The term cyberpunk refers to a literary offshoot of the science fiction genre that generally focuses on the effects of advanced technology—particularly computers—on individual and collective human psychology and behavior. More specifically, cyberpunk came to describe a cultural movement, which included not only fiction but also music, film, print and online magazines, and scholarly theory, that sought to come to terms with the post-industrial Age of Information by confronting it with punk subculture rebelliousness. Characterized by a self-conscious style and dystopian themes, cyberpunk reached the height of its popularity in the 1980s alongside the deconstructive and postmodernist theories of thinkers such as Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard, who emphasized subjective interpretation and denied the existence of central meaning in literature and society. These ideas coincided with the rise of Internet culture, a phenomenon that moved the personal computer from the workplace to the home, where it became entrenched in daily human life. Cyberpunks imagined a world devoid of human contact, where robots and cyborgs—hybrids of humans and machines—ruled and human consciousness was usually detached from the body. While the cyberpunk movement explored valid fears about the encroachment of machines into human life, it was strongly criticized by feminists, who believed that it promoted the needs and desires of white middle-class males. Consequently, a branch of cyberpunk arose that addressed the concerns of women, homosexuals, and people of color in the technological era. Cyberpunk began dying off as a literary subgenre in the early 1990s, as acceptance of cyberculture and computers increased among the public. Critical assessment of cyberpunk ranges from those who approach it with scorn to those who view it as a legitimate literary exploration of life in the post-humanist age.
Blood Music (novel) 1986
Great Sky River (novel) 1987
Bone Dance (novel) 1991
Mindplayers (novel) 1989
Synners (novel) 1991
Fools (novel) 1992
Neuromancer (novel) 1984
Burning Chrome (short stories) 1986
Count Zero (novel) 1986
Mona Lisa Overdrive (novel) 1988
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
The Difference Engine (novel) 1991
Worlds: A Novel of the Near Future (novel) 1981
Worlds Apart (novel) 1983
Tool of the Trade (novel) 1987
“A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s” (essay) 1985
K. W. Jeter
Dr. Adder (novel) 1984
Farewell Horizontal (novel) 1989
Arachne (novel) 1990
China Mountain Zhang (novel) 1992
Red Spider White Web (novel) 1990
Glass Houses (novel) 1992
Gravity's Rainbow (novel) 1973
Chimera (novel) 1993
Software (novel) 1982...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “The Post-Liberal Mind/Body, Postmodern Fiction, and the Case of Cyberpunk SF,” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 19, No. 58, November, 1992, pp. 395-403.
[In the following essay, Fekete reviews the volume Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction, providing a brief overview of the cyberpunk movement.]
We see through eyeglasses and contacts; we eat with dentures. We remove cataracts and replace the lenses. We insert video cameras inside our bodies to aid in “keyhole” surgery; we remove our gall bladders and throw them away. We replace our hearts, kidneys, and livers with other organs: human, baboon, or manufactured. By diet or surgery, we change the shapes of our breasts, faces, torsos. We transform inoperable brain tumors genetically into things we can destroy chemically. We abort fetuses, and create new life in vitro. And these are just the medical interventions. We also time-shift our simulation programming on television, put disembodied interlocutors on hold on our telephones, and post messages in electronic space through our computer modems. We jog through our cities acoustically jacked into our Walkmans.
We live through our technologies, as McLuhan says, mythically and in depth, everywhere and everywhen. Technologies are us. But we keep under control our anxieties about how close to our bodies and inner lives...
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SOURCE: “Cyberpunk and the Crisis of Postmodernity,” in Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, edited by George Slusser and Tom Shippey, The University of Georgia Press, 1992, pp. 142-52.
[In the following essay, Olsen examines the increasing conservatism and mainstream acceptance of cyberpunk and postmodernism.]
