Cyber Punk

Definition Cyberpunk


Originally: the title of a novella written by BruceBethke and submitted to Asimov's in 1980, eventually published in Amazing in 1983.

Later: a term used by GardnerDozois? (in the early 1980s doing first readings for Asimov and in 1983 editor of the "1983 Year's Best SF" anthology) to refer to WilliamGibson's first novel, Neuromancer.

Even later: a term used by various people to refer to fiction in the genre of Neuromancer.

Even even later: a term used by various people to refer to a literary movement.

Even even even later: a term used by various people to refer to an aesthetic/artistic movement/lifestyle.

Eventually: a term used by the media to refer to criminals who commit crimes with computers.

I'm amused to note that neither this page nor the cyberpunk FAQ at http://www.cs.ruu.nl/wais/html/na-dir/cyberpunk-faq.html mentions the universally common theme (at least in the first decade of the genre's existence) of TechnoShock?, a narrower form of FutureShock. The term future shock was coined by AlvinToffler? to refer to the sense of dislocation that people feel due to rapid changes in society. Technoshock would be that same sense of dislocation, due to rapid changes induced by rapid changes and advances in technology. This is why, for example, almost every source, while reluctant to admit JohnBrunner's novel TheShockwaveRider (which was explicitly written on the theme of FutureShock) to the genre, nevertheless admits some form of kinship between TheShockwaveRider and the genre.


The Mirrorshades anthology, edited by our cohost BruceSterling, surveyed a literary subgenre that was called cyberpunk not because the term had any precise meaning (it didn't), but because it worked as a catchy marketing bite, a buzzword representing ideas and memes that had resonance more through attitude than content. The vague term cyberpunk became a conceptual mirror, reflecting rather than conveying meaning.

Over time `cyberpunk' referred less to a sci-fi subgenre, and more to a movement that was the beatnik underside of the evolving digital culture, encompassing the countercultural fascinations of the 90s - the computer underground, rave/house culture, zine culture, designer psychedelics, goth morbidity, etc.

These cultural eruptions were blasting signals from virtual communities on the Matrix of systems connected to and including the Internet, in communities of correspondence emerging from the borders of the virtual with the real. These fringe scenes were imbued with a science fiction kind of surreality, which was evolving organically and anarchically from the proliferating Temporary Autonomous Zones.

We created the Mirrorshades Conference on TheWell from ashes of the old cyberpunk conference, recognizing that the term cyberpunk and the fringe technophiliac trends it had come to represent were products of a cultural adolescence that would quickly cycle out. But just as the child is the father to the man, the nascent proclivities of an emerging culture are never lost, but are inherent in its memetic structure. Cyberpunk will always be relevant as one root from which a mainstream digital culture has grown. //Jon L.

Cyberpunk was in many ways the turning point in science fiction. Past SF usually extrapolated from a single idea, while cyberpunk took the larger view that things don't develop in isolation. By considering the many factors that could affect our future, cyberpunk led the way towards a more credible speculation, and more sophisticated writing styles.


Fryprose:

You're not too sure what CyberPunk is, eh? Well, to put it flatly, it is the future. For me time is a line, branching off in the myriad of ways only time can, and the road we choose determines our future. But we, as the whole of humanity, are heading down a spiralling path into the depths of Hell, dragging our planet and everything around us screaming into the abyss with us. Apathy on a global scale is killing us. If no one cares about the who has the power and all the cards, or that Gaia is suffocating, who will stop this maddening descent. When people wake up years from now and ask themselves, "What the hell happened?", the answer is that you didn't care enough. The world from the works of William Gibson and BladeRunner is becoming a stark reality. So maybe you're curious about this future, or maybe you're part of it today, or maybe...you want to change things, speak out, and stop our fall before it's too late. You've come to the right place, it's so very good to see you.

See MotherGaia.


Authors: (and their notable CyberPunk works)

also relevant, even if not strictly CyberPunk:
Movies

Discussions about CyberPunk

There's a couple of things that have never quite gelled with me regarding cyber-punkery. Firstly, why is it all so grim? Is it a symptom of some sort of millenarian angst? It'll be interesting to see what happens to this genre in the next few years. And secondly, how come these imagined futures involve technology becoming not only more pervasive but also more intrusive, when pretty much the whole history of technology indicates that over time it becomes an invisible part of the fabric of people's lives? Actually, there's a third thing as well: Don't the C-Ps realize that a lot of the world's population doesn't have a reliable electricity supply, never mind always-on broadband? The BBC World Service via short-wave is the hot medium in a big chunk of the world. The "matrix" is a long, long way down many, if not most, of the world population's priorities. It's a long way down mine and I'm a wealthy northern European technocrat.

I should say right now that I've had relatively little exposure to cyberpunk writing, because what little I've come across has been so very uninteresting to me. I just can't stay awake through more than a few pages of WilliamGibson. IMHO, IainBanks offers a much more compelling view of an information-technological society. There's plenty of dark foreboding in his books, too, but the stories are about people who just happen to do their people-stuff in a world in which IT is truly pervasive; rather than people who's lives revolve around their technology. -- KeithBraithwaite

Try KenMacLeod (TheStarFraction?, TheStoneCanal?, TheCassiniDivision?, TheSkyRoad?) for a nearer future view.

