Cyberpunk, A Lost Genre?

As a child I found myself reading a lot of science fiction. Even as as a kid in elementary school, I’d check out books by Isaac Asimov. Stuff like Venus or The Moon. I didn’t don’t recall a damn thing from those books, but as a kid I was fascinated by planets. Then I found myself nose deep in a book about Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle. Yet, it wasn’t until my school had a program, where you could earn points reading books and taking a quiz on a computer to earn “Mcdonald Bucks”. I’m not sure if that’s what they were called, but I was earning money  to read. So I read lost of stuff. I even took quizes for other people and shared half the points. It was a good business for a kid that liked to read.

I stumbled upon Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology. How or why? I have no idea, but just those final words, “Cyberpunk” echoed in mind. At the time I was also heavy into Hackers, Terminator and the video game Shadowrun and this was the genre that I thought it was made just for me.

So what is cyberpunk? It’s a sub genre mixed in among hundreds of others, like steampunk or dystopian literature but this one is special, at least to me. Cyberpunk is a world where computer and technology has advanced to the point that it’s in everything. You could have implants that let you “jack” into the internet or an eye that zooms and can see the tiniest sand on the farthest beach from a tower miles away.

From Wikipedia:

“Cyberpunk is a postmodern and science fiction genre noted for its focus on “high tech and low life.” The name was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story “Cyberpunk,” published in 1983.It features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.”

So I became a huge Bruce Sterling fan. I”ve read Globalhead, A Good Old-fashioned Future and Crystal Express. I’ve also been in the middle of Schismatrix for over ten years now. Maybe one day I’ll finish it but then what? Where did all the cyberpunk go?

I thought maybe it’s because we are living in that world. The internet has vastly improved, we can reach information at those super sonic speeds, we have devices installed on everything from refrigerators to our cars. Sure they’re not floating yet, but look at those silly Segways, or even motor bikes/cycles. Is that why we don’t see any mainstream cyberpunk anymore?

What about those other “sub-genres”? Steampunk? Do they have a place in today’s mainstream?

They do. So write them, because there are people out there just waiting for that book. Even if it’s in a genre that’s no longer “popular”. Screw vampires. I’m tired of them too. Someone write me some cyberpunk.

I do plan on reading the classics soon and looking for some good self-published stuff. Oh, and Bruce Sterling still knocks some stuff out every couple of years, but I want some home-runs. Any suggestions?

-L. Vera

19 Comments

  1. I’ve heard that come up a lot lately: cyberpunk is a lost genre, it’s dead, not happening anymore.

    But I keep seeing similar tropes in fiction (though they’re not the main focus of the stories, just atmosphere), they just call it post-human or trans-human or something… people with built-in tech, wetware, cybernetics, what-have-you that allow them easy/natural access to the infowebs/information stores/etc (as well as personal enhancements like better vision, strength, built-in med-injectors, built in AI, etc). And if it’s set in the near future, then it’s usually in a pretty dismal setting that, while not post-apocalyptic or dystopian, they’re usually in a world still reeling from the present-day economic and political upheavals. I’d call those aspects of the stories cyberpunk.

    • i do read a lot of dystopian type stuff, but the whole mind jacking or punkish attitude have been lost a bit. I even tried to write a couple shorts, but they just don’t feel the way they should. Know what I mean?

      • Yeah I agree that the “punk” of cyberpunk has gone by the wayside, and for the most part, what I’m seeing is that wetware allows a wireless/cellular connection instead of the need to jack-in. There’s still the person seeking/stealing/sharing information, the megacorporations running governments, and what have you – those elements are just buried with the other elements of the stories, instead of being of the focus: it’s a fact of life instead of a cutting-edge plot device.

        I’ve noticed the same thing with other SF elements: we used to have stories about Moon colonization or Mars colonization or outer-solar system exploration and it had a sense of wonder and potential to it. Now, SF stories have Moon and Mars colonies already flourishing and they’re just another setting or backdrop for story-telling instead of the focus of the story.

        I’m intentionally avoiding the steampunk part of this conversation, as I’m kind of ambivalent to the genre. I don’t dislike it (and I like those aspects when used in Warehouse13), but I don’t seek out steampunk for my own enjoyment.

  2. I strongly agree with Levy, I think it split between techno geek, cyber steam punk, but also apocalyptic, etc.

    While the general term has died, the cyberpunk genre now hides in the new age of sci fi genres. I’ve found a few in thrillers / horrors where technology is designed to beat a new or ancient breed.

    While steam punk itself breeds strong among the old fans, a new base and generation of steampunk fans are growing thanks to the Sherlock movies.

    There has been moments of a sub genre rising to be ‘The genre’ whether we like it or not. And of late, with the rise of post apocalyptic genre, steampunk seems to rise with it as the characters adapt to the new.environment.

  3. Ahhhh those were the days, Playing good old Shadowrun and CP2020.

    I think that the “lost” aspect is mainly due to use getting a taste of the two different aspects of the genre. You mention in the post about how we are more “cyber” these days, what with smartphones practically attached to our heads/hands, internet all over the place and even stuff like AR.
    The punk aspect you don’t really touch on however. If you look at all of the stuff that is happening in society and economics I think we are seeing an equally watered down version of that dystopian punk as we are the cyber of the genre.
    Most cyberpunk games involved Mega-corporations and the down trodden masses. Think Google, Facebook, and Apple then are fairly massive corporations. Then for the downtrodden masses, I can’t seem to make it through a day without someone on the radio going on about austerity measures or some EU country declaring bankrupt. The 99%?
    As with most near future scifi genre, it’s looking at an extreme, and then from where we are now we met it somewhere in the middle.

    Really good post though :) Very thought provoking (as you might have guessed ;) )

  4. Writing a cyberpunk/biopunk novel right now ;-)
    Will try to hurry it up for you :-P

  5. I’ve never read a cyberpunk book before, but it seems like the type I would like. Spread the Cyberpunk love!

  6. William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” didn’t make the list? Nor “Snowcrash”?

    • It’s not really a list. Just books I’ve read. maybe I need to throw up on te blog a list of suggested books.


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