The 1980s may have marked the beginning of the end of postmodernism—that mode of radical skepticism that challenges all we once took for granted about language and experience—as the dominant, or at least quasi-dominant, form of consciousness in American culture. This demise may be partially the result of our country's drift toward political conservatism in the Age of Reagan. The Equal Rights Amendment has scant chance of passing, anti-abortionists and fundamentalists gain power daily, and George Bush proudly follows in the footsteps of one of the most popular presidents in the history of the United States. About sixty miles south of where I taught for five years at the University of Kentucky, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying was banned from a high school on the grounds that it was a “filth book,” while not far from there the Ku Klux Klan paraded through a town looking for—and finding—more recruits. At the same time the perimeters of postmodernism are being redrawn almost weekly, then, the nagging fact remains that in many cultures its ideas were never even...
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SOURCE: “Fiction and the Future,” in College English, Vol. 55, No. 8, December, 1993, pp. 908-18.
[In the following essay, Crossley provides a survey of futuristic science fiction works and reviews several works that critically examine science fiction and cyberpunk.]
The future has been a viable locale for the novel ever since Mary Shelley imagined a twenty-first century world depopulated by plague in her 1826 The Last Man. H. G. Wells turned Shelley's isolated experiment into a career, patenting the future as a playground of imagination and a laboratory for disciplined speculation. Beginning in 1895 with The Time Machine, he produced a series of romances of anticipation that marked out the iconography of a new genre. In The War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr. Moreau, When the Sleeper Wakes, The First Men in the Moon, and The World Set Free, he established the conventions and the taste for fiction about extraterrestrial intelligences, biological engineering, the urban megalopolis, space exploration, and nuclear war. His 1935 Things to Come remains the most brilliant failure among all films about the future. But not until a decade after Wells died did the academy, pushed by one of its pushiest celebrities, begin to take reluctant notice of the most distinctive generic mutation of the twentieth century, science fiction.
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SOURCE: “Cyberpunk = Gibson = Neuromancer,” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, July, 1993, pp. 266-72.
[In the following essay, Latham reviews Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, finding the volume narrow in scope and lacking in substance.]
In the informal interview that closes Fiction 2000 (a collection of essays from “an international symposium on the nature of fiction at the end of the twentieth century … held in Leeds, England … between June 28 and July 1, 1989 … [and focusing] specifically on the form of science fiction called cyberpunk” ), Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, responding to a remark that the conference had featured “an emphasis on [William] Gibson's Neuromancer,” replies: “I think the impression that much of the conference centered on Neuromancer may actually just be an effect of the convergence in time of the talks. I don't perceive this as having been a ‘Neuromancer conference’ at all” (280-81). Csicsery-Ronay is wrong. It was a Neuromancer conference, at least judging by the 17 essays gathered in this volume of proceedings [Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative]. The overwhelming impression presented is that most of the conferees operated with the following equation implicitly in mind: cyberpunk = Gibson = Neuromancer. As a result, the movement, as a literary practice and a...
(The entire section is 3034 words.)
Criticism: Feminism And Cyberpunk
SOURCE: “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?”1 in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, July, 1992, pp. 219-35.
[In the following essay, Nixon questions the feminism of cyberpunk.]
In the 1970s feminist writers made successful intrusions into the genre of the popular SF novel, a genre whose readership, then and now, is assumed to be one who can appreciate, for example, that taking blue mescaline inspires the confidence “you'd feel somatically, the way you'd feel a woman's lips on your cock” (Shirley, Eclipse 74). One hardly needs recourse to Althusserian models to determine who the interpellated reader is here. Suffice it to say, it isn't me. In the '70s Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, Ursula Le Guin, Suzy McKee Charnas, and Sally Miller Gearhart negotiated—rather boldly, given such a readership—a political and artistic trajectory from '60s feminism to its enthusiastic articulation in specifically feminist utopias. Collectively they provided an often implicit and stinging critique of male SF writers' penchant for figuring feminist power as the threat of the future. Parley J. Cooper's The Feminists (1971), where the “top dog is a bitch” and men “mere chattel,” for example, sports a dust jacket that reads: “The story that had to be written—so timely, so frighteningly possible, you won't believe it's...
