14 Mark Bould

Reflections on “Cyberpunk”

The word “Cyberpunk” was coined by for the title of a story published in Amazing in 1983, but it came to prominence when appropriated it in his 1984 Washington Post article “SF in the Eighties” to describe fiction by , , , , and Greg Bear. The self- identified core Cyberpunk group consisted of Gibson, Sterling, Shiner, , and . They were also dubbed the Movement, the “ group” and the “outlaw technologists”; their fiction was sometimes called radical hard SF. As “Cyberpunk” circulated more widely following the success of Gibson’s debut (1984), it accreted fresh meanings and applications. To paraphrase Gibson’s famous dictum about human relationships with technology, the street (and the culture industries) found its own uses for “Cyberpunk.” It became an ever-expand- ing term for any slightly edgy artistic or cultural practice concerned with computers and/or the relationships between technology and the body, a synonym for “computer ,” the name of a role-playing game and even the title of a Billy Idol album. Although usually considered to refer to a movement, subgenre or an idiom, “Cyber- ” was also an undeniably commercial label, attracting a lot of attention from readers, writers, journalists, critics, and marketing people. It spawned numerous derivative terms, including “cowpunk,” which described a revitalized fiction (and had already been applied to the music of the Meat Puppets, whose name Gibson borrowed to describe prostitutes with neural blocks); “elfpunk,” which described post- Tolkien with attitude; and “ciderpunk,” a variety of pub rock from England’s West Country. The more significant derivatives were “,” a kind of techno- logical fantasy set in Victorian Britain, exemplified by , , and K.W. Jeter as well as Gibson and Sterling’s (1990) and Rucker’s The Hollow Earth: The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Virginia (1990); “,” extremely gory horror fiction written by Clive Barker, Joe Lansdale 218 Mark Bould and sometimes Shirley; and “ribofunk,” ’s term for his own biotech- nology fictions. In the 1990s, “technogoth” was (perhaps jokingly) announced as a rival to Cyberpunk, although the fiction was undistinguished and indistinguishable, and “bad grrrl Cyberpunk,” a term echoing riot grrrl punk, grouped together Cyber- punk by female writers, including Misha, , and Melissa Scott – by which time, “sci-fiberpunk” was already circulating as a derogatory catch-all for poor Gibson imitations. Bethke said that he intended to “invent a new term that grokked the juxtaposi- tion of punk attitudes and high technology” and so “took a handful of roots – cyber, techno, et al – mixed them up with a bunch of terms for socially misdirected youth, and tried out various combinations until one just plain sounded right” (Bethke). “Cyber” was taken from cybernetics (the Greek root of which means “to steer”), a term coined in 1948 by Norbert Wiener to describe a new science devoted to the study of communication and control systems in animals and machines. It was usually taken to signify the computer networks and cyborging technologies which constituted the essential furniture of Cyberpunk . Typical of Cyberpunk’s vaguely countercul- tural and romantically antiauthoritarian politics, control was generally envisioned not in cybernetic’s neutral descriptive sense but in terms of inherently repressive social structures and institutions, of the “mechanized control of social life, of the body itself” and “the hardening and exteriorization of certain vital forms of knowledge, the crys- tallization of the Cartesian spirit into material objects and commodities” (McCaffery 1991: 185–6). This was not inappropriate: the French “cybernetique” was coined in 1834 to describe the art of governance. “Punk” came from , although earlier usages concerned with worthless- ness, marginality, youthfulness, hooliganism, criminality, and homosexual prostitu- tion resonated with Cyberpunk’s socially excluded, often criminal, characters living in the ruins and in the shadow of multinational capital. Punk can be seen as urban political disaffection expressed through incoherent outbursts against accepted author- ity, whether musical, social, or political. It has been interpreted as a stylization of revolt, a perspective that has in turn resulted in a frequently naïve celebration of inci- dents of resistance as an alternative to revolutionary praxis. Sterling suggested that Cyberpunk was returning SF to its roots, divesting all its excrescences and accretions just as punk “stripped rock and roll of the symphonic elegances of Seventies ‘pro- gressive’ rock” (Sterling 1988: viii). Whether or not Sterling’s comparison holds, Cyberpunk did celebrate punk’s DIY aesthetics. Shirley was a member of various punk bands, including The Panther Moderns. Sterling, under the pseudonym Vincent Omniaveritas, produced and circu- lated the ‘ Cheap Truth (1983–6), in which he launched frequently ad hominem attacks on the state of current SF and formulated the manifesto for a revolution in the ; Shiner contributed pseudonymously as Sue Denim. Rucker used information theory to define both punk and Cyberpunk in terms of their complexity and logical depth before describing a bricoleur’s “Garage Music notion of SF,” in which he would “start with some fairly standard SF notions – , weird drugs, space colonies – Cyberpunk 219 and...then think and think about these notions until the final product is very highly exfoliated” and “keep going back to the beat old clichés, back to the robots and the braineaters and the starships, and...reinvent the field from that, by thinking harder and harder about what it can do” (Rucker 1991: 462). Sterling’s “Green Days in Brunei” (1985) and Shiner’s Slam (1990) celebrate the opportunities that First World garbage provides for the bricoleur. Gibson repeatedly depicted forms of bricolage: Neuromancer refers to dub music, Cornell boxes have an important role in (1986), and the performance artist Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratories appears thinly disguised as Rubin in “The Winter Market” (1986) and as Slick Henry in (1988). And Gibson’s fiction is that of a bricoleur. In The Dif- ference Engine, “[v]irtually all of the interior descriptions, the descriptions of furnish- ings, are simply descriptive sections lifted from Victorian literature” and “sort of air-brushed...with the word-processor” (Fischlin 1992: 9), while Neuromancer’s traces of Dashiell Hammett, , Nelson Algren, J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Robert Stone, Howard Hawks, and John Carpenter are sugges- tive of ’s “random cannibalization of all the styles of the past, the play of random stylistic allusion” (Jameson 1991: 18). Moreover, Neuromancer’s Molly is clearly cobbled together out of Wolverine and Cyclops from ’ X-Men as well as many of the strong and sexy women with a taste for S&M fetishism found in popular culture, including SF characters in ’s “Coming Attraction” (1950), The Avengers (1961–9), Eleanor Arnason’s “The Warlord of Saturn’s Moon” (1974), and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975). Bethke’s coinage of “Cyberpunk” itself depended upon a mechanistic form of brico- lage. He recombined word-fragments to produce a new word which was sufficiently different from existing words to be distinguishable yet, in uniting unanticipated para- digms (cybernetics and rock), sufficiently familiar to be comprehensible. While Bethke’s “until one just sounded right” appears to be a human decision alone, it was dependent upon pre-existing linguistic systems and cultural codes for its construc- tion and acceptance. Lacking the more comprehensively randomizing element of William Burroughs’s cut-up method of prose collage, Bethke’s coining technique is arguably typical of Cyberpunk. Despite resemblances to Burroughsian collage, Cyber- punk was always concerned with “sounding right”; with reconciling such techniques with the demands of conventional narrative; with disciplining, controlling and incor- porating these punkish outbursts; with “airbrushing” over the cracks.

