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Cyberpunk is a lot of things to a lot of people and has even elicited splintering, the most famous offshoot being CypherPunk.
Most people date cyberpunk's real beginnings with the fantastic success of WilliamGibson's NeuromancerBook. I suspect it goes back farther than that (help me out, folks), though. Certainly it is deeply related to the noir revival at the beginning of the eighties. The dark broodingness oozes through early cyberpunk.
Cyberpunk is closely associated with transhumanism and Posthumanism, transhumanism being the metamorphosis to posthumanism, posthumanism being the use of cybernetics and computers to interact and communicate with the real world, body modifications common.
Some important elements:
- Near future (mid 21st century);
- Pervasive networking;
- Body modifications, especially digital;
- Drugs, drugs and more drugs;
- Guns. Big guns preferred;
- Individuals versus megaconglomerates;
- Disposable everything;
- Extreme ClassStriation;
- Advertising everywhere;
- A withdrawn middle class (GatedCommunity).
I think that summary pretty much blows it. Cyberpunk novels have a feel to them that is hard to express with cookbook formulae. Read NeuromancerBook, which started it, or SnowCrash, which redefined it.
You may want to read Wiki:CyberPunk, but that will only hurt your head.
Now, someone do a better job at describing cyberpunk, cuz that sucked. ;)
CategoryHacking (the fiction of hacking) CategoryFuturology
CyberPunk has always meant, for me, ScienceFiction which is heavy on the fiction and light on the science. It is the present imitating the future. WilliamGibson has already said the majority of the seemingly sci-fi aspects of his novels actually exist in RealLife - just not in the west. When I first read his novels I didn't realise that Chiba was a RealPlace? in Japan. The TechnologyHappy? Japanese seem futuristic to westerners. This is the present WilliamGibson turns into the future:
- My SF is realistic in that I write about what I see around me. That's why SF's role isn't central to my work. My fiction amplifies and distorts my impressions of the world, however strange that world may be. One of the liberating aspects of SF when I was a teenager was precisely its ability to tune me in to all sorts of strange data and make me realize that I wasn't as totally isolated in perceiving the world as being monstrous and crazy. In the early '60s, SF was the only source of subversive information available to me.
[Study guide to ''Neuromancer'']
One overriding theme of CyberPunk is the notion of reality, or unreality. WilliamGibson has CyberSpace. JeffNoon? has Vurt. And WilliamBurroughs? had heroin. Yes, Burroughs wrote CyberPunk, in my view. The NakedLunch quartet is just as much ScienceFiction as Neuromancer. WilliamGibson cites Burroughs as an influence. So does JeffNoon? - who is also interested in the CutUpFiction? techniques used by Burroughs. Going from Burroughs you come to JgBallard?; his novels deal with dystopian futures - even when they are set in the present. The novel Crash takes the idea of ConsumerFetishism? to its logical extreme - sex, drugs, technology, and a world which is different to the MainStreamWorld? but still a part of it - all very CyberPunk.
The big word in CyberPunk work is CloseExtrapolation. We take a subject that is on the front page of the newspaper and we kick it up a notch.
- The kids are taking designer drugs like ecstacy in clubs? Well, lets redesign drugs to a molecular level, so it'll get me high but not you. I think that was in NeuroMancer?.
- How about the increase of speed of computers, the increase in size of hard drives, browser bookmarks, the increase in availability of ElectronicText? and add in a dollup of conspiracy theory? People get superlaptops with the entirety of the Library of Congress digitized upon them, then link up all the evidence of their favorite conspiracy theory. BruceSterling used this in HeavyWeather.
- Anonymous access to computer networks? People are willing to be and do things that are very different if they know it can't be traced to them? TrueNames?. Vernor Vinge.
- The government does things to soldiers that prove harmful to them after they leave service. "Snake Eyes". Tom Maddox. Brilliant, ultracool stuff.
- Guerilla war in Central America. American troops use drugs. People appeal to luck, coincidence, and magic as their world seems less and less rational. "Life During Wartime". Lucius Sheppard.
- Teenagers take computers and commit crimes with them. BruceBethke. "CyberPunk". In the headlines in today. Written in 1980 or so.
- Cargo cults in the South Pacific collect the flotsam and jetsam of World War II, taking the castoffs of an advanced technology and worshiping it, but not rising above their near Stone-Age existence. "Hinterlands."
- The Russians have armed space stations and are rapidly unable to keep their presence in space functional. People have accidents in space, and wind up scarred and handicapped from them. The American government is largely disinterested in human space exploration, but parts of the American population are still very, very interested. Red Star, Winter Orbit. WilliamGibson
The reason it tended to drop away was that CloseExtrapolation is aiming at a nearby target, and CyberPunk was as close as the suburbs of Tokyo, as close as the stack of pirated copies of Windows in the markets in Hong Kong. It is as close as the usage monitors on your public library's internet-enabled PCs. And people wanted the fantastic, not the front page of the newspaper.
From Dress for Conformity (really, from HeadCrash by BruceBethke), Chapter 9: The Cyberpunk Modality:
- The origins of the word cyberpunk can be traced back to at least 1980, if not further. As it is now the year 2005, it is perhaps time to admit that cyberpunk is no longer a radical vision of the future, but rather a marketing label, and more importanly, a fashion modality, every bit as strict in its own way as the blue-suit-and-wingtip look of IBM or the propellor-beanie-and-Rockport style of Hewlett-Apple.
Neuromancer was Cyberpunk's defining moment for some, once long ago.
The next generation fell for SHODAN's hate-filled deception in System Shock (1 and 2)
You wore neuromancer as a second skin - SHODAN frightened us out of our skins. The overriding feeling here is 'loneliness'
Pattern Recognition by WilliamGibson is pretty much set in the now -- a brilliant example of CloseExtrapolation in which the protagonist, a CoolHunter?, seeks out a brewing plot she seems to have stepped into, all colored with the mystery of her father's disappearance on NineEleven?. -- IanMariano