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SOURCE: “Feminism for the Incurably Informed,” in Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, edited by Mark Dery, Duke University Press, 1994, pp. 125-56.
[In the following essay, Balsamo examines the effects of techo-culture on women and the feminist implications of cyberpunk.]
All we ever want (ever wanted) was to be on that mailing list.
—Ron Silliman, What
My mother was a computer, but she never learned to drive. Grandmother was an order clerk in a predominantly male warehouse; she did all the driving for the family, having learned to drive almost before she learned to speak English; her first car was a 1916 Model T Ford equipped with a self-starter.1 Both my mother and grandmother worked for Sears and Roebuck in the 1940s; mother entered orders on a log sheet, grandmother filled those orders in the warehouse.2 When an opening in payroll came through, my mother enrolled in night school to learn to be a computer. Within two years she received a diploma from the Felt and Tarrant School of Comptometry that certified her to operate a comptometer—one of the widely used electromechanical calculating machines that preceded electronic calculators.3 She worked at Sears for two more years before she was replaced by a machine.
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SOURCE: “Feminist Cyberpunk,” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, November, 1995, pp. 357-72.
[In the following essay, Cadora contrasts early, male-dominated, cyberpunk with the later wave of the movement led by feminists.]
Rumor has it that cyberpunk is dead, the victim of its own failure to live up to its extravagant pretensions (Easterbrook 378). Initially touted as an imaginative engagement with the postmodern condition, cyberpunk envisions human consciousness inhabiting electronic spaces, blurring the boundary between human and machine in the process. Cyberpunk's deconstruction of the human body first appeared to signal a revolution in political art. However, closer examinations of the movement have revealed that its politics are anything but revolutionary. In his study of William Gibson's quintessential Neuromancer (1984), Neil Easterbrook concludes that the novel's worldview is “wed to exploitive technologies, obeisance to authority, and the effluence of fashion” (391). Furthermore, Nicola Nixon points out that cyberpunk is guilty of a “peculiar avoidance of rather obvious and immediate political SF precursors,” namely, the feminist sf of the 70s and 80s and its exploration of gender relations (222). Cyberpunks are almost invariably male—hypermasculine ones at that—and, as a rule, they have little time for issues of sexual politics. As Veronica Hollinger has...
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SOURCE: “Incurably Alien Other: A Case for Feminist Cyborg Writers,” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, November, 1995, pp. 399-20.
[In the following essay, Harper presents an overview of feminist cyberpunk criticism and argues that feminist cyborg literature is the seminal movement in a changing sociopolitical worldview.]
Somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn't laughter. He never saw Molly again.—William Gibson, Neuromancer
He stared hard at her. He had never seen—he hadn't expected. He threw his head back—all his white artie teeth showed—his shining carmine gums, amber skin, dark slanting eyes, smooth cheeks. They laughed and laughed together. Female and male, but other than that, the faces mirrors, mirrors of each other. … She spat. I hate hive minds.—Misha, Red Spider White Web
According to Nicola Nixon in “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Ground for Revolution or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?” cyberpunk has not been successful in refiguring the humanism it claims to subvert. Nixon has charged Bruce Sterling and “the boys” with dismissing feminist sf of the 1970s through their declarations that the 70s were a fallow period in science fiction (229). In Strange Weather, Andrew Ross argues similarly, as does Samuel Delany in his 1988...
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Criticism: History And Cyberpunk
SOURCE: “The Metaphors of Cyberpunk: Ontology, Epistemology, and Science Fiction,” in Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, edited by George Slusser and Tom Shippey, The University of Georgia Press, 1992, pp. 230-45.
[In the following essay, Curl explains the historical metaphors of science that led to the development of science fiction and cyberpunk.]
Science is not generally considered metaphoric. Rather, metaphor has been more or less consigned to the nonscientific realm, and more particularly to the literary sphere. A dichotomy has been established in which an either-or-proposition is expressed: if it is scientific it is not metaphor, and vice versa. However, there are those who, looking at metaphor from a general perspective, consider it the fundamental property of all human thought; and others who, focusing more specifically on science, believe metaphor to be as much a part of the scientific realm as the literary.
