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Cybperpunk's most basic definition is...

a genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology.

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Other subgenres have branched out from cyberpunk, the most notable of which being "steampunk", which is defined as...

a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.

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In both punks, the landscapes provide a real larger-than-life scope that some fantasy or sci-fi writers may find necessary. But my question is this:

Historically speaking, what point of departure do I need to make either punk a reality?

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closed as too broad by o.m., Mołot, Aify, Zxyrra, dot_Sp0T Jan 24 '17 at 9:03

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ A few comments: your question seems to be extremely broad. The substance part of the question (the last sentence, in bold) is a little hard to understand. Are you asking when your alternate timeline should diverge from real history? Lastly, all of the images do nothing to enhance the question; they just force us to do a whole lot of scrolling to read the few relevant sentences. $\endgroup$ – user45623 Jan 24 '17 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ @user45623 The reason for the images is that we are a visual species, and images carry the point more straightforward. And to answer your question, yes. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Jan 24 '17 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ And this is the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange and you probably can assume that anyone trying to answer your question is familiar with the genres in question and doesn't need the visual references. Reference images are great when you are brainstorming world design with your writing team, but I don't think they're necessary here for this question. $\endgroup$ – user45623 Jan 24 '17 at 3:01
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    $\begingroup$ No images will make the accusation of being "broad" more genuine. And besides, not everyone here may be familiar with the punks. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Jan 24 '17 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ Please, you asked basically two questions here. And separately, I believe both were already asked on this site. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 24 '17 at 7:16
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Strangely enough, there are reasonable grounds for calling them both real. Real, in the historical sense, your humble interlocutor shall explain.

While most of what constitutes the genre of steampunk fiction is mainly romantic and glamourized version of a steam-powered nineteenth century reconstructed as fantastic adventure and often in the form of various kinds of retrofuturism, if one looks back at what the transformation of their era was like for the people who lived through, then they were in a world that seem like a steampunk world.

The Industrial Revolution unleashed not only new technologies (steam-engines, sewerage, clean water, machine-guns, the chemical industries, and eventually the internal combustion engine), new forms of transportation (the railways, steamships new roadworks, agricultural tractors, and, latterly the bicycle), and new forms of social organization (Parliamentary democracy and the Education Act which unleashed mass literacy), and the new scientific worldview (evolution, chemistry, physics with electromagnetism and electricity, and geology).

The creation of a new technologically dominated world in the nineteenth century was everything steampunk could deliver. Not as mere fiction, but as actual quotidian reality.

For reference you should refer to LTC Rolt's fascinating history Victorian Engineering (1970). Rolt is a good place to start if you want to immerse yourself in the reality of industrial history and find out the real steampunk was like.

Now looking into a grim-besmirched crystal ball what visions of the future does this bring? OK. Consider a straight forward extrapolation of current trends. Robotics promises to drive the entire working class, followed by the soon to be redundant middle classes, into a permanent underclass. The super-rich continue to become super-richer while the rest of us only grow poorer. Total surveillance via ubiquitous smart-phone technology, closed-circuit TV, and boosted with image-processing software for instant identification Politics reduced to show business, and riffing off fear, anger and toxic hatred. The rise of the alt-right, neo-nazis, and other political tinfoil hat brigades becoming effectively mainstream politics. The supplanting of citizenry with consumerdom. Business, financial and commercial institutions reducing governments to their marionettes.

Add machine intelligence, virtual reality, permanent cyber warfare and the infiltration of control systems connected to the internet, and what have you got? This could be our future. A future that is pure, authentic cyberpunk. 1

For reference: George Dyson's fascinating history of the development of the first modern computer Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (2012). Effectively we're half way there to a highly cybernatically dominated and controlled world. A bit more integration and increased interconnectivity and we'll be there.

In conclusion, "(h)istorically speaking, what point of departure do I need to make either punk a reality?" For steampunk, go back to the historical reality of the Industrial Revolution. Your main problem will be to communicate the fact that the real historical industrial past was in and of itself a steampunk world. While for cyberpunk it's only a matter of looking ahead and seeing what's already coming. If current trends stay on course we're heading for a world that will pure cyberpunk.

So what points of departure are needed to make either punk real? None, just stick with historical and probable-future reality.

1 Unless, of course, the future pulls one of its almost inevitable switcheroos and swerves into a completely different direction. The future's like that.

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    $\begingroup$ From now on, I shall refer to all screwball political parties as "tin hat brigades" $\endgroup$ – Samwise Jan 24 '17 at 7:11
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In general, steampunk is set in the Victorian era. That's all you need. For cyberpunk, you need AI or massive automation and generally working VR/mind-machine interface. So you're still talking about the future.

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