I'm vaguely aware of the difference of these genres but I haven't been able to come up with a short, concise and precise, definitive one-liner to explain the difference to people who don't know the difference and think the terms are synonyms. How would your phrase that difference?

Examples of these genres are welcome only as accessory to an answer to the above question, not as answer on their own.

  • 7
    Mechanical vs Electronic.
    – Xantec
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:18
  • 1
    @Xantec: Doesn't really catch the look and feel of these genres, does it?
    – bitmask
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:25
  • Maybe not in the general usage. But if you had steampunk technology with modern looking clothing and architecture, wouldn't that still be called steampunk?
    – Xantec
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:32
  • @Xantec: I really don't know, I'm not into Steampunk.
    – bitmask
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:33
  • Maybe someone else will be able to adequately clarify that.
    – Xantec
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:35

4 Answers 4


Cyberpunk is a genre based upon technological innovations that spring from our modern age of the Internet, whereas Steampunk is a genre based upon technological innovations from a alternate version of Victorian-era technology.

  • @bitmask - no, no, no. "brafed up by elves" is a genre of "tolkien clones". Feb 21, 2013 at 19:39
  • I would only add that steampunk emulates modern and futuristic technological capabilities with an alternate version of Victorian-era technology.
    – Ashterothi
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:54
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    @Pyrodante I'm not sure I agree. I believe there are quite a few steampunk novels that have a level of technology that falls well between Victorian-era and current (i.e. steam-powered trains, dirigibles, cars, but no computer analogs, etc.).
    – Beofett
    Feb 21, 2013 at 19:58
  • I guess that is fair, but I would say that in order to be truly steam punk it has to be more advanced then slandered tech, but with a Victorian flare.
    – Ashterothi
    Feb 21, 2013 at 20:04
  • 1
    @Beofett While this answer does set a baseline, it omits the aesthetic involved in steampunk (and probably cyberpunk). It's actually common to see modern analogues made with that design.
    – Izkata
    Feb 23, 2013 at 0:05

Cyberpunk is the future of 1980, Steampunk is the future of 1890.

  • 3
    That's pretty nice.
    – John O
    Feb 22, 2013 at 13:55
  • 1
    This is perfect. May 4, 2013 at 15:10

Steampunk deals with anachronistic technology (current level tech powered by an outdated or less efficient power source), whereas Cyberpunk deals with tech that does not yet exist.

To go a little further than the one line answer: While Cyberpunk deals with "High Tech and Low Life" Steampunk usually deals with the opposite, Low Tech and High Morals.

  • 3
    I like the "High Tech and Low Life" classification for Cyberpunk with its reverse being Steampunk.
    – bitmask
    Feb 21, 2013 at 21:03
  • 3
    I nicked it from the Cyberpunk Forums, but it's also on the Wikipedia page for Cyberpunk. It's just about perfect for the description though.
    – Monty129
    Feb 21, 2013 at 21:04
  • I never saw Cyberpunk as "High Tech, Low Morals". Granted, deceit is often the primary plot motivator. Yet it is a single individual's deceit rather than the society (remember that Steampunk's Victorian era placed little value on life, thought child labor was acceptable and so forth). Cyberpunk characters' seemingly shady behavior makes sense, given their dystopian world of depleted resources and uncertainty. Or so it seemed to me. Feb 22, 2013 at 4:33
  • @FeralOink Steampunk being set in Victorian era is a misconception. There is no rule that states it must take place during any set time period. However I do agree with you on the child labor issue. But for the most part Steampunk heros are far more noble than their Cyberpunk counterparts.
    – Monty129
    Feb 22, 2013 at 14:57

Steampunk is Victorian Cyberpunk.

"The Difference Engine" and "Neuromancer" are excellent examples of their genres. Both are by William Gibson, with "The Difference Engine" co-authored by Bruce Sterling.

The genres are similar, but steam and cogs power the world of Steampunk, while AI and cold-fusion power Cyberpunk.

  • Just wanted to mention that Diff Engine is Steampunk, and Neuromancer is Cyberpunk. Nice answer (I would have used those two as examples too ;o) Feb 22, 2013 at 4:13

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