What is Tribalpunk?
Bringing tribal and stone-age associated aesthetics and innovations into more fantastic (and sometimes more modern) settings, Tribalpunk is the fusion of aboriginal styles, beliefs, technology and a “might-have-been” future that makes us sit back and ask “what if.” As a subgenre, it brings stone-age and aboriginal technology forward and to the limits of its adaptability in much the way that Steampunk brings steam technology to its own fantastic limits and possibilities.
What is not Tribalpunk?
Historical fictions firmly rooted in the stone age (or those focusing on the ordinary existence of aboriginal tribesmen) may seem, at first glance, to be very similar in many respects to Tribalpunk as a subgenre, but there are, in fact, some very distinctive differences between the two. While historical fiction picks a given era and sets a story within it (much as some Tribalpunk stories do) they are ultimately bound within the foggy areas between pillars of hard fact. They often tell stories in the blank spaces of history that can neither be proven nor disproven, but which never step outside the restraints of what historians have deemed as being both likely and possible. Tribalpunk, on the other hand, ignores conventions entirely. As a subgenre, it is not bound to any one time period or the perpetuation of accurate facts, preferring to delve instead into the surreal and the realm of what-if.
Another subgenre that is sometimes confused with Tribalpunk is that classified loosely as Ancient Astronaut stories. The most prominent example of an ancient astronaut story is the film Stargate (and the subsequent series.) While these too ask “what if” in a big way and bring (at times) a tribal or stone age aesthetic to the screen, placing it side-by-side with modern technology, they focus on advances in aboriginal technology being the result of the introduction of more advanced technology. Tribalpunk utilizes the existing technology of the stone age and grows it as far as it could possibly (or impossibly) grow without being abandoned for what might be considered more advanced technology (i.e. iron, silicon, quantum etc.) This also applies to James Cameron’s Avatar. Though it is not, for all intensive purposes, considered to be an Ancient Astronaut story, it does place humans on the opposite end of the same device (invading a tribal culture with advanced technology) thereby making it dyed-in-the-wool Science Fiction and not Tribalpunk.
Tribalpunk in Popular Culture:
Elements of Tribalpunk have surfaced in a number of different areas in popular culture, manifesting in stories like The Warriors Of The Floating City and The Man With The Obsidian Eye and novel series like Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu. Films like 10,000 BC are also sometimes hailed as being Tribalpunk in nature, along with other works which envision a thoroughly tribal future in a post-apocalyptic setting (like George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides.)
Rich with potential in the same way that both Steampunk and Dieselpunk are, Tribalpunk takes the same basic ideas to an entirely new era, bringing the aesthetic sensibilities and basic archaic technologies of the past into a creative new (or alternate) future. In your mind’s eye, take a moment to envision a world where humanity stuck with the basic tools gathered from the earth and built them into something as incredible as the great pyramids or a flying city grander than Atlantis. That is Tribalpunk.
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