M a r k   E v e r g l a d e

Is Cyberpunk Dead? Page II

a night city like cyberpunk 2077 atmosphere

Mark to Bruce:

Can you explain how cyberpunk has changed over the decades, if at all?

Bruce (direct quote):

“A…depressingly mountainous amount of the self-identified cyberpunk fiction I see now is stuck firmly in the 1980s. It's not new, fresh, or original. It's paint-by-numbers Imitation Gibson. It's Blade Runner fan fic, or Akira fan fic, or worse, wannabe Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2077 media tie-in fic. I would dearly love to see a new form of SF emerge that reflects the baseline of now, and begins a whole new series of extrapolations that creates a new consensual vision of a different future. But I think that as long as you're intentionally labeling your fiction as "cyberpunk," you're deliberately handicapping yourself.”

Mark To Joseph:

As an author who erodes the boundaries of genre, do you agree that new cyberpunk authors are better off exploring a new form of fiction that speaks more to the pains of our generation and dropping the term cyberpunk, due to the ways that labels constrain us? What would this new fiction look like?

Joseph:

Because cyberpunk was almost immediately abandoned by its progenitors, or, better, because cyberpunk never had any hard-coded protocols that its not always wiling adherents followed, it’s useful to redefine cyberpunk as cyberpunking, a practice of considering the implications of technology and modernity for the near-future on human society. If the result of cyberpunking looks dystopian, cyberspatial, or genetically modified, it’s because the rise of fascism, technologically infused reality, and eugenics is ever with us.

As humans take to the stars, cyberpunking will look more like space opera, but expressing what the genre will do turns nebulous. It doesn’t do much good to say that a given genre will do what another genre has done, even though it seems certain that various science fiction subgenres will merge and get revised in various ways.

However, let’s consider a definition that’s at the core of what literature is supposed to accomplish—it tells the story of humanity, of man and his culture, of his struggles, his aspirations, his victories, his failures, of the trajectory of man’s cyclical rebirth and entropy. Science fiction is tasked with revising that tale as what it means to be human is altered. I frequently ask people their thoughts about living double the current lifespan of mankind. I also ask them what they think it would be like to live forever or if they’d like to. Surprisingly, I almost never hear someone say they’d like immortality. I imagine people don’t allow themselves to think of it because accepting the certainty of death is a powerful and age-old motivation for structuring life. But that’s why we have to ask such questions. Because man wouldn’t be the same if his lifespan were doubled, tripled, or pushed out toward the boundaries of forever, the life of stars, galaxies, the universe. We are on the cusp of doubling our lifespan, by the way. Well, Jeff Bezos and the billionaire class are. And altering the human so that it is undying is theoretically possible. We’ve just got to override hard-coded aging processes in our biology. We’ll need new stories to make sense of a radically changed existence. Our new heroes won’t be our old heroes.

Mark to Joseph:

How has cyberpunk changed over the decades in your opinion?

Joseph:

Cyberpunk has been such a useful story type that, broadly conceived, it hasn’t really had to change all that much. Gibson extrapolated from the nascence of networked computers and gave us cyberspace, a new way of imagining human consciousness and the systems that make up our societies, whether financial, military, political. One of the difficulties with discovering something like cyberspace is that it’s hard to escape. Like once you discover that the apple keeps falling back to the ground, you can’t abandon that framework. Gravity is ever with you.

But there’s so much to the story of man relating to a technologically oriented world controlled by systems of capital that we can keep retelling it and continue finding new aspects to that world, new aspects to ourselves really.

But I’m taking on the broad picture here. What specific kind of changes or developments have you observed in cyberpunk?  

Mark:

I think the fears have changed that inspire science fiction as a whole. The fears that sci-fi had forty years ago are, hopefully, less relevant today. We’ve sent rovers to Mars and haven’t found aliens. The Cold War is no longer at its peak like it was in 1983. The internet took off in 1991 without many of the fears that authors thought this tech would bring coming to fruition.

I think sci-fi today is addressing different fears. In cyberpunk books like Europa by Elias Hurst there’s this fear of isolation, something that the youngest generations are experiencing at record-high levels, in your book Sherman there’s this fear of ethnocentrism and our nation’s honor being made a mockery of, in The Man with No Name by Tanweer Dar there’s a fear of A.I., and in Hoshi and the Red City Circuit by Dr. Dora Raymaker there’s a fear of human rights being lost for those who are neurodiverse (such as autistic persons).

While some books have covered these topics, we’re basing conflict on a wider range of fears now that represents our zeitgeist. This makes sense, since in the past ethnocentrism was considered a virtue, A.I. didn’t exist, and mental illnesses hadn’t been rightfully described nor was there a great concern for sufferers’ rights (assuming the illnesses are described properly now which is a separate topic). In other words, they weren’t considered problems.

Let me close with Bruce Sterling's comments last year in 2019, "I would not dream of telling a young science fiction writer today to write like a cyberpunk. As a wave crashes to the shore we don't lament the ocean's death, as it brings fresh oxygen. I'm not upset about...cyberpunk being dead, or alive."

Thank you everyone for your time! See YouTube for my extended 90-minute discussion.

Or see the video below for a shorter excerpt on my own channel.

Finally, participate in the discussion on Hacker News and add to the 155 comments here.

Return to Page I