Cyberpunk Essay - Critical Essays




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.

Representative Works

Greg Bear
Blood Music (novel) 1986

Gregory Benford
Great Sky River (novel) 1987

Emma Bull
Bone Dance (novel) 1991

Pat Cadigan
Mindplayers (novel) 1989
Synners (novel) 1991
Fools (novel) 1992

William Gibson
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

Joe Haldeman
Worlds: A Novel of the Near Future (novel) 1981
Worlds Apart (novel) 1983
Tool of the Trade (novel) 1987

Donna Haraway
“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

Lisa Mason
Arachne (novel) 1990

Maureen McHugh
China Mountain Zhang (novel) 1992

Red Spider White Web (novel) 1990

Laura Mixon
Glass Houses (novel) 1992

Thomas Pynchon
Gravity's Rainbow (novel) 1973

Mary Rosenblum
Chimera (novel) 1993

Rudy Rucker
Software (novel) 1982

Rudy Rucker, R. U. Sirius, and Queen Mu, eds.
The Mondo 2000 User's Guide to the New Edge (magazine) 1992

Joanna Russ
The Female Man (novel) 1975

Lewis Shiner
Frontera (novel) 1984
Slam (novel) 1990

Bruce Sterling
Schismatrix (novel) 1985
Mirrorshades (novel) 1986
Islands in the Net (novel) 1988

Sue Thomas
Correspondence (novel) 1991

James Tiptree, Jr.
The Girl Who Was Plugged In (novella) 1973

Walter Jon Williams
Hardwired (novel) 1989

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

John Fekete (essay date 1992)

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...

(The entire section is 4195 words.)

Lance Olsen (essay date 1992)

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...

(The entire section is 3917 words.)

Robert Crossley (essay date 1993)

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...

(The entire section is 4984 words.)

Rob Latham (essay date 1993)

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” [279]), Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, responding to a remark that the conference...

(The entire section is 3034 words.)