John Middleton Murry sees metaphor as a general and necessary property of thought, and Nietzsche views it as the fundamental device of human epistemology. Murry states that metaphor “is as ultimate as the act of speech itself and speech as ultimate as thought.” “[It] appears as the instinctive and necessary act of the mind exploring reality and ordering experience. It is the means by which the less familiar is assimilated to the more familiar,...
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SOURCE: “Techgnosis: Magic, Memory, and the Angels of Information,” in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 92, No. 4, Fall, 1993, pp. 585-616.
[In the following essay, Davis analyzes the place of historical gnosticism and allegory in cyberpunk fiction.]
One of the most compelling snares is the use of the term metaphor to describe a correspondence between what the users see on the screen and how they should think about what they are manipulating. … There are clear connotations to the stage, theatrics, magic—all of which give much stronger hints as to the direction to be followed. For example, the screen as “paper to be marked on” is a metaphor that suggests pencils, brushes, and typewriting. … Should we transfer the paper metaphor so perfectly that the screen is as hard as paper to erase and change? Clearly not. If it is to be like magical paper, then it is the magical part that is all important.
While allegory employs “machinery,” it is not an engineer's type of machinery at all. It does not use up real fuels, does not transform such fuels into real energy. Instead, it is a fantasized energy, like the fantasized power conferred on the shaman by his belief in daemons.
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SOURCE: “Cyberpunk Meets Charles Babbage: The Difference Engine as Alternative Victorian History,” in Victorian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1, Autumn, 1994, pp. 1-23.
[In the following essay, Sussman discusses the cyberpunk reinterpretation of Victorian history in The Difference Engine.]
Taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts. It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.
—Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto” (181)
In The Difference Engine (1991), William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, two leading writers of cyberpunk,1 leave the imagined near future, the Boston-Atlanta “Sprawl” and “consensual hallucination” of cyberspace in Gibson's Neuromancer as well as the global communications “net” of Sterling's Islands in the Net, to create an imagined near past in the sooty...
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SOURCE: “SF and Romantic Biofictions: Aldiss, Gibson, Sterling, Powers,” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1, March, 1997, pp. 47-56.
[In the following essay, Jones finds similarities between cyberpunk and the period of English Romanticism.]
When St Paul's and Westminster Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless ruins, in the midst of an unpeopled marsh; when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers and cast the jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary stream, some transatlantic commentator will be weighing in the scales of some new and now unimagined system of criticism, the respective merits of the Bells, the Fudges, and their historians.
Miching Mallecho (i.e., Percy Bysshe Shelley), dedicating Peter Bell the Third to Thomas Brown (i.e., Thomas Moore) in December 18191 uses a favorite motif among the Romantic poets: an imaginary situation in which their early-19th-century world and its works are seen with the odd and slanted angle of vision bestowed by a viewpoint in the far future.2 John Keats (in a passage which is quoted in Dan Simmons' Hyperion of 1989) envisaged the time “when this warm scribe my hand is in the grave” (“The Fall of Hyperion” line 18; Simmons, 384-85). Lord Byron, in an 1823 canto of Don Juan, provided a very...
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SOURCE: “Difference Engines and Other Infernal Devices: History According to Steampunk,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 40, No. 3, Fall, 1999, pp. 244-54.
[In the following essay, Hantke examines a subgenre of science fiction called “steampunk,” which rewrites and reinterprets events in the Victorian period.]
In the introduction to The Other Victorians, Steven Marcus states that “as we try to understand the past we try to understand ourselves in relation to the past” (xix). Marcus's words, as much as they provide a rationale for historiography in general, are particularly pertinent to the fascination that the Victorian period has for contemporary audiences. We recognize ourselves in a play of similarity and difference, or, as Marcus puts it, the Victorians' “otherness connects them to us,” though, he cautions, “connection is nevertheless not identity.” While Marcus allows for historical breakthroughs, that is, for moments of radical change, he still considers Victorianism the first half of the paradigmatic bracket within which we still operate at the present time (284).