Thanks for the pointers Tom, I'll check him out. -- KeithBraithwaite

I'd hazard two guesses why cyberpunk is so grim: a) it's "punk," b) it caters to gunslingin', shoot-'em up types. But that's not really important. One positive book about the near future I particularly enjoyed, however, was DavidBrin's Earth. It's very gaian too. -- SunirShah


Firstly, why is it all so grim? Is it a symptom of some sort of millenarian angst? It'll be interesting to see what happens to this genre in the next few years. And secondly, how come these imagined futures involve technology becoming not only more pervasive but also more intrusive, when pretty much the whole history of technology indicates that over time it becomes an invisible part of the fabric of people's lives.

I don't think that that future (invisible fabric) is a given. I've seen some pretty intrusive technologies being developed. Also, you may want to check out BillJoy's excellent essay in Wired [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html] a few months back where he talked about RayKurzweil?'s "Age of Spiritual Machines" and how he fears we are creating a very dangerous future run by machines, among other things. Bill Joy is a smart man.

BillJoy is a very smart man. Smart men through the ages have made themselves look foolish by predicting the future. Joy quotes Kurtzweil quoting the UnaBomber (!) saying:
If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can't make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave.

Well, yes. Of course the UnaBomber didn't stop at this point, he carried on conjecturing away. But then the UnaBomber is, if not actually insane, doing a very good impression of someone who's insane. What's Kurtzweil's or Joy's excuse for waffling on in the face of such uncertainty?

Maybe I'm missing something (I often am), but the Wired article seems unfocused. What did you draw from it? -- KeithBraithwaite

For one response to the BillJoy article try: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment070500c.html


Intrusive Technologies

http://www.futureguru.com/charles1.htm

http://www.trufax.org

http://nanodot.org/ has some fun stuff on it.

Portal

http://cyberpunkworld.net

Technology --> background noise.

I think history has shown otherwise. The newest technology is always on the forefront of our consciousnesses. Think of computers right now, for instance. The cyberpunk I've read so far is more or less between acceptance and novelty. New things in the future are novel to them, new things to us are normal for them. Often, though, the author plays up the technology for the readers' benefit and not the protagonists'. Actually, this is bad SciFi writing, but that's what you get from technophiles. Besides, it's difficult for the reader to follow along if all the new stuff was just in the background. You have to explain it so we have some common context to grok the story. (http://usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?CommonContext) -- SunirShah

'virtual communities on the Matrix of systems connected to and including the Internet, in communities of correspondence emerging from the borders of the virtual with the real.' This comes very close to what I view as a description of CyberSpace (or perhaps should be called a CyberScape?) - an image of this matrix as a visual representation of computers and communities in a VirtualReality that navigates a geographical representation of their connections rather than some flat DomainName? space; when you read SciFi, particularly CyberPunk, the hero does not type in a URL - he tunnels through some VR landscape. With all the other successes of this genre turning into fact rather than fiction, why oh why has this lagged so severely? -- AndrewMcMeikan

Because after VPL's little stint in the light in the early-to-mid-nineties, virtual reality lost its appeal. Mostly because it wasn't very good. Bulky equipment, bad graphics, bad metaphors. The first two are improving. My roommate's video card even has a VR port complete with nerd glasses. But I am still doubtful about the metaphors. See http://usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?VirtualReality. -- SunirShah

Perhaps also because virtual networks don't map clearly to realspace. Some CyberPunk fiction has the matrix being like a VR overlay on real geography - to get from a New York company's host to a Los Angeles company's host, you have to travel across the intervening virtual terrain (although you may take shortcuts by popping up to the regional telecomm grid, then the national telecomm grid, then back down to the California regional, then the LA local). In reality, however, those two company's sites might both be running on the same server located in Chicago. Meanwhile, the company in the office next door might run its sites on servers on three different continents, with load-balancing meaning that your connections to it may be split. Another system might not only relocate frequently (between home, office, and coffee shop), but also totally change how it connects to the net. Neither 3-D space, nor hierarchy maps the 'net to reality very well. That sort of thing may happen someday, once somebody figures out a useful mapping - one that's not much worse than simple URLs.


Cyberpunk as a subculture In the late 80s and early 90s, the success of the literary genre of cyberpunk lead to the growing subculture of the same name. Sharing close ties with the punk and gothic subcultures, cyberpunks tended to lean towards an extreme look, wearing futuristic clothing and jewellery made out of electronic components. Unfortunately, the cyberpunk subculture has almost completely faded from existence. The recent craze surrounding movies such as the Matrix may prove that cyberpunk is not completely dead, but it has just evolved to a new stage. Oldschool cyberpunks still seem to hold a resentment towards the 133t h@X0r (elite hacker) subculture which seems to have spawned from a younger generation's obsession with cyberpunk. Unfortunately, a lack of common sense, knowledge and ethics has made these "133t h@X0rz" an annoyance at least, and has probably damaged the reputation of cyberpunk more than anything.


There are also WikiPunk?s.
Other Discussions

On MeatballWiki, we've had a small (and expanding) run on cyberpunk novels: http://usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?MeatballBibliography.
See CypherPunk
CategoryWhimsy, CategorySpiritualViewpoint, CategoryScienceFiction

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