I want to be right upfront and state that this list of Steampunk subgenres is of my own devising, and I’ve made a stab at developing my own categories and definitions. However, Dieselpunk looks to be a subgenre with legs, and the others look to be making a good attempt at marking their own territories, so any inaccuracies or fuzziness can be attributed to me.
The Steampunk literary genre is a subgenre of Science Fiction, and it has subgenres of its own. Science Fiction is a genre that is changing and evolving as new technologies are discovered and as we grow to understand the human animal better. It can be used to tell a simple and straightforward adventure story, or it can be a multilayered narrative that is making pointed observations about a culture, such as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood, and so can be everything in between. There are hundreds of subgenres of Science Fiction, and more are being generated all the time. All of the Steampunk subgenres are a type of retro-futurism.
Dieselpunk is set in the early days of development of the car, the motorcycle, and the airplane. As you can see, this means there is quite the timeline overlap with the Victorian and Edwardian era, but the technology is of a more sophisticated level. Less steam engines, more petrol engines. More of an obsession with speed. Less of the florid and fussy Victorian aesthetic, and more of the streamlined beauty of the Art Deco (I mistakenly put Art Nouveau here last night).
It is all about valves, obviously, the technology of radio sets and the early television. I have also heard this referred to as Teslapunk. I would place this at a slightly later timeframe than Dieselpunk, but with lots of overlap. Valvepunk’s aesthetic is all about Bakelite, which was invented in 1907 and stopped being popular around the Second World War, after which it was replaced with more modern plastics and resins in the home and most industrial applications.
Again, the name on the box tells you exactly what’s in it. Cogpunk is about clockwork and gears, which many might argue is the heart of Steampunk. However, Cogpunk includes the handmade automations and horological wonders that were made before the Industrial era, and the French Industrial clocks of the Victorian era, Twentieth Century clockwork tin toys and much, much more. It is a meticulous aesthetic, all about uniqueness and one-offs.
Gaslight Fantasy is where Steampunk is leavened with magic, or mythological creatures, or time travel, anti-gravity, or aliens; anything that isn’t strictly a technological innovation invented by human beings. Most of the books I’ve read in the Steampunk Literary genre have a Gaslight Fantasy aspect. The webcomic Girl Genius is classed by its creators as a Gaslamp Fantasy.
If you have any categories you want to add, or to comment about these definitions, please comment. I would love your input! As well, I have on Facebook, Steampunk Sunday: https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkSunday