Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! No Flash necessary and runs on all devices. ×

Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto 64

Lawrence Person writes "With Neil Stephenson and Bruce Sterling hot topics of interest here on Slashdot, I thought my "Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto" might help add to /.'s SF debate. This originally appeared last year in an issue of Nova Express, the Hugo-nominated small press SF magazine I edit. However, though it's been translated into Portugese, it's never appeared on the web before. It discusses exactly why original cyberpunk works like Neuromancer were important, and why the work people like Stephenson, Sterling, Egan, Macleod, etc. are doing right now should more properly be thought of as postcyberpunk.

Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto

by Lawrence Person

"Critics, myself included, persist in label-mongering, despite all warnings; we must, because it's a valid source of insight-as well as great fun."

- Bruce Sterling, from the introduction to Mirrorshades

Bud, from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, is a classic cyberpunk protagonist. An aggressive, black-leather clad criminal loner with cybernetic body augmentations (including a neurolinked skull gun), Bud makes his living first as a drug runner's decoy, then by terrorizing tourists for money.

All of which goes a long way toward explaining why his ass gets wasted on page 37 of a 455 page novel.

Welcome to the postcyberpunk era.

Arguably, science fiction entered the postcyberpunk era in 1988 with the publication of Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net. Just as Sterling's The Artificial Kid encapsulated many of cyber-punk's themes before the movement had a name, Islands in the Net prefigured a growing body of work that can (at least until someone comes up with a better name) be labeled postcyberpunk. But to understand postcyberpunk, it's important to distinguish what cyberpunk was (and wasn't) about.

Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datsphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body. William Gibson's Neuromancer is, of course, the archetypal cyberpunk work, and this (along with early Gibson short fiction like "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Burning Chrome," The Artificial Kid, and the odd John Shirley work) is whence the "high tech/low life" cliché about cyberpunk and its imitators came.

The black-leather-and-chrome surface gloss was in large measure what attracted media attention, but isn't what made cyberpunk the most important science fiction literary movement since the New Wave. Cyberpunk's lasting impact came not from the milieu's details, but the method of their deployment, the immersive worldbuilding technique that gave it such a revelatory quality (what John Clute, speaking of Pat Cadigan, called "the burning presence of the future"). Cyberpunk realized that the old SF stricture of "alter only one thing and see what happens" was hopelessly outdated, a doctrine rendered irrelevant by the furious pace of late 20th century technological change. The future isn't "just one damn thing after another," it's every damn thing all at the same time. Cyberpunk not only realized this truth, but embraced it. To paraphrase Chairman Bruce, cyberpunk carried technological extrapolation into the fabric of everyday life.

The best of cyberpunk conveyed huge cognitive loads about the future by depicting (in best "show, don't tell" fashion) the interaction of its characters with the quotidian minutia of their environment. In the way they interacted with their clothes, their furniture, their decks and spex, cyberpunk characters told you more about the society they lived in than "classic" SF stories did through their interaction with robots and rocketships.

Postcyberpunk uses the same immersive world-building technique, but features different characters, settings, and, most importantly, makes fundamentally different assumptions about the future. Far from being alienated loners, postcyberpunk characters are frequently integral members of society (i.e., they have jobs). They live in futures that are not necessarily dystopic (indeed, they are often suffused with an optimism that ranges from cautious to exuberant), but their everyday lives are still impacted by rapid technological change and an omnipresent computerized infrastructure.

Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age is perhaps the most popular postcyberpunk novel, though also worthy of consideration are Bruce Sterling's Islands in the Net and Holy Fire, Ian McDonald's Necroville (aka Terminal Cafe), Ken MacLeod's The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal, Greg Bear's Queen of Angels, Slant, and (parts of) Moving Mars, Raphael Carter's The Fortunate Fall, some of Greg Egan's work (Egan novels like Permutation City and Diaspora are so wildly extrapolative that it's hard to fit them into any category), and the first hundred pages or so of Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi (among others).

