Both steampunk and cyberpunk are sub-genres in the science fiction world and are related to technology and advances in the field. However, they’re very different from one another. Even though both of these are widely famous styles that are alternative and have futuristic elements in them, the difference between them is where they take their inspiration from.
While steampunk mainly focuses on the Victorian look and has a historical setting, cyberpunk is a style that’s set sometime in the future. Cyberpunk is set in a futuristic world that’s dominated by technology, while steampunk combines old-school technological features with historical elements.
In this article, we’ll look more in-depth into the difference between steampunk vs cyberpunk!
What Is Steampunk?
Steampunk is a sub-genre that incorporates technology in the Victorian area and features technology advancements from an alternative world. It’s inspired by the romances of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells in the 19th century.
The fashion of steampunk is also inspired by the Victoria area style, such as parasols, waistcoats, corsets, purses, and hats. Rather than highlighting advanced technology, it instead highlights machinery that’s powered by steam.
The term Steampunk first appeared in 1987, in a letter that the writer Kevin Jeter sent to Locus Magazine. Jeter used the word to jokingly describe the Victorian fiction he was writing with James Blaylock and Tim Powers. Nowadays, steampunk is present in every cultural medium, including video games, TV shows, and film.
Steamers are people that are big fans of Steampunk. This awesome world, fashion, niche, and genre are only going to continue to grow.
Authors of steampunk imagine a world in which fashion and technology from the Victoria era existed in modern time. For instance, a steampunk character would live in a modern world but would dress just as if they were in Victorian England. They would use cards and computers powered by steam, gears, and cogs.
One of the easily recognizable symbols of steampunk is the gear. However, it’s not completely unique to the genre. When it comes to steampunk imagery and clothing, we often see goggles, and this can create a misconception that they’re essential to the steampunk look.
Even though goggles are a common item in steampunk, it doesn’t mean that everyone with a steampunk style wears them. The same goes for overalls, aprons, driving coats, and scarves.
What Is Cyberpunk?
Cyberpunk is a sub-genre that features technological innovations that are set many years into the future and originate from the modern age of the internet we’re currently in. Cyberpunk focuses on high-tech advances such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics. Cyberpunk highlights robots and computers, and it often shows a dystopia dominated by technology.
Usually, with cyberpunk, on one side you have private security forces and powerful mega-corporations, while on the other side you have the gritty and dark underworld of vice, drugs, gangs, and illegal trade.
In between these two sides, there’s social upheaval, corruption, and politics. The term cyberpunk comes from a short story that Bruce Bethke wrote called Cyberpunk. The foundation of the cyberpunk movement was laid down by the core cyberpunk authors Lewis Shiner, John Shirley, Rudy Rucker, Pat Cardigan, Bruce Sterling, and William Gibson.
There are also a lot of novels that had strong imagery and themes that later would be associated with the steampunk genre such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick, The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, Dr. Adder by K.W. Jeter, The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, and True Names by Vernor Vinge.
Cyberpunk managed to service the 80s because its appeal runs much deeper than the surface layer of neon, chrome, and leather. Authors of these cyberpunk novels predicted the way that technology would develop throughout the years, and even helped shape technology.
The authors that wrote cyberpunk novels clearly understood that the human experience and technology are two things that are inseparable. What makes cyberpunk stand apart from other types of genres is that it considers how technology impacts our everyday life. This genre has enjoyed a boom in pop culture in recent years and its popularity only seems to grow.
Steampunk vs Cyberpunk
Below, we’ll go over the key differences between steampunk vs cyberpunk.
Steampunk focuses on outdated technology but with a certain twist. It mainly uses aesthetic and technology designs that are inspired by the industrial era in the 19th century. It refers to an alternative world that’s dominated by machinery powered by steam instead of modern and advanced technology.
On the other hand, cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction set in a society that’s largely dominated by science, the internet, and a lawless subculture. It’s set much further into the future than steampunk with a strong emphasis on advanced technology such as Artificial Intelligence, World Wide Web, computer games, and robots.
Even though both steampunk and cyberpunk are subgenres of science fiction that have similar futuristic elements and take place in an alternative world dominated by technology, they’re a lot different. Steampunk combines the science-fiction imagination with aesthetics that come from the Victorian area.
On the other hand, cyberpunk refers to both science fiction and a cultural genre that features science and technology in a dystopian and urban feature. This futuristic world is seen as one in which society is largely controlled by technology and computers.
The technologies in Steampunk that are often on display are analog computers, cards powered by steam, airships, and similar advances. Steampunk deals with technology that’s outdated, but imaginative and futuristic simultaneously.
Contrastingly, when it comes to Cyberpunk, technology is an integral part of this sub-genre. It’s a style that focuses heavily on scientific achievements, advanced technology, and high-tech features. It deals with technology that isn’t developed yet or is currently being worked on, such as Artificial Intelligence and cybernetics.
Steampunk fashion comes from the steampunk movement and its aesthetics come from the Victorian area. These include items such as bonnets, tailcoats, waistcoats, bustle skirts, parasols, hats, purses, corsets, and Victorian hats trimmed with ribbons, feathers, and flowers.
Cyberpunk fashion revolves around street and urban fashion with a futuristic makeover and a gritty look to it. It often features a dark palette of colors along with some neon colors. The items often seen in cyberpunk fashion include jeans, trench coats, and accessories such as goggles.
Even though in both cases there is a strong connection between technology and the subgenre, these two aren’t the same. When you break down these two styles, you can start to see a lot of differences between them.
For instance, steampunk is a much more historical and romantic style, while cyberpunk includes a lot of futuristic elements, and even some elements of criminality and conspiracy. Cyberpunk is a look that’s driven by futuristic, otherworldly technology.
The themes that can be seen in steampunk are anachronism and quasi-anachronism. This is a construction of what the past may have looked like if the future had happened a bit sooner. On the other hand, with cyberpunk, there’s a strong sense of dystopian ideas, misery, helplessness, loss of humanity or morality, and a duality of nature of reality and freedom.
Some examples of steampunk are Steamboy, The Wild Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Time Machine, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Examples of cyberpunk include Robocop, The Terminator, Ghost in The Shell, Akira, The Matrix, Gunnm, and Blade Runner.
Steampunk gets its inspiration from romances of the 19th century written by Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H.G Wells. The term steampunk was first mentioned by the author K.W. Jeter in 1987 who wrote Morlock Night.
Cyberpunk is influenced by the New Wave Science Fiction movement that happened in the 60s and 70s. During this period, experimental and literary forms of science fiction and fantasy were written while American pulp traditions were rejected by authors. As a result, Cyberpunk appeared in the 80s.
When it comes to steampunk vs cyberpunk, steampunk is inspired by the steam technology that was used in the Victorian Era while cyberpunk is focused on a future filled with technology that hasn’t happened yet.
Have you ever encountered steampunk and cyberpunk before? What do you think about them? They are definitely unique movements that have inspired people from everywhere. We hope that our article has helped you differentiate the two and that you’ve learned something new about these popular subgenres!