Cyberpunk Sunset

I'm not sure where I picked up the link to this post on the current state of cyberpunk, but I find myself returning to it frequently and becoming incredibly frustrated with the presentation.

In essence the author argues that while the originators of the cyberpunk genre (i.e. Gibson and Sterling, the "White Men") have pronounced cyberpunk "over," the genre is in fact quite vibrant and a prime location for non-mainstream ("other") voices and per perspectives. Also, somehow, the author argues that by denying that cyberpunk continues to be relevant and active we're impinging the diversity that's actively occurring in the space.

My thoughts are pretty simple:

  • This is old news. People have been pronouncing cyberpunk dead since 1992 or thereabouts. And they've largely been right. Cyberpunk died, because the technological horizon 1980s (e.g. BBSs) developed in a particular way. In someways the cyberpunks got it right (there is a digital reality, there are digital natives, and unique digital social conventions.) In many ways no one got it right: more people are using the internet per-capita than anyone thought in 1984 and no one predicted that the internet would be as commercial as it is.

    In light of this the kinds of things that the people active in technology and in cyberpunk are thinking about and addressing have changed a lot. In many ways, Cory Doctorow is a pretty fitting heir to the cyberpunk lineage, but I think it's also true that the cyberpunk tradition has shifted it's focus into other issues and ideas.

    That interest in the present and the near future has always been a significant defining characteristic of cyberpunk, at least as relevant as the DIY and outsider aspect. In this respect, cyberpunk's critique was accepted and quite transformative for the genre.

    At the same time, the "hackers," and "cyberpunks," grew out of academia (e.g. Free Software) and not the punk movement.

  • The cyberpunks, even when (white) men were the front men for the (sub)genre, have always been outsiders. In the 80s were the "Young Turks" of the science fiction world. Samuel Delany's Nova is often cited a key cyberpunk-precursor, and there are some pretty important precursors in Stars in My Pocket, Dhalgren, and The Einstein Intervention.

  • I want to be sure to not forget about Melissa Scott while we're at it. Trouble and her Friends is a great example of using cyberpunk to explore subcultures and experiences of people (queers, PoC, etc.) on the margins. While Trouble is almost on the late end for "original" cyberpunk I think it counts. The blogger seems to think that only queers and PoC and others have only recently taken up cyberpunk, and that seems particularly shortsighted, and not particularly true.

  • One of the most troubling aspects of the argument is the assumption that if "cyberpunk" is over than no one can write cyberpunk anymore and that to declare such would be to silence all of the would be *punks.

    This is absurd.

    Not only is this not true, but it's also not how literature works. I'm also pretty sure that this is not consistent with the origins of cyberpunk, or the way the genre memes play out.

    What I think happened when cyberpunk stopped being on the cutting edge and we realized that a critique of the present required different science fictional method (I think that resurgence in "New Space Opera" in the 90s is part of this, as well as a hard-SF turn in the form of Beggers in Spain and a turn toward alternate histories.) As a result, what's happening cyberpunk has become something closer to fantasy.

    The division (and implications) of the difference between "fantasy" and/or "super soft science fiction" and the science fiction mainstream is at play and probably out side of the scope of this post.

So I'm not that sure where we're left? Am I missing something? Lets hear it out in comments!

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