tl;dr - What does one call the genre space occupied by the 70s-80s tech of the Dharma Initiative (Lost) / Massive Dynamic (Fringe) / Hawkins National Laboratory (Stranger Things)?

When looking for inspiration for fiction set in a particular alternative-timeline it is often useful to read/watch other works from the same genre; but that is particularly difficult to do when one doesn't even know the name of that genre.

The latest blast of nostalgia in television sci-fi fantasy seems to be a lot of call-backs to the trippy science of the 70s and 80s. One of the first such examples might be the commune of Dharma Initiative scientists from the television series Lost. Not long thereafter, the crazy scientific exploits of Walter Bishop and William Bell in television's Fringe series further builds upon similar concepts. And now, perhaps most famously, Netflix's 80s-era series Stranger Things.

The genre can definitely lean into (slightly-better-than) Apollo-era computers and lasers, but the defining characteristic would probably be the more off-the-wall experiments tapping into some strange natural phenomena (and often accompanied by mind-altering drugs of some kind or another). Think LSD, isolation tanks, mind control, psychic powers, supernatural phenomena, ancient aliens, etc. Looking at a list of Cyberpunk derivatives, the genre clearly dates itself after the retro-futuristic aesthetics of Steampunk or Dieselpunk, after something like the Fallout game series' retro-futuristic atompunk/atomicpunk atmosphere or even the The Venture Brothers 60s-vibes late atompunk, but it's also clearly too early to be Nowpunk, Raypunk, or Cyberpunk.

So, is there any widely used name for this dated-tech-period genre that conveys the aesthetic of Carl Sagan and the AppleIII, or conveys the fringey practically-pseudo-science of MKUltra and similar covert military projects?

  • $\begingroup$ This question would be more suited to the Movies & TV stack. Single word requests should be directed to the English Language & Usage stack. $\endgroup$ – Bitter dreggs. Jul 6 '19 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't it a subgenre of retrofuturistic science-fiction? I don't think that is acquired yet a well-known name; dieselpunk is interbellic, atompunk is 1950s. You may try to popularize discopunk. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 6 '19 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not familiar with Movies and TV so don't know if your question would be off topic there or not. But it is suited for Writing. We allow "what is this genre called" questions there and screenplays count as much as prose. English is obviously a non-sequitur and it has nothing to do with that stack. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 6 '19 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ or even the genre tag on scifi.SE $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jul 6 '19 at 20:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since punk rock emerged in the years that you are targeting, I would suggest PunkPunk or Punk^2 (punk squared) $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jul 6 '19 at 21:55

I don't think it's any kind of official or widely-used name, but TV Tropes has a page on cassette futurism which seems to fit what you're looking for pretty well (in the opening there's also a quote that suggests the name "CRTpunk", which also occurred to me when I saw your question).

As an aside, if we exclude 80s "Stranger Things" type of stuff I think it'd also be useful to have an even more narrow name for the microgenre works that try to evoke that sort of 70s and early 80s blend of alternative science and hippie/New Age ideas that can be seen in science fiction of that era like Altered States, Leonard Nimoy's In Search of... series, the PBS adaptation of Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, Phase IV, Scanners, the 1979 Quatermass series, Exorcist II: The Heretic, or Zardoz. Aside from The Dharma Initiative from Lost and Fringe, one other that comes to mind is the movie Beyond the Black Rainbow. I haven't seen any names for this microgenre, if anyone has please mention it in the comments or another answer. I might suggest "Lillypunk" after John Lilly, who invented the isolation tank and did experiments like trying to improve communication with dolphins by dosing them with LSD...or if a technology-based name is preferred (in keeping with steampunk/dieselpunk), maybe "Kirlianpunk" after Kirlian photography which was popular in 70s parapsychology (there was even an In Search of... episode about it).

  • $\begingroup$ Does Bigfoot count? Bigfoot riding a Chariot of the Gods needs to lead up that pack. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 6 '19 at 20:26

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.