It is hardly surprising, then that, picking up on Marcus's assertion with the ironically self-reflexive title “We ‘Other Victorians,’” Michel Foucault begins his multi-volume History of Sexuality with a discussion of the persistent influence of Victorianism on the contemporary cultural...
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Criticism: Sexuality And Cyberpunk
SOURCE: “Sex, Memories, and Angry Women,” in Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture, edited by Mark Dery, Duke University Press, 1994, pp. 157-77.
[In the following essay, Springer explores images of sexuality and technology in cyberpunk fiction.]
One thing is certain: the riddle of mind, long a topic for philosophers, has taken on new urgency. Under pressure from the computer, the question of mind in relation to machine is becoming a central cultural preoccupation. It is becoming for us what sex was to the Victorians—threat and obsession, taboo and fascination.
The question of mind in relation to machine has indeed become a cultural preoccupation.1 Debates rage in the popular press as well as in specialized science and philosophy texts over whether computers can accurately simulate the human mind and, conversely, whether human minds are fundamentally computers. So far, computers themselves have not become active participants in the debate, although human scholars have taken on the personae of computers to speculate on how history would be interpreted by an artificial intelligence tracing its own lineage.2 But interest in the nature of the human mind has by no means displaced interest in sex. Within current discussions about the mind lingers the preoccupation with sex identified by...
(The entire section is 7586 words.)
SOURCE: “Birth of the Cyberqueer,” in PMLA, Vol. 110, No. 3, May, 1995, pp. 369-81.
[In the following essay, Morton examines homosexuality in postmodern and cyberpunk theory.]
In today's dominant, “post-al” academy, the widely celebrated “advance” in the understanding of culture and society brought about by ludic (post)modernism has been enabled by a series of displacements: of the signified by the signifier, of use value by exchange value, of the mode of production by the mode of signification, of conceptuality by textuality, of the meaningful by the meaningless, of determination by indeterminacy, of causality by undecidability, of knowing by feeling, of commonality by difference, of political economy by libidinal economy, of need by desire, and so on.1 In the domain of sexuality, the new space of queer theory is a postgay, postlesbian space. Ludic (post)modernism, which promotes the localizing of cultural phenomena, discourages any effort to render these developments systematically coherent and intelligible. Hence, the reappearance of queer today is given local “explanation”—for example, as an oppressed minority's positive reunderstanding of a once negative word, as the adoption of an umbrella to encompass the concerns of both female and male homosexuals and bisexuals, or as the embracing of the latest fashion over an older, square style by the hip youth...
(The entire section is 8602 words.)
SOURCE: “‘The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic’: Posthuman Narratives and the Construction of Desire,” in Centuries' Ends, Narrative Means, edited by Robert Newman, Stanford University Press, 1996, pp. 276-301.
[In the following essay, Foster examines the implications of disembodied sexuality in cyberpunk culture.]
You are seduced by the sex appeal of the inorganic.
The computer takes up where psychoanalysis leaves off.
—Sherry Turkle, The Second Self (309)
During the Post-Body Age, we're going to get songs like: She shut me down / wiped me clean / made me blanker than a banker's screen / But that's alright / There's no end in sight / I'm programmed well against that risk / with 47 copies of myself on disk.
—Otter, in the independent zine Dropout (22)
Recent popular culture often seems to agree with Jean Baudrillard that “the year 2000 has already happened” and therefore it is “not necessary to write science fiction” any longer, since we now live in such fictions.1 A similar assumption underlies the increasingly widespread belief that we are on the verge of a “post-body” or “posthuman” age, of not only desiring machines but...
(The entire section is 9345 words.)
SOURCE: “The Future of a Commodity: Notes Toward a Critique of Cyberpunk and the Information Age,” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1, March, 1992, pp. 75-87.
[In the following essay, Whalen explores the cyberpunk notion of “information” and its place in post-industrial society.]
