in what would look like a dystopia, but rather than it being a grinding, horrible place with no escape, the characters are looking for ways out of the badness, and having hope for the future.

On that level, you could classify a series likeĀ The Hunger Games as a form of hopepunk, especially as you get farther into the series. But even that gets pretty bleak in places, and a lot of hope is lost by the end. This is not to say that hopepunk needs a “happy” ending. It just needs an ending that shows that all is not lost.

Hopepunk is definitely something that I’m exploring in my writing, having just sent off a hopepunk story to find a home recently. Here’s hoping that it’s something the world would like to see more of!

If you’re interested in reading more about other types of “-punk” in fiction, check out this Tumblr post from Chris McKitterick!

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