Category: Essays

What is Raypunk?

What is Raypunk?

It would be grand to think of raypunk as being an established sub-genre and culture, branching off the umbrella of science fiction. In truth it is – for the time being – a niche genre, combining raygun gothic visuals with pulp sci-fi themes and narratives, and the disruptive edge associated with other ‘-punk’ derivatives. It is a genre rich in fantastical technology, sleek design and daring characters; think Dan DareFlash Gordon, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow for starters.

Parts of a Whole

‘Raygun gothic’ is a term coined by William Gibson in The Gernsback Continuum (1981), describing a visual combination of art deco, streamline and googie/populuxe Americana. It may be viewed as an indulgent architectural style, with form nudging function aside in favour of sweeping parallel lines, bright colours and often quite angular expressions of motion. All this is starkly evident on even the silhouette of a raygun gothic skyline.

‘-punk’ sub-genres of speculative or science fiction tend to follow a mould set by cyberpunk, whose aesthetic and theme may be summarised as “low life and high tech”. Though not always so dystopic, -punk works do feature a degree of conflict, and are part of a literary movement which broke away from established hero archetypes. A punk protagonist will instead often be an anti-hero, whose actions may disrupt an established order – be that biotech corporations (cyber-), mannerly society (steam-) or a galactic tyrant (ray-).

What Raypunk is Not

Whilst trying to apply a strict definition would be a stifling sort of fool’s errand, we can at least state that raypunk is easily identified by a particular set of technologies and artefacts. The same can easily be said of its sibling sub-genres, whose parallels help define raypunk by omission:

  • Where cyberpunk worlds host subversive hackers and android detectives, raypunk features daring adventurers and hapless victims of runaway science.
  • Where steampunk is dressed in brass goggles and corsets, raypunk accessorises with jetpacks and rayguns.
  • Where dieselpunk pits gritty, machine-gun-toting gangs against each other, raypunk sends out fleets of bubble-domed spaceships.

Raypunk is…

… a sub-genre of science fiction with emphasis on fantastical technology and galactic wonder, epitomised by the streamlined raygun. Works in the raypunk genre are futuristic, and tend to feature individuals who face personal or institutional conflict on an interplanetary stage. Much of raypunk is rooted in speculative fiction of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, during its ‘pulp’ and ‘golden age’ eras. It is typified by the celebration of scientific achievement which accompanied human development of space- and atomic technology, as well as the sense of wonder instilled in such cultural events as the 1939 World’s Fair.