Imagine an alien … who's come here to identify the planet's dominant form of intelligence … What do you think he picks? The zaibatsus, Fox said, the multinationals. The structure is independent of the individual lives that comprise it.
—William Gibson, “New Rose Hotel”
Near the end of the Introduction to the Grundrisse, Marx unexpectedly launches into a discussion of the relation between art and society. After some provisional commentary on the role of Greek art in bourgeios culture, Marx abruptly breaks off his discussion without ever developing a coherent aesthetic theory (46-48). This lapse into silence has attained much notoriety, but rarely does anyone acknowledge that the lapse is only temporary. Later on in the Grundrisse Marx reconsiders the enduring appeal of Greek art, and this time he suggests that in the ancient world, human beings appeared as end of production, whereas in the modern world, production seems to have become the raison d'etre of human existence. In other words, the modern economy...
(The entire section is 6166 words.)
SOURCE: “Skating Across Cyberpunk's Brave New Worlds: An Interview with Lewis Shiner” in Critique, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, Spring, 1992, pp. 177-96.
[In the following interview, Shiner and McCaffery discuss cyberpunk, skatepunk, and post-industrialism.]
You can't sit around and cry because they cut down some trees and pave everything. Concrete is radical. Concrete is the future. You don't cry about it, you skate on it.
These words are spoken by Bobby, a teenage skatepunk in Lewis Shiner's 1990 novel, Slam. Bobby is commenting about the whining attitude of his dad—and, presumably, of other well-meaning, goodie-goodie 1960s exhippie types—who express concern about the ongoing encroachment of cold, hard concrete (read: technology/artifice) into the green, nurturing world of nature. Bobby's comments perfectly encapsulate cyberpunk philosophy—a view combining a matter-of-fact acceptance that technology has irrevocably transformed our world together with a cocky assurance that individuals possessing enough know-how can ride this Fourth Wave of technological change to places that The System hadn't anticipated.
For readers familiar with the Cyberpunk Controversy of the mid-1980s, Shiner's ability to effectively formulate this philosophy should come as no surprise. On the strength of his first novel, Frontera...
(The entire section is 10383 words.)
SOURCE: “Beyond the Ruins: The Geopolitics of Urban Decay and Cybernetic Play,”1 in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, July, 1993, pp. 251-65.
[In the following essay, Sponsler discusses dystopic predictions in cyberpunk.]
For better or for worse, “cyberpunk” no longer needs much introduction. Used as commonly and casually as its cousins “cyborg” and “postmodernism,” “cyberpunk” has become a widely accepted term for describing a specific kind of cultural production found in music, film, and fiction in 1980s America.2 A fusion of high-tech and punk counterculture characterized by a self-conscious stylistic and ideological rebelliousness, cyberpunk can perhaps best be defined as a reinterpretation of human (and especially male) experience in a media-dominated, information-saturated, post-industrial age. Debate now centers less on what cyberpunk is than on what its value has been, with opinions ranging from Istvan Csicsery-Ronay's sardonic criticism of cyberpunk as “the vanguard white male art of the age” (267) to Veronica Hollinger's sympathetic reading of cyberpunk as an exploration of post-humanist subjectivity.3
In spite of cyberpunk's dominance within SF during the 1980s, the consensus among both SF writers and critics is that cyberpunk as a movement is essentially over. Many of the central core of cyberpunk authors,...
(The entire section is 7469 words.)
SOURCE: “Mythology and Technology: The Novels of William Gibson,” in Extrapolation, Vol. 34, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 65-78.
[In the following essay, Schmitt discusses William Gibson's mythologizing of technology in his fiction.]
With only three published novels and a collection of short stories, William Gibson has quickly risen to the top of his field, winning the Nebula, Hugo, and Philip Dick awards for Neuromancer. Even more important is the fact that Gibson is considered one of the principal, formative forces in a movement within science fiction known as “cyberpunk.” I see “cyberpunk” as an appropriate label for Gibson's heroes since they share two important similarities with the punk rock movement—one which is more obvious and another which is probably less recognized.
