Sub Genres: Silkpunk

Here is the second installment of our series: ‘Sub Genres.’ This one was more of a pet find because I read an online article (that can be found here) where Ken Liu, an author, came up with this new genre for his book, The Grace of Kings. It appealed to me because of the idea of delving into a different view of the world brought upon by different cultures.

Grace of Kings

What is Silkpunk?

Silkpunk is similar to steampunk in that it is a reimagining of history using a futuristic viewpoint while maintaining the aesthetic and sensibilities of a time long past. Unlike steampunk, rather than focusing on the western world, silkpunk focuses on ancient China and their wealth of technologies and resources.

Steampunk vs. Silkpunk

So where steampunk focuses on corsets, steam, and mechanisms and gadgets of steel, silkpunk focuses more on organic materials such as silk and bamboo and biomechanics using technologies that were already understood and put into practical usage – like the use of kites in military applications. Rather than the mechanical, they focus more on the biomechanical using human/animal/nature powered rather than coal/steam.


The -Punk Genres

There are many variations of the -punk genres that are very fascinating, innovative, and prominent. There is the Ecopunk genre which reimagines usually dystopic worlds where nature has reclaimed the lands and where people co-exist with it. Dieselpunk focuses on the grittier aspects of the times of the world wars imagining a futuristic take on contraptions and machines that are fueled by the power of diesel engine. Cyberpunk is a completely sci-fi take on the present, looking to incorporate different aspects of a futuristic aesthetic into our modern society.

Most of these genres are centered in a western world or within a western interpretation of the world. This is one of the main reasons why something like silkpunk is exciting for me, as an Asian-American. I’d like to see Asian history explored and reimagined with a different mindset than what we are typically presented with in America. For example, Asians tend to place higher value on fitting in rather than sticking out (the nail that sticks out, gets hammered) whereas much of the western world puts an emphasis on being an individual first. To see different narratives of this explored would be very interesting and different. To have an entire fantasy world created and explored with this mentality is something that I see as revolutionary and I hope to see done more often.

What is Silkpunk to me?

It is an interesting take on a very big movement and focuses on a history that has been largely untouched by the media of the western world. So much has happened and comes from Chinese history that I am unfamiliar with. There is a wealth of knowledge that I haven’t had access to, with philosophies and technologies that I haven’t seen, heard of, or thought of before.

With this possibly new genre, I would love to see much more of the history and culture that I am only somewhat familiar with explored and shared. Because this is a new genre, there is so much that can be done with it and so many possibilities. Cultural understanding must be inherent in all the stories, though, so that is something that I hope is kept accurate and authentic in all interpretations.

Silkpunk is inherently Chinese to me. Whereas steampunk encompasses most of the western world including Europe and America, Silkpunk takes it’s name from the Silk Road which was a trade route of high importance that traveled across geographic Central Asia (and the Mediterranean and Europe) in which China played a central role. 

asian steampunk

My Proposal:

I’d like to see a genre representing something more universal to all of Asia to incorporate all the unique nations and histories that have remained relatively untouched by the western world. Let’s tell tales of the rich histories that we know so well using mythical technologies that haven’t existed. Rather than fueled by steam, let’s tell of paper machines that would fly high in the sky with bamboo framing to dry out sheets of nori. Or of machines powered by the dancing hands of a thousand bodhisattva. Or the monsoon powering a generator device that powers a thousand mechanical ox clearing rice fields for the year and not having leeches stick to worker’s legs and freeing up farmer’s times to become tinkerers.

In conclusion, I find Silkpunk to be a great idea and great start into a space that is both fantastic and captivating and something that I definitely hope to see more of from many authors.


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