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
Rudy Rucker, R. U. Sirius, and Queen Mu, eds.
The Mondo 2000 User's Guide to the New Edge (magazine) 1992
The Female Man (novel) 1975
Frontera (novel) 1984
Slam (novel) 1990
Schismatrix (novel) 1985
Mirrorshades (novel) 1986
Islands in the Net (novel) 1988
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...
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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...
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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...
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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” ), Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, responding to a remark that the conference...
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Criticism: Feminism And Cyberpunk
Nicola Nixon (essay date 1992)
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...
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Anne Balsamo (essay date 1994)
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...
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Karen Cadora (essay date 1995)
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....
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Mary Catherine Harper (essay date 1995)
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...
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Criticism: History And Cyberpunk
Ruth Curl (essay date 1992)
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...
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Erik Davis (essay date 1993)
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...
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Herbet Sussman (essay date 1994)
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...
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Christine Kenyon Jones (essay date 1997)
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...
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Steffen Hantke (essay date 1999)
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....
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Criticism: Sexuality And Cyberpunk
Claudia Springer (essay date 1994)
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.
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Donald Morton (essay date 1995)
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...
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Thomas Foster (essay date 1996)
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...
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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.
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