First, the cyberspace “cowboys” in Gibson's novels, like punk rockers, use the technology that is supposed to be a means of ordering and mechanizing the world to attack powerful institutions and individuals associated with the established order of authority. They employ what Norbert Wiener, in Cybernetics and Society: The Human Use of Human Beings, calls “forensic discourse.” Here the differentiation is made between “normal communicative discourse,” which is subject to the confusion caused by the normal entropic tendencies of the physical world but which seeks to convey...
(The entire section is 6175 words.)
SOURCE: “Hyper-Punk: Cyberpunk and Information Technology,” in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 28, No. 2, Fall, 1994, pp. 81-92.
[In the following essay, Jones discusses cyberpunk's place in the “information marketplace.”]
What is it you're after?
Oh. Another one. Life was simple before the first war. You wouldn't remember. Drugs, sex, luxury items. Currency in those days was no more than a sideline … Information. What's wrong with dope and women? Is it any wonder the world's gone insane, with information come to be the only real medium of exchange?
—from Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The clearest statements of cyberpunk ideology come from contemporary science fiction texts that combine information, technology and ideology to construct a reality in the near future (a time that seems almost parallel to the present rather than ahead of it) in which information fuels not only the global economy but individual existence. Where science fiction once projected itself into futures thousands of years ahead, cyberpunk science fiction is obsessed with conjecture about what is to come within our lifetime, even, as the theme of the “Max Headroom” television...
(The entire section is 4323 words.)
SOURCE: “Global Economy, Local Texts: Utopian/Dystopian Tension in William Gibson's Cyberpunk Trilogy,” in Minnesota Review, Nos. 43 & 44, 1995, pp. 182-97.
[In the following essay, Moylan examines contradictory views of future sociopolitical events in William Gibson's writing.]
In 1990, in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, George Bush invoked the utopian figure of the millennium as he called for a new world order, an order of peace and prosperity that would remove the darkness of the Cold War.1 In 1980, Ronald Reagan invoked another utopian figure: the “city on the hill” that recalled the dream of a New World that would inspire everyone with its harmony and enterprise. However, in the years between Reagan's imagery rooted in the local history of the Americas and Bush's image that envelopes the globe, neither humanity nor the environment has benefited from these utopian gestures. Indeed, and increasingly, since the beginning of the 1990s—with the emergence of the U.S. as the singular world superpower and with continued economic, political, cultural, and ecological devastation—the world historical situation has become ever more dystopian.
What both presidents celebrated in their official utopian tropes was not the betterment of humanity and the earth, but the triumph of planetary capital. Engaged in a massive...
(The entire section is 7166 words.)
SOURCE: “Deleting the Body,” in Electronic Eros: Bodies and Desire in the Postindustrial Age, University of Texas Press, 1996, pp. 16-49.
[In the following essay, Springer discusses the social implications of the disembodiment celebrated by cyberpunk.]
Can thought go on without a body?
When René Descartes compared human beings to machines in the year 1637, he maintained that humans would always be superior to machines because humans possess the unique ability to reason. He wrote that although “machines could do many things as well as, or perhaps even better than, men, they would infallibly fail in certain others, by which we would discover that they did not act by understanding or reason, but only by the disposition of their organs.”2 In 1992 Steven Levy, writing about research into computerized “artificial life,” identified the quality that he perceived as uniquely human: “Our uniqueness will lie in the ability to create our successors.”3 In the years between 1637 and 1992 human reason undertook the pursuit of making itself obsolete.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries bequeathed to subsequent generations a belief in the uniqueness of human beings. Humans, according to Enlightenment philosophy, are blessed with reason and thus enjoy...
(The entire section is 11320 words.)
SOURCE: “Post-Bodied and Post-Human Forms of Existence,” in Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, July, 1997, pp. 344-49.
[In the following essay, Latham reviews Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment and discusses the merging of human and machine known as cyborgs.]
Simultaneously published as a special issue of the journal Body & Society, Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment offers further evidence that cyberpunk sf has now crossed over into the terrain of mainstream critical inquiry, especially studies devoted to the relation between the human body and electronic technologies, between cybernetic theory and popular culture, and between the prospects for political resistance and the evolving socioeconomic forms of contemporary capitalism. Of the fourteen essays gathered in this volume, whose general purpose (according to the editors' introduction) is to study how “developments in technology point towards the possibilities of post-bodied and post-human forms of existence” (2), nine make fairly detailed reference to cyberpunk texts, while two others examine recent “cyborg cinema.” Thus, while not explicitly concerned with issues of genre, contemporary sf literature and film is a major focus of attention, providing not only a series of examples to support the various arguments but also, for many of these...
(The entire section is 2587 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk, in Technology and Culture, Vol. 38, No. 4, October, 1997, pp. 957-59.
[In the following essay, Slade briefly discusses notions about the “technological sublime” in Joseph Tabbi's Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk.]
In a 1932 essay that was once standard reading for students of American literature, Hart Crane insisted that writers had to “absorb” the machine by “acclimatizing” it instead of “pandering” to readers awed by technology. Crane's own awe overwhelmed his hope that literature could domesticate industrial wonders; The Bridge, the vision of a poet ravished by Roebling's masterpiece, genuflects toward networks of transportation, communication, and power. Crane nonetheless believed that the most urgent challenge for the writer was to find a place to stand in a culture defined by science and technology. Crane's dilemma anticipates the thesis of Joseph Tabbi's Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing From Mailer to Cyberpunk: that technological systems not only have supplanted everything else as a ground for the imagination but also have assumed such environmental proportions that writers are often co-opted by the artifice they want to critique.
To an extent Tabbi's book has been preempted by...
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SOURCE: “Modest Reviewer Goes on Virtual Voyage: Some Recent Literature of Cyberspace,” in Technology and Culture, Vol. 39, No. 3, July, 1998, pp. 499-511.
[In the following essay, Bowker reviews several volumes of cyberpunk theory and maintains that the writing of cyberspace has global social significance.]
What is this thing called cyberspace? According to some, we are witnessing the emergence of the global mind: a revolutionary change in human practice of no less import than the invention of printing, or, before it, of language. Most of the contributors to the five books under review here adopt this position—though, like a box of fireworks into which a lighted match has been thrown, they go off dazzlingly, dizzyingly, and often dementedly in different directions from this central starting point.1 According to another view, more sparsely represented in these works, we are doing much the same sorts of things we have always done but with a new spectacle (in the sense of show) to distract our attention from the material world. Those of us surfing the Web also get bad backs and repetitive strain injury and end up working longer hours for relatively less reward.
These volumes hold something like sixty-eight separate contributions, and no single review can hope to do justice to all of them. What I will do is characterize each volume very broadly and then develop two themes...
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Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan. “An Elaborate Suggestion.” Science-Fiction Studies 20 (1993): 457-64.
Reviews Brian McHale's Constructing Postmodernism and explains characteristics of postmodernism and cyberpunk.
Dery, Mark, ed. Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994.
Collection of essays covering most aspects of Internet culture and cyberpunk writing.
Easterbrook, Neil. “The Arc of Our Destruction: Reversal and Erasure in Cyberpunk.” Science-Fiction Studies 19, No. 3 (November 1992): 378-94.
Explains the characteristics and mythologies of cyberpunk and comments on major works within the genre, particularly William Gibson's Neuromancer.
Eriksen, Inge. “The Aesthetics of Cyberpunk.” Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction 53 (Autumn 1991): 36- 46.
Provides a historical perspective for science fiction and cyberpunk, focusing on the development of a cyberpunk aesthetic.
Fisher, Jeffrey. “The Postmodern Paradiso: Dante, Cyberpunk, and the Technosophy of Cyberspace.” Internet Culture, edited by David Porter, pp. 111-28.
Examines affinities between cyberpunk and the medieval concern with disembodiment and transcendence,...
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