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How Punk Got Geeky

How Punk Got Geeky

There was a time, long ago, when geeks were thought to have one kind of style. Glasses, gamer shirts or oxfords, pocket protectors, and bad haircuts. This limited stereotype still shapes what most of society thinks when they hear the word “nerd.” Just take the characters in the CBS hit show The Big Bang Theory. It doesn’t take a genius to see that these guys only represent one part of the geek world.

Now that image has shifted, thanks in part to a few genres in fiction and the consequent sub-cultures. These aren’t anything new. They’ve been around for decades among underground dorks. Regardless of how these scenes play into your age group, everyone should be aware of how they add style to the more fiction oriented nerd communities.


According to author Jess Nevins, Steampunk is what happened when Goth kids discovered the color brown. At fist glance, most are inclined to agree. Characterized by steam powered contraptions against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution, this genre includes a vast array of top hats, corsets, and parasols.  Modern Steampunk has been adding a bit of sass to your historical fiction, fantasy, and horror since the 1980s.

  • Novels: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Soulless by Gail Carriger
  • Films: The Prestige, Sherlock Holmes
  • Games: Alice: Madness Returns, Fable III


This subgenre is very close to Steampunk, but not nearly as well known. Rather than steam, we have gears and springs, and instead of engineers, we have clockmakers. As you might imagine, there is quite a lot of overlap. However, since steam isn’t necessary, the stories resemble more of the Renaissance era than the Victorian.

  • Novels: Mainspring by Jay Lake, The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchet, Pasquale's Angel by Paul J. McAuley.
  • Comics/Graphic Novels: Girl Genius by Phil & Kaja Foglio


Dieselpunk features (you guessed it!) diesel powered technology. The storylines generally fall anywhere between the 1920s through the 1950s, often distinguished by WWII bombers, grungy military costumes, and Art Deco. Technically, Decopunk has its own category, but it all falls under Dieselpunk.

  • Films: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Iron Giant. The Rocketeer
  • Games: Bioshock, Gatling Gears
  • Comics/Graphic Novels: Dick Tracy


Within the science fiction realm, Cyberpunk showcases hackers and artificial intelligence in post-apocalyptic settings. Most plotlines take place on our very own Earth in the not so distant future, following socially alienated protagonists. Many of the characters also have a form of technology integrated into their body, revisiting that age old question of what it means to be human.

  • Novels: Neuromancer by William Gibson, Avogadro Corp by William Hertling
  • Films: Blade Runner, The Terminator, The Matrix, RoboCop
  • Comics/Graphic Novels: Ghost in the Shell


This genre explores the possibilities of genetic manipulation. In the same way that Cyberpunk has hackers, Biopunk has biohackers, modifying DNA and other biological systems. What could possibly go wrong, right? But biohackers aren’t necessarily wrong for having such an extreme hobby. No, pure evil lies with the Bioterrorists, desiring nothing more than to release harmful bacteria, viruses, and germs to control a vulnerable public.

  • Novels: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear
  • Films: Gattaca, Jurassic Park (Film), Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Games: Bioshock
  • Comics/Graphic Novels: Doktor Sleepless

What's your favorite flavor of punk?

Tags: fashion, life, steampunk, punk, lifestyle

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About the Author
Allison Emm

Allison Emm is a writer, illustrator, and handmade soap enthusiast hailing from Boulder, CO. She is fond of bookish and ruggedly handsome mountain men, blue spruce trees, birds of prey, starships, and yarn.

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