Note: A more complete, ad-free version of this article is available at WhatIsDreampunk.com.
Cyberpunk, steampunk... dreampunk? Unlike its better established siblings, this fledgling genre is not rooted in technology or the reimagining of a different era. It emanates from the collective unconscious.
Dreampunk fiction often makes use of surreal imagery, esoteric symbolism, dream logic (which may not be entirely logical), dream-related technology, false/subjective realities, shamanism, and Jungian psychology. It might be described as a more mystical, less technocentric version of cyberpunk, but dreampunk also draws heavy influence from postmodern literary fiction. It winds up somewhere in the neighborhood of transrealism, slipstream, and the new weird.
The prototypical dreampunk story has got to be Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. The Alice stories have a good deal in common with steampunk, except there isn't much focus on technology and their main action takes place within a dream. And while Alice may not fit your idea of a "punk," she certainly was rebellious, eccentric, confrontational... yeah, kind of a punk, actually.
In contrast to Wonderland and the Looking-Glass World, there is no indication in the original stories that Oz is anything other than a real place—albeit magical and very well hidden. That said, the classic film adaptation did present Oz as a sort of dream, populated as it was with fantastic counterparts to Dorothy's real-world acquaintances. So L. Frank Baum's novella The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was not a great example of dreampunk, but MGM's film The Wizard of Oz fits in nicely.
This is not to say that every dreampunk story must take place within the framework of a literal dream. A dream could be the waking life of a character who is mentally ill, or perhaps just extremely imaginative. Or it could be the result of a hallucinogenic drug, hypnotic mind control, or divine revelation. In one form or another, dreaming should play an important role, perhaps affecting consensus reality or even in some way supplanting it. This brings me to the work of Philip K. Dick.
Although Dick is best known for the action-packed film adaptations of his science fiction work (Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report, to name a few), his stories tend to focus less on technology or alien life per se and more on the nature of consciousness, and of reality itself.
YOU ARE READING
Dreampunk is a niche genre of speculative fiction that asks the question "Is this real?" and then follows up with "What does that even mean anyway?" Alice in Wonderland would be the prototypical example, but any anti-authoritarian investigation into...