Friday, March 18, 2005


Cyberpunk brought unique style, attitude, dirt, grit and a whole new look to literature, not just Science Fiction. It emerged during the Reagan 80s, when Sci-Fi generally covered deep space operatic stuff, high Tolkien-esque fantasy, and fantastical post-apocalyptic Mad Max-type worlds. Mainstream-ish entertainment options across other mediums and genres, fiction or otherwise, were also highly escapist. This was a time when The Dukes of Hazzard and the A-Team were acceptable entertainment, watched weekly by adults and children with zero sense of irony. Reality television consisted of Game Shows and PBS documentaries. Even the heaviest, most aggressive, anti-mainstream music artists of the time strove for melody and recognized the limitations of "listenable", rebelling from the Top 40 and appealing to outsider kids with high-pitched solos and vocals, reasonable amounts of distortion, loud drums, minor chords, and dissonant note and chord progressions. Rap music was years away from the explosive, harsh realism of Public Enemy and N.W.A. Mainstreamable artists didn't embrace UGLY sounds and themes in their music until the mid-nineties, coincidentally, around the time when Jerry Springer and countless others capitalized by turning those cameras away from nice old Aunt Martha spinning the Wheel Of Fortune and clapping, refocusing on the uglier side of American families and suburban life.

I argue that Cyberpunk helped enable this burgeoning "hard-look-in-the-mirror" approach to entertainment. Led by the triumvirate of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and John Shirley, later joined by the godlike Neal Stephenson, we learned that not all Science Fiction heroes were noble and grand; Case and super-cool Molly were vulnerable and fallible, just like we are. Cities were filthy, not shining and gleaming; and the street would subvert technologies for its own uses, not just empower grandiose expeditions for the benefit all of mankind.
Yes, we thrilled at those deserts full of road mutants, the starscapes of battling spaceships, the dragons and elves and their magic, but we didn't recognize those worlds. Cyberpunk gave us grim future settings, all familiar, all somewhat plausible, but all of it felt refreshingly real. We watched the film "Bladerunner" and screamed out, "Yes! This is truth!"

In it's quarter-century-or-so of existence, the Cyberpunk genre's neon star has flickered and dimmed at times.... Some (actually many) have pronounced it dead, but I think its cybernetic heart still beats. The Matrix films aren't Cyberpunk-influenced, they are Cyberpunk. You can also count Spielberg's last two films (Minority Report and AI) and The Fifth Element.
It is its own sub-genre; it does have its own limitations and confines, of course. Those four authors have distanced themselves from the Cyberpunk label, seeking to explore other possibilities, just as any artist of merit feels compelled to do. But Cyberpunk sensibilities are still evident in all of the work they're doing these days, whether it be in the historical novels, the futurist design teachings, the anarchist anti-establishment blogs, or the uber-hip, tech-savvy novels they're putting out. As a fan, I don't need their works to all take place in gritty urban corporation-owned cities; I still thrill at the Cyberpunk edge and feel in their output - and that of all us authors who follow in their tracks.

And now for the plug....................
Check out Neometropolis magazine. They're doing a fine job over there, trying to propel Cyberpunk into this young century (we're living in the time period when a lot of early Cyberpunk stories are set to take place, by the way). And oh look! My short story, "The Last Cyberpunk", is featured on the main web page.

Phew ........ there's so much more to say... but OK, ok, I'm done. Future posts won't be this long-winded :)


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