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.

7 Replies to “What is Raypunk?”

    1. Aether is used several ways…it can be the internet (the great world wide web), the ‘beyond’ (where the dead dwell), or simply outerspace. Undoubtedly more meanings out there too.

  1. I approve of ray punk. Much needed term, unlike a lot of “x”punk genres defined just for the sake of it which are barely distinguishable.

  2. I’m finishing writing a science fiction book and have some aspects of the book that made me think of a sub-genre that didn’t quite exist. Raypunk seems to come closest to what I had in mind. Cheers

  3. So, you made the term “raypunk”, right?
    I just got caught up in a discussion when a guy said that “Stuff like John Carter came from raypunk” and I replied that it’s most likely to be the exactly opposite, since “raypunk” sounds like a post cyberpunk term and Burroughs wrote in the beggining of the 20th century, way before cyberpunk codifiers were even born. He insisted that Burroughs and other authors alike were part of the “raypunk movement” and I insisted that “they probably didn’t called themselves something like that” and I already saw other terms like “planetary romance” being used for things like Barsoom Saga , Flash Gordon or Perry Rhodan. Anyway, this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, but I still want to know if there’s any refference of this expression being used back in the day.
    So, I decided to look up for the “raypunk” origins as a word itself and didn’t find nothing but this link. I’d be happy if you could tell me more about it :)

    1. You’re right! Whilst retroactively labelling those works as “raypunk” might be appropriate now, it’s certainly not something of their time. With that having been said, I suspect it’s unusual for many media labels to actually be in use at the peak of whatever it is they describe.

      I feel a bit strange about actually claiming a word – that sounds dramatic! – but a bunch of us did start using this made-up term to describe a theme and architectural style we were playing with in virtual worlds, about a decade ago, now. It’s entirely derivative of ‘cyberpunk’, and I set this website up mostly to try and explore what that might actually mean – so far, stopping short thanks to time commitments. However, insofar as there are pieces of work which feature anti-establishment, rogue protagonists in universes which are in defined by fantastical, space-age technology (rather than techno-dystopias), I think “raypunk” seems to fit. :)

      Thanks for commenting! Knowing that a discussion is happening out there is by turns humbling, and an inspirational kick for me to get this website running again.

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