Major Authors and Texts

At the centre of Cyberpunk, both as it developed and in retrospect, is the fiction of William Gibson. He was born in 1948 and emigrated to Canada in 1968. His first story, “Fragments of a Hologram Rose,” was published in Unearth in 1977; another early story, “Hippie Hat Brain Parasite,” was published in Modern Stories, a semi- prozine edited by Shiner. Gibson’s early stories, most of which are collected in Burning 220 Mark Bould

Chrome (1986), hothoused key Cyberpunk images and ideas as well as his distinctive prose style. “” (1981) reduces politics to style and replaces critique with semiotic analysis, mingling modernist architecture and moderne styl- ization with cable TV and porn movies so as to depict an America composed of the ruins of previous Utopian dreams, suggesting that at least our contemporary avoids the totalitarianism implied in H.G. Wells’ and Frank R Paul’s illus- trations. Two other stories sketched the Gibson would develop in Neuromancer and its sequels. “” (1981) – Gibson later wrote the screenplay for Robert Longo’s 1995 film adaptation – offers a memorable analysis of street tough style, and introduces Molly Millions, a street- with retractable scalpel blades beneath her fingernails and surgically implanted mirrorshades. “” (1982) introduces Gibson’s vision of as a virtual realm of abstract geo- metries, colors, and shapes in which criminals avoid ICE – Intrusion Countermea- sures Electronics – while raiding corporate databases. The melancholy of its final paragraph would recur at the conclusion of Neuromancer. From its opening sentence, in which Gibson compares the sky with the color of a dead TV channel, Neuromancer marked the emergence of a major new voice, confi- dently launching the reader into a near-future world in which the natural and the authentic have become meaningless categories. But it was not a modernist vision of efficient machines for living in, as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Things to Come (Menzies 1936), or THX 1138 (Lucas 1971). Rather, Gibson’s imagined future of ubiquitous digital communication and media technologies, artificial intelligences, biotechnological body-modifications, and copies without originals owed more to shabby – like those in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Alphav- ille (Godard 1965), and the fiction of Philip K. Dick and William Burroughs – in which marginalized characters make lives in the detritus and try to avoid institutions of social control. As in (Carpenter 1981) and (Scott 1982), some kind of apocalypse involving social and ecological systems seems to have already happened, and governments and states have become irrelevant. Despite being partly set in the USA, the Neuromancer trilogy does not mention it by name. Neuromancer inaugurated the SF of multinational capital and corporate globaliza- tion, its depiction of information circulating in cyberspace a potent for the global circulation of capital. Bearing traces of American anxieties about the rapid growth of the Pacific Rim economies in its Japanese iconography of yakuza and sarari- men, Kirin beer and pachinko parlors, Neuromancer postulates a world in which power resides with corporations and the key role of any nation lies in the cachet its name can lend to commodities: Russian prosthetics and Chinese nerve splices are notori- ously shoddy, but Brazilian dexedrine, Japanese hypnotics, Mexican silver, German steel, Italian suits, and French fatigues are valued, as much for what they signify as what they do. One of Gibson’s key innovations was to introduce a new kind of speci- ficity to SF. His descriptions of artifacts recognize that technology takes the form of specifically designed commodities, made by corporations and identified by logos: his is a world of Braun coffeemakers and Sony monitors, a world in which one does not Cyberpunk 221 switch on a computer but jacks into an Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7. This fascination with commodities and mediated images recalls Ballard; their rapid obsolescence and decay, Dick. Neuromancer is also Gibson’s most robustly plotted novel, a crime caper drawing together a group of misfits into shifting, temporary, and uneasy alliances as they pursue their own agendas and an ambiguous goal – the potential liberation and merging of two artificial intelligences, one of which has been manipulating them all along. Gibson builds in numerous cliff-hangers as short sections of text alternate between multiple characters, propelling the reader through a disorientating world which the narrator does not always explain. Neologisms and other unfamiliar lin- guistic fragments and conceits abound. Neuromancer was followed by two loosely related sequels, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), in which the world became more familiar as the narra- tives grew more attenuated. Molly is made over into a respectable – and maternal – businesswoman while the consequences and implications of Neuromancer’s denouement fade in significance. After The Difference Engine, Gibson wrote another loose trilogy of thinly plotted (1993), (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999) – set in a Cyberpunk future which more closely resembles our own world. This blurring of imagined future and present day is taken a step further in Pattern Recog- nition (2003), an SF novel about a marketing consultant with an unusual sensitivity to logos (and thus an insight as to their likely success) set in the present day. Gibson has retained the eye for the specificity of objects and the ear for the language of com- modities and the poetry of idiolects which made his early fiction so distinctive. Bruce Sterling was born in 1954. His first story, “Man-Made Self,” was published in the anthology Lone Star Universe (1976). His first novel, the Invo- lution Ocean (1978), barely hinted at what would follow. Although his next novel, The Artificial Kid (1980), also ultimately resolves into a planetary romance, it was – as its almost-synonymic title suggests – well on the way to being Cyberpunk. It opens with a sequence describing a camera viewpoint as it zooms in from orbit above the planet Reverie to focus on the island city of Telset, on “a single block, a single street, a single person, me, and my own image swells to fill the screen” (Sterling 1985: 1). The epony- mous narrator is a combat artist, and this is the title sequence for each of his tapes. A style-obsessed and media-savvy celebrity street-fighter, the Kid is chemically fixed in prepubescence, and never goes anywhere without his cameras circling around, filming him. However, unknown to him, the Kid is a new personality occupying the brainwiped body of an ousted politician. He is accompanied through his adventures by a multisexual combat artist, the resurrected founder of Reverie and a celibate with an unrequited passion for the brainwiped politician. Such Cyberpunk staples as exotic pharmaceuticals, semi-sentient technologies, body-modifications, stylized violence, fashion, glamour, media-awareness, mediated images, an ambivalence towards tran- scendence, and incomprehension in the face of politics are all on display. Sterling’s major contribution to Cyberpunk fiction is Schismatrix (1985) and the five associated “Shaper/Mechanist” stories collected in Crystal Express (1989). Rather 222 Mark Bould than the near-future cislunar setting of Neuromancer, Sterling postulates a of expansion across the solar system as two posthuman factions – the Shapers, who utilize bioengineering, and the Mechanists, who utilize prosthetics to reshape themselves to their new environments and desires – compete for supremacy; his most obvious model was John Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977) and related “Eight Worlds” stories. Computers are largely absent from Schismatrix, and instead there is a focus on the physical transformation of humans into multiple daughter species or “clades,” a term derived from Ilya Prigogine’s nonlinear dynamics or chaos theory. The Shaper/Mechanist conflict can be seen as an unwitting Cold War allegory (by attempt- ing to avoid such parallels, Sterling rejects the stereotypical Manichaean image of nations divided by irreconcilably different social systems and ideologies). Schismatrix treats capitalist economics as being as immutable as the laws of physics, and the Shaper/Mechanist conflict resolves into competing neoimperialist expansions con- cealed behind an apparent politics of life-style choices and the micromanagement of the self. As with Neuromancer, almost anything about human existence can be trans- formed except for a contingent economic system, but unlike Gibson, Sterling does not find this cause for despair. Rather, he projected the of guaranteed individ- ual diversity within an unchanged economic system – which became a central plank of 1990s “Third Way” politics – centuries into the future several years before Francis Fukuyama argued that soi-disant liberal democracy and free markets constituted the end of history. Cyberpunk was sometimes criticized for the superficiality of the futures it depicted, as if fascination with surfaces ruled out substance. Sterling’s Islands in the Net (1988) was perceived as a revisionary text concerned with trying to extrapolate – in a manner reminiscent of ’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Sheep Look Up (1972), and The Shockwave Rider (1975) – a Gibson-esque future from the present moment. Both Islands in the Net and Holy Fire (1996) pay greater attention to the operations of power in the global economic-electronic order. That Sterling’s Heavy Weather (1994) and Distraction (1999) appear rather conventional is testimony to the rapidity with which Cyberpunk was normalized, co-opted, absorbed. That Zeitgeist (2000) and the short stories in Globalhead (1992) and A Good Old-Fashioned Future (1999) retain some of the freshness of the original burst of Cyberpunk is testimony to Sterling’s global sensibility constantly finding that Earth is the alien planet. Sterling’s importance to Cyberpunk goes far beyond his fiction. If Gibson was Cyberpunk’s stylist, Sterling was its propagandist, announcing its arrival and declar- ing its demise. The most significant piece he wrote in this respect is the preface to Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), which he also edited. Conscious of the furore in SF circles produced by Cyberpunk rhetoric about overthrowing outmoded SF forms and replacing a geriatric Old Guard, the preface announced the revolution- ary newness of Cyberpunk while simultaneously situating it in “the sixty-year tradi- tion of modern popular SF” (Sterling 1988: viii), and allied it with both the New Wave and hard SF while finding precursors in both visionary SF and the mainstream: , Samuel Delany, , , , Cyberpunk 223

Ballard, Olaf Stapledon, H.G. Wells, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Philip José Farmer, Varley, Dick, , and all rub shoul- ders in Sterling’s prestigious Cyberpunk lineage (he made up for the omission of by recasting him as a kind of punk rebel in a 1987 Eye column). What is significant about this list is not its transparent attempt to reassure readers that Cyberpunk was a natural development of SF bringing together what was best or most important from all previous types of SF, but the omission of female writers. In the retrenching 1980s, Sterling voiced a peculiarly male conception of what consti- tuted SF. Intentionally or not, he distanced the media-obsessed Cyberpunk from a media SF which was more commonly associated with female audiences and female fandom, while also denying the more truly radical and overtly political feminist SF of the 1960s and 1970s, certain examples of which – James Tiptree’s “The Girl who was Plugged In” (1973), Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) – have good claim to predecessor status. Sterling also situ- ated Cyberpunk at the centre of 1980s pop culture, along with rock video, the hacker underground, hip-hop, scratch music, and rock – a list which sounded dated even then. After all, 1986 was also the year in which Cheap Truth declared that the revolution was over. Sterling’s preface was also a eulogy. The short life-span of Cyberpunk is best illustrated by Lewis Shiner. Born in 1950, he published his first story, “Tinker’s Damn,” in Galileo in 1977. His first and only ineluctably Cyberpunk novel was Frontera (1984). Following near-future apocalyptic convulsions, Earth’s social and economic order has been restructured, ceding power and influence to corporations, one of which – Pulsystems – sends a mission to Mars to seize technologies developed by an abandoned colony. This is not the Mars of plan- etary romance or hard SF: protagonist Kane had “expected something that looked like the future, and what he saw reminded him of a shopping mall in decay: cramped, faded, lived-in” (Shiner 1985: 90). Unaware of the mission’s true goal, Kane – in a neat piece of self-reflexive anxiety – has been fitted with a that forces him to act like a as codified by . Anticipating Gibson, Shiner then turned to fiction set in the present. Sharing Sterling’s global sensibility, Deserted Cities of the Heart (1988) is a fantasy with magic realist aspirations (and some SF props) set in a contemporary, or perhaps parallel, Mexico being torn apart by US imperial- ism and indigenous revolution. Slam (1990) records life on the margins in Texas, replacing the cod-transcendence of cyberspace with the exhilaration of skateboarding and urging the reader to learn to skate the future. Whereas the Neuromancer trilogy tends to depict the marginalized as being capable only of short-term, ad hoc, goal- specific collectivism and being limited to theft and bricolage as means of unprogrammatic resistance, Slam proposes developing this into a kind of anarchist- libertarian praxis. Glimpses (1995) and Say Goodbye: The Laurie Moss Story (1999) pay tribute, respectively, to pre-punk and post-punk rock, the former allegiance evident in the title of the antiwar anthology Shiner edited, When the Music’s Over (1991). Some of his short fiction is collected in Nine Hard Questions about the Nature of the Universe (1990) and The Edges of Things (1991). 224 Mark Bould

John Shirley was born in 1954. His first story, “The Word ‘Random,’ Deliberately Repeated” appeared in the anthology Clarion (1973). His earliest novels are either sur- realist SF – Transmaniacon (1979), Three-Ring Psychus (1980) – or horror – Dracula in Love (1979), The Brigade (1982), Cellars (1982) – or sharecropped survivalist fiction – between 1984 and 1987 he wrote up to ten novels in the Traveler series as by D.B. Drumm. Of his early novels, City Come A-Walkin’ (1980) is the most significant. Its grim and violent vision of urban life and its plot anticipate Neuromancer, albeit with a supernatural manifestation of the city playing the part Cyberpunk would give to an AI. In addition to several short stories, including “Sleepwalkers” (1988), and “Wolves of the Plateau” (1988), and his punk rock credentials, Shirley’s major contribution to Cyberpunk was his A Song Called Youth trilogy. Eclipse (1985), Eclipse Penumbra (1988), and Eclipse Corona (1990) depict a world in upheaval following a third world war. Thriving on the chaos, the neofascist Second Alliance strives for global supremacy. The only coordinated opposition coming from the ragtag but technologically savvy New Resistance. Ambitious in scope, and replete with such Cyberpunk staples as media-manipulation, invasive technologies, drugs, and fashion, the trilogy often falls back into the rough-edged hackwork of his sharecropped novels and lacks the hallu- cinatory intensity and visceral imagery of his best writing. Although it is not free from Cyberpunk’s political naïveté, the trilogy nonetheless clearly demonstrates a troubled awareness of the rise of the new right and its obeisance to multinational capital and corporate power. Whether SF or horror, his later novels – A Splendid Chaos: An Interplanetary Fantasy (1988), In Darkness Waiting (1988), Wetbones: A Novel (1992), Silicon Embrace (1996) – display a sense of impatience, both with genre divisions and with writing. He remains a better writer than novelist, but in his collec- tions – Heatseeker (1988), New Noir (1993), The Exploded Heart (1996), Butter- flies: A Flock on the Dark Side (1998), and Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories (1999) – a growing conservatism can be discerned. Rudy Rucker was born in 1946. “Faraway Eyes,” his first short story, appeared in Analog in 1980. Much of his short fiction – the most comprehensive collection is Gnarl (2000) – and most of his novels – including , or What is Cantor’s Continuum Problem? (1980), Space-Time Donuts (1981), The Sex Sphere (1983), (1984), The Secret of Life (1985), and (1995) – are exuberant semi-autobiographical comedies concerned with mathematics and/or computers, written under the influence of Edwin Abbott, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Sheckley. Consequently, if Cyberpunk is something more than just five writers from the same generation who emerged at the same time and became friends and collabo- rators, then Rucker is the most difficult of the initial group to think of as being a Cyberpunk. The “bopper” novels – (1982), (1988), Freeware (1997), and Realware (2000) – incorporate a number of Cyberpunk tropes, including sentient machines, downloaded personalities, drugs, biotechnology, , , and attempts at technologically achieved transcendence, into the familiar Rucker blend, albeit with a future setting. Rucker calls his robots “boppers” and sets some of the action in the lunar crater Maskelyne; Gravity’s Rainbow refers to robobop- Cyberpunk 225 sters and the same crater. But despite foregrounding Pynchon as an influence, the novels are still rather closer to Dick’s ad hoc philosophical slapstick than to Pynchon or, indeed, to the Cyberpunk of Gibson or Sterling. As with the other , the music to which Rucker pays tribute is from a pre-punk generation, arguing that if you were a hippie “for the right reasons – a hatred of conformity and a desire to break through to higher ” (Rucker 1991: 459) then you would also like punk. However, he is the oldest of the Cyberpunks and his fiction has always seemed to be from a slightly older generation, not least in its preference for cannabis and marijuana over heroin and speed and its enthusiasm for transcendent experiences about which the other Cyberpunks – especially the youngest, Shirley – are rather more ambivalent.

Pre-Cyberpunk, Fellow-Travelers, Post-Cyberpunk

Early commentators often evoked Cyberpunk precursors. Missing from those named above are Bernard Wolfe’s cybernetic dystopia Limbo (1952); and Cyril Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1953) and Wolfbane (1957); Anthony Burgess’s yob dystopia A Clockwork Orange (1962); John Sladek’s The Müller-Fokker Effect (1970), a metafiction about a downloaded personality, dehumanization, and the nature of nar- rative; Mick Farren’s protopunk SF; Alvin Toffler’s futurological speculations; and Gregory Benford’s “Doing Lennon” (1975), ’s Michaelmas (1977), and ’s “” (1981), all of which preempted much of Cyberpunk’s furniture but demonstrated little of its style or attitude. Rollerball (Jewison 1975) envisioned a future dominated by corporations and, like Death Race 2000 (Bartel 1975), a population media-narcotized by spectacular violence. Grim futures of per- petual Thatcherism and social breakdown dominated the British comic 2000AD from its in 1977; this was echoed in Brazil (Gilliam 1985) and in (Morton and Jankel 1985), which transformed into something more Cyberpunk-ish with The Max Headroom Show (1987). Alien (Scott 1979) anticipated Cyberpunk’s cap- italist future and its fascination with physical transformation. Videodrome (1983), the most accomplished of ’s ironic interrogations of the visceral, fea- tured shady corporations, global conspiracies, cyborging technologies, body- modifications, and mutilations produced by the media itself and a self-conscious narrative incoherence. It also provided the Cyberpunk mantra, “Long live the new flesh.” Tron (Lisberger 1982) contained the first comprehensive attempt to imagine a computer’s virtual dataspace. Alphaville successfully blended dystopian SF with film noir, as did Blade Runner, a movie from which Gibson is reputed to have fled because it too closely resembled the world he was imagining. Although it does not give computers the prominence they would receive in Cyberpunk fiction, Blade Runner’s fascination with corporations, posthuman life-forms, the fragmentation of society into identity-groups and, above all, the retrofitted architecture and accreted detritus of urban life renders it the most influential visual evocation of a Cyberpunk future. Other 226 Mark Bould

filmic precursors include Westworld (Crichton 1973), Demon Seed (Cammell 1977), and Brainstorm (Trumbull 1983) as well as the punkish “postfuturist SF” (Sobchack 1991) of Born in Flames (Borden 1983), Liquid Sky (Tsukerman 1983), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (Richter 1984), and Repo Man (Cox 1984). Cyberpunk was related to a number of non-SF authors who demonstrated varieties of science-fictional sensibility. Joseph McElroy’s dense and poetic Plus (1976) recounts the coming-to-awareness and rebellion of a dead engineer’s brain which has been trans- planted into an orbiting communications satellite. Ted Mooney’s Easy Travel to Other Planets (1981) is a preapocalyptic tale about information sickness. Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985) powerfully evokes a world lost in simulations and simulacra, the desert of the real. William T. Vollmann’s You Bright and Risen Angels: A Cartoon (1987) is an hallucinatory, improvised phantasmagoria about industrialization, sexual desire, and the war between the bugs and the inventors of electricity. Mark Leyner’s My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (1990) collects comic hyperreal fragments, patchworks of medical, scientific, and literary-critical discourses, allusions to popular culture and occasional hints of plot; on some level, each story is about the density of information and the speed at which it circulates in postmodernity. Kathy Acker’s Empire of the Senseless (1988) incorporates passages from Gibson, while Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It (aka Body of Glass 1991) is a more obviously feminist, if also rather conservative, revision of Cyberpunk’s central tropes. Other SF authors soon became associated with Cyberpunk, most immediately Pat Cadigan, whose “Rock On” (1984) and “Pretty Boy Crossover” (1986), collected in Patterns (1989), imagine computer-assisted cyborging developments in the popular music . Her first novel, Mindplayers (1987), reworks the central conceit – a psy- chotherapist entering patients’ psychic landscapes – of ’s The Dream Master (1966). Synners (1991) was a more accomplished attempt to flesh out a Gibson- esque future, focusing on a group of , video artists, and simulation creators as a virus is unleashed into the global computer network, threatening to bring it all to an end. The more economical Fools (1992) put questions of identity firmly at the centre of its headlong, disorientating narrative. Tea from an Empty Cup (1998) and its sequel Dervish is Digital (2000) are less substantial returns to a Cyberpunk milieu, but Cadigan’s grasp of the economics of life online is nowhere more clearly stated. In Greg Bear’s Blood Music (1985), a scientist transforms human DNA cells into com- puters, not anticipating that they will develop individual and collective conscious- ness. Accidentally unleashed, they restructure much of the planet’s biomass into a single transcendent consciousness. The novel, which echoes Arthur C. Clarke’s Child- hood’s End (1953) and John Sladek’s The Reproductive System (1968), negotiates between more traditional hard SF and the emergent Cyberpunk imagery of networked artifi- cial intelligences. More straightforwardly Cyberpunk-ish are Bear’s Queen of Angels (1990), featuring a police procedural and the coming-to-consciousness of an AI in a world transformed by nanotechnology, and its sequel / (aka Slant (1997). K.W. Jeter’s Dr. Adder (1984) anticipated Cyberpunk’s blasted urban arenas and body- modification technologies; written in 1972 and long-championed by Dick, it went Cyberpunk 227 unpublished for over a decade and thus always seemed belated. His Death Arms (1987) and Farewell Horizontal (1989) are unexceptional, but The Glass Hammer (1985) suc- cessfully reworks Death Race 2000 and Zelazny’s Damnation Alley (1969) as a Cyber- punk exploration of mediation and transcendence incorporating Dick-ian concerns with epistemology, theology, and ontology. Jeter has also written three sequels to Blade Runner and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the most Dick-ian being Blade Runner 3: Night (1996). Cyberpunk quickly attracted comic treatment. Marc Laidlaw’s virtual comedy Dad’s Nuke (1985) satirizes gated communities, Christian fundamentalism, the arms race, and other forms of conspicuous consumption. Richard Kadrey’s Metrophage (1988) rewires Cyberpunk by returning to its hard-boiled roots in Hammett and Chandler; its teeters on the brink of parody. Kim Newman’s The Night Mayor (1989) lays bare one part of Cyberpunk’s ancestry, imag- ining a virtual dream-space constructed from film noir imagery. Other comic revisions include Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland (1990), Bethke’s (1995), ’s (1992), ; or, the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995), Cryptonomicon (1999), and Tricia Sullivan’s Maul (2003). Misha’s Red Spider White Web (1990) intensifies Cyberpunk attention to detail into the kind of surreal density more typically found in comic books by Moebius, , Katsuhiro Ôtomo, or Warren Ellis, whereas George Alec Effinger’s (1987) and its sequels were more conservative, relocating Cyberpunk to a not-so-near-future North Africa populated by more rounded characters. ’s Ambient (1987) and its prequels and sequels depict the collapse of the present into a nightmare future of urban disintegration and corporate domination; time-travel into that future’s alternative pasts suggest that it is the best of all possi- ble worlds. Jeff Noon’s Vurt (1993) and Pollen (1995), set in south-central Manches- ter, reimagine virtuality in terms of reality-shuffling hallucinogens. By emphasizing physical sensation both within and without virtual environments, Lisa Mason’s Arachne (1990) and Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends (1994) foreground the embodiedness of the virtual subject that Gibson, or at least his characters, denied, while Candas Jane Dorsey’s “(Learning About) Machine Sex” (1988) lambasts Cyber- punk’s inherent phallocentrism. ’s Escape Plans (1986), retooling an older anti-Utopian tradition, reminds the reader that posthumanity and other forms of technological transcendence will, like all commodities, be produced for the few by exploiting the many – a lesson reiterated in Jeter’s grimly Gothic Noir (1998). As the diversity of the above examples indicates, the ideas and imagery that Cyberpunk brought to the fore impacted upon SF with astonishing speed, producing much that was innovative and fresh as well as the merely imitative. Other writers, such as Michael Blumlein, Jonathan Lethem, Maureen F. McHugh, , and , had only a tangential relationship to Cyberpunk fiction but in some sense seemed to be enabled by it. The influence of Cyberpunk can be detected on a whole generation of British SF writers, including Neal Asher, Steve Aylett, Eric Brown, Richard Calder, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Peter F. Hamilton, Simon Ings, 228 Mark Bould

Gwyneth Jones, Roger Levy, Paul McAuley, Ken MacLeod, John Meaney, Richard Morgan, Alastair Reynolds, Justina Robson, Michael Marshall Smith, and Charles Stross. As the bloatedness of Total Recall (Verhoeven 1990), Strange Days (Bigelow 1995), trilogy (Wachowski and Wachowski 1999, 2003, 2003) and the RoboCop and Terminator sequels attest, the Anglophone movies that most nearly approximate Cyberpunk tend to be either relatively low-budget or relatively inde- pendent productions, such as The Terminator (Cameron 1984), RoboCop (Verhoeven 1987), Hardware (Stanley 1990), Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (Blair 1991; reissued as Waxweb, a hypermedia version (1999), Cube (Natali 1997), New Rose Hotel (Ferrara 1998), Dark City (Proyas 1998), Pi (Darren Aronofsky 1998), Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakno (Nam Gee-woong 2000), and Cypher (Natali 2003). The impact of Cyberpunk on non-Anglo-American SF is harder to judge, although in a Cyberpunk imaginary quickly became evident in both and . Indeed, the nearest thing to an unequivocally Cyberpunk cinema comes from Japan, in anime like (Ôtomo 1988), Patlabor 2 (Oshii 1993), and (Oshii 1995), and live-action movies like Gunhed (Masato Harada 1989), Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Tsukamoto 1989), Tetsuo 2: Bodyhammer (Tsukamoto 1991), Fist (Tsukamoto 1996), Avalon (Oshii 2000), and A Snake of June (Tsukamoto 2002).

Critical Responses

The SF community greeted Cyberpunk with mixed feelings. George Turner and Gregory Benford mocked its pretensions to hard SF. In a pair of columns in ’s Science Fiction in 1986 and 1989, Norman Spinrad demonstrated considerable ambivalence, finding much that was familiar in Cyberpunk novels by Gibson, Shirley, Bear, Sterling, Rucker, and Shiner, and launching an attempt to rename the Cyberpunks as “the neuromantics” (presumably intended as an insult, punning on the music which followed punk). In articles in Asimov’s in 1986 and Science Fiction Eye in 1987, Michael Swanwick and John Kessel grouped themselves together with , Pat Murphy, , and Kim Stanley Robinson as authors who could be seen to be building on a tradition of human- ist SF writers – including Dick, Thomas Disch, , Ursula Le Guin, Walter Tevis, and Gene Wolfe – and to offer a humanist alternative to Cyberpunk. If all this interest was only to be expected in the SF community, the academic response to Cyberpunk was unprecedented. published its first article on Blade Runner in 1987, and its first article on Neuromancer in 1990; but between these two pieces the journal had also hosted an exchange between John Fekete, who offered a poststructuralist critique of Marxist representationalism, and Marc Angenot and Darko Suvin, who identified the politically debilitating of such a position. The tide, however, was with Fekete, as varieties of poststructural- ism and postmodernism came to dominate cultural criticism – and Science Fiction Studies – throughout the 1990s. The new critical paradigms derived from the work Cyberpunk 229 of Jean Baudrillard on simulations and simulacra, Judith Butler on the performativ- ity of identity, Guy Debord on the spectacle, Donna Haraway on subjectivity, on the cultural logic of late , Arthur Kroker on panic culture, and Jean-François Lyotard on the death of metanarratives seemed to share per- spectives and concerns with Cyberpunk. (And the traffic went both ways – in 1990, Sterling wrote an essay on Baudrillard for Monad, and his contribution to Arthur and Marilouise Kroker’s Digital Delirium [1997] precedes Baudrillard’s; ’s Halo [1991] focuses its Cyberpunk apparatus on the nature of artificial intelligence, but also quotes Baudrillard and Haraway.) It was this conjunction that led to the critical apotheosis of an SF subgenre. Commentary on Cyberpunk was not restricted to SF journals like Extrapolation and Foundation. There were special issues of Critique, The Mississippi Review, and The South Atlantic Quarterly (see Dery 1994), as well as extended laudatory treatment in glossy like Omni and Wired. Whereas the Fiction 2000 conference (see Slusser and Csicsery-Ronay), cosponsored in 1989 by the University of Leeds and the University of California at Riverside, drew upon the SF academic community, the Virtual Futures conferences at the University of Warwick in the mid-1990s brought together a much wider variety of academics and practitioners but effectively ignored SF, reduced Cyberpunk to Blade Runner and Neuromancer, and subsumed it – along with techno, body-modification subcultures, various online communities, and experiments in vir- tuality, and performance artists like Orlan, Stelarc, and Survival Research Laborato- ries – into a broader cultural movement or moment or trend also sometimes called, confusingly, Cyberpunk (see Dixon and Cassidy). The critical response to Cyberpunk fiction saw many exaggerated claims about its nature and significance. Allucquere Rosanne Stone divided the history of the Western world since the mid-1600s into four epochs, each initiated by a technologically generated “change in the character of human communication” (Stone 1991: 85), with Neuromancer marking the beginning of the fourth epoch, that of and cyberspace. argued that Gibson’s fiction was proleptic not only of changes in the nature of communications and society but also in the nature of what it means to be human, claiming that Neuromancer was “nothing less than the under- lying myth, the core legend, of the next stage of human evolution” (Kellner 1995: 298). Such hyperbole made Jameson’s suggestion that Cyberpunk represents “the supreme literary expression if not of postmodernism, then of itself” (Jameson 1991: 419) seem understated. While George Slusser dubbed Cyberpunk “literary MTV” (McCaffery 1991: 334), Brian McHale treated it as emerging from feedback relationships between SF and a “postmodernist mainstream fiction which has already been ‘science-fictionalized’ to some degree” (McCaffery 1991: 315). Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. described Cyberpunk as “implosive” SF about hallucination and derangement which located “SF problemat- ics not in imperial adventures among the stars, but in the body-physical/body-social and a drastic ambivalence about the body’s traditional – and terrifyingly uncertain – integrity” (McCaffery 1991: 188). Veronica Hollinger contended that Cyberpunk’s 230 Mark Bould cyborging posthumanism “radically decenters the human body, the sacred icon of the essential self, in the same way that the virtual reality of cyberspace works to decen- ter conventional humanist notions of an unproblematic ‘real’” (McCaffery 1991: 207). Joan Gordon found in Cyberpunk’s “motif of the journey to the underworld” the pos- sibility for a covert feminist SF to “acknowledge our full female identity” (McCaffery 1991: 200–1), whereas Nicola Nixon argued that Cyberpunk relegated SF’s political potential “to a form of scary feminized software,” creating “an alternative, attractive, but hallucinatory world which allows not only a reassertion of male mastery but a virtual celebration of a kind of primal ” (Nixon 1992: 231). A decade later, Carl Freedman excoriated Cyberpunk for its tedious cynicism, sen- timentality, conservative reassurances, and nostalgia, its acceptance “of an ultracom- modified global totality increasingly difficult to comprehend and increasingly resistant to the counter hegemonic projects of praxis” and its “banal, cringing sur- render before the same actuality so lyrically celebrated by the apologists of capital” (Freedman 2000: 197, 198). In contrast, reviewing Pattern Recognition, Jameson noted a convergence between Gibson and “the ‘Cyberpunk’ with which he is often associ- ated, but which seems more characteristically developed” in Sterling’s “Hunter- Thompsonian global tourism” fiction (Jameson 2003: 105, 107). In Gibson and Sterling, “technological speculation and fantasy of the old Toffler sort takes second place to the more historically original literary vocation of a mapping of the new geopo- litical imaginary,” and together they constitute “a kind of laboratory experiment in which the geographical-cultural light spectrum and bandwidths of the new system are registered” (Jameson 2003: 107). Between them, Freedman and Jameson demonstrate that there is still no consen- sus reply to the question Darko Suvin posed in 1991: “is Cyberpunk the diagnostician of or the parasite on a disease?” (McCaffery 1991: 364).

References and Further Reading

Bethke, Bruce Foreword to “Cyberpunk” at http:// Featherstone, Mike (ed.) (1995) Cyberspace/ www.users.zetnet.co.uk/iplus/stories/cpunk.htm Cyberbodies/ Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Butler, Andrew M. (2000) Cyberpunk. Harpenden: Embodiment. : Sage. Pocket Essentials. Fischlin, Daniel (1992) “‘The Charisma Leak’: A Critique Studies in Contemporary Fiction 33.iii (Spring Conversation with William Gibson and Bruce 1992) Issue on Postmodern Science Fiction. Sterling.” Science Fiction Studies 56, 1–16. Dery, Mark (ed.) (1994) Flame Wars: The Discourse Freedman, Carl (2000) Critical Theory and Science of Cyberculture. Durham, NC and London: Duke Fiction. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press/ University Press. University Press of New England. —— (1996) Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of Gray, Chris Hables (ed.) (1995) The Cyborg Hand- the Century. London: Hodder and Stoughton. book. London and New York: Routledge. Dixon, Joan Broadhurst and Eric J. Cassidy (eds) Hayles, N. Katherine (1999) How We Became Post- (1998) Virtual Futures: Cyberotics, Technology and Human. Chicago and London: University of Post-Human Pragmatism. London and New York: Chicago Press. Routledge. Heuser, Sabine (2003) Virtual Geographies: Cyberpunk 231

Cyberpunk at the Intersection of the Postmodern and Nixon, Nicola (1992) “Cyberpunk: Preparing the Science Fiction. Amsterdam and New York: Ground for the Revolution or Keeping the Boys Rodopi. Satisfied?” Science Fiction Studies 57, 219–35. Jameson, Fredric (1991) Postmodernism, or, The Rucker, Rudy (1991) “What is Cyberpunk?” In Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Transreal! Englewood: WCS, 457–63. Verso. Shiner, Lewis (1985) Frontera (1984). London: ——(2003) “Fear and Loathing in Globalization.” Sphere. New Left Review 23, 105–14. Shirley, John (1987) “Cyberpunk or Cyberjunk? Kellner, Douglas (1995) Media Culture: Cultural Some Perspectives on Recent Trends in SF.” Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and Science Fiction Eye 1.i (Winter), 43–51. the Postmodern. London: Routledge. Slusser, George and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. (eds) Kraus, Elisabeth, and Carolin Auer (eds) (2000) (1992) Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Simulacrum America: The USA and the Popular Narrative. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Media. Rochester, NY and Woodbridge: Press. Camden House. Sobchack, Vivian (1991) Screening Space: The Amer- Kraus, Elisabeth (2000) “Real Lives Complicate ican . New York: Ungar. Matters in Schroedinger’s World: Pat Cadigan’s Sterling, Bruce (1985) The Artificial Kid. Har- Alternative Cyberpunk Vision,” in Future mondsworth: Penguin. Females, The Next Generation, (ed.) Marleen S. —— (ed.) (1988) Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Barr. Lanham, MD and Oxford: Rowan & Anthology (1986). London: Paladin. Littlefield, 129–42. —— (1991) “Cyberpunk in the Nineties.” Inter- McCaffery, Larry (ed.) (1991) Storming the Reality zone 48 (June), 39–41. Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Stone, A.R. (1991) “Will the Real Body Please Science Fiction. Durham, NC and London: Duke Stand Up? Boundary Stories about Virtual Cul- University Press, 334–42. tures,” in Cyberspace: First Steps, (ed.) Michael Minnesota Review (1994/5) Cyberpunk issue. 43/44. Benedikt. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 81–118.