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Adam Israel
Thoughts on Cyberpunk 
14th-Jul-2007 04:34 pm
I remembered a conversation I had with Charlie Stross at penguicon while I was transporting servers between two data centers.  I asked him what his thoughts were on the future of cyberpunk, to which he replied: "Cyberpunk is dead."  He had a perfectly reasonable explanation, that we are currently living in the cyberpunk era.  To some extent I agree with that, but I think (respectfully) that Charlie is wrong.  I see our current world as pre-cyberpunk.  We are on the cusp of that cyberpunk age but we are not there yet.

For me, it started in late 1990 with the discovery of bulletin board systems (BBS) and Prodigy.  The discovery of that new world where one could communicate with other like-minded people electronically was just the catalyst I needed.  I was in high school at the time, and I was spending an average of four hours a day on Prodigy.  I know this precisely, as my parents received a phone bill totaling close to a thousand dollars for long-distance charges to the nearest access number. That ended my days using Prodigy, but it was too late.  I was changed.

I left home in 1993 for college, as a Computer Science major.  I didn't know what I was going to do exactly, but I still yearned for that connection with other people.  It was there that I discovered the Internet and realized that the world was about to change.  I was sitting in a bank, opening up my first checking account.  I picked up a Wall Street Journal and read an article about the rapid growth of dial-up Internet users.  I don't remember the exact number, but it was at least in the hundreds of thousands per month.  That was the moment I realized that it wasn't just me and the hundreds or thousands I had seen.  It was everywhere. It was growing. It was creating the world I wanted to live in.

Fast-forward to the present.  The Internet is everywhere, via computer, blackberry, iPhone, kiosk, and television.  Our cellular phones, once the size and weight of a brick, fit into our pockets and let us surf the web, check email, send pictures and record our most intimate moments for all to share.  People like me can make a living using nothing but bits pushed across the medium and pixels displayed on a screen.  You can buy food, groceries, entertainment, or just about anything physical without leaving your chair.

We are living in a world few of our parents  ever foresaw.  Is it cyberpunk, though? The signs are there but I don't think we've actually reached that point yet.  We have achieved a new flavor of society where instantaneous communication is not only possible but expected and the power to do so is easily reachable by the masses.  I believe we still have a long way to go.  There are some clearly defined cyberpunk tropes that come to mind that are still in their infant stages: artificial intelligence, transferring consciousness and bio-engineered implants to let us experience vast pools of information more directly.

To me, cyberpunk is very much alive and evolving.  Perhaps it is because I came to the genre after it had gained much of its popularity but as an outsider I see all of the wonderful possibilities it still has to offer. It is nearer to us now than it was in the early days of William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, but it's still far enough away to offer plenty of fodder for storytelling.
15th-Jul-2007 06:11 pm (UTC) - Re: Missing something?
I did notice that all of the cyberpunk I've read dealt with political prediction but I didn't actually realize how much it was a part of the genre. It makes complete sense, though.

If I am understanding cyberpunk correctly now, it's not just a genre in the way that, say, space opera or high fantasy is. Cyberpunk is a child of its times. The world it predicted has arrived, more or less. Under that definition, I understand why it's largely considered to be dead.

The elements that defined cyberpunk, such as politics, economy, technology, and ethics (and the lack thereof), are still relevant and interesting topics to explore and predict. The 'post-cyberpunk' label being used currently is just a way to define those elements and style applied to this generation.

More and more I feel like I should be wary of genre labels. They're useful in identifying target markets for publication but I shouldn't get myself hung up on them. All sorts of possible crossovers exist and it could get pretty maddening to keep track of them all.

Thanks again for all of the information. It has been extremely useful and given me much food for thought. This clarifies some of the issues I'm working through in my short fiction.

15th-Jul-2007 07:13 pm (UTC) - Re: Missing something?
Yeah, consider The Difference Engine and the WW2-era portions of Cryptonomicon to see some of the social strands being used without the early-21st-century trappings that typify the genre.

I myself don't think CP is dead in the least, but, I'm kind of a devotee.
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