Like their cyberpunk forebears, postcyberpunk works immerse the reader in richly detailed and skillfully nuanced futures, but ones whose characters and settings frequently hail from, for lack of a better term, the middle class. (And we do need a better term; here in the United States, economic mobility has rendered the concept of "class" nearly obsolete.) Postcyberpunk characters frequently have families, and sometimes even children. (Children, rather than plucky, hyperintelligent, and misunderstood teenage protagonists, being creatures all too lacking in most science fiction.) They're anchored in their society rather than adrift in it. They have careers, friends, obligations, responsibilities, and all the trappings of an "ordinary" life. Or, to put it another way, their social landscape is often as detailed and nuanced as the technological one.

Cyberpunk characters frequently seek to topple or exploit corrupt social orders. Postcyberpunk characters tend to seek ways to live in, or even strengthen, an existing social order, or help construct a better one. In cyberpunk, technology facilitates alienation from society. In postcyberpunk, technology is society. Technology is what the characters breathe, eat, and live in (in the case of Walter Jon William's Aristoi or Greg Egan's Diaspora, live in the literal sense of the word, with their selves (in part or in toto) immersed in the datasphere). Postcyberpunk characters dwell in what Sterling has dubbed "permanent technological revolution" even as we do today.

Cyberpunk tended to be cold, detached and alienated. Postcyberpunk tends to be warm, involved, and connected. (A nod here to Paul di Filippo's half-serious "Ribofunk" manifesto.) Cyberpunk tended toward the grim, while postcyberpunk is frequently quite funny (parts of The Diamond Age shine most brightly in this respect, as do Ken MacLeod's works.) It could even be argued that postcyberpunk represents a fusion of the cyberpunk/humanist schism of the 1980s, but: A.) I'm happy leave that particular can of worms to braver (or more foolhardy) souls, and B.) Though many a cyber-punk's work has become more humanized, the reverse doesn't seem to be true (John Kessel's recapitulation of Shiner & Sterling's "Mozart in Mirrorshades" in Corrupting Dr. Nice notwithstanding).

It may have been Isaac Asimov (though I first heard it via Howard Waldrop) who said there were three orders of science fiction, using the automobile as an example. Man invents the automobile and uses it to chase down the villain: adventure fiction. Man invents the automobile, and a few years later there are traffic jams: social problem fiction. In the third type, man invents the automobile, and another man invents moving pictures: fifty years later, people go to drive-in movies. It is this third order of fiction, social fabric fiction, that was at the heart of cyberpunk. Yet many a cyberpunk tale used classic plot devices (plucky young rebels topple decaying social order, etc.) to explore such issues. The best postcyberpunk moves further into third-order science fiction, the plot arising organically from the world it's set in.

Gardner Dozois's influential 1970s essay "Living the Future: You Are What You Eat" made this very point, noting that future societies should be depicted as "a real, self-consistent, organic thing." The postcyberpunk viewpoint is not outside the fishbowl looking in, but inside the fishbowl looking around. As a result, postcyberpunk frequently skirts the edge of what can be described in late 20th century English, be it the representation of data in fourth-dimensional Pikeover space in Slant to the intelligence-enhancing something that Maya realizes she's too old to embrace in Holy Fire.

Finally, there is the inevitable issue of generational relevance. Yes, cyberpunk was about the early 1980s, while postcyberpunk is about the 1990s, and cyberpunk was largely written by people in their 20s and 30s, postcyberpunk by people in their late 30s and early 40s. But another factor is at work. Many writers who grew up reading in the 1980s are just now starting to have their stories and novels published. To them cyberpunk was not a revolution or alien philosophy invading SF, but rather just another flavor of SF. Like the writers of the 1970s and 80s who assimilated the New Wave's classics and stylistic techniques without necessarily knowing or even caring about the manifestos and ideologies that birthed them, today's new writers might very well have read Neuromancer back to back with Asimov's Foundation, John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, and Larry Niven's Ringworld and seen not discontinuities but a continuum. They may see postcyberpunk not only as the natural language to describe the future, but the only adequate way to start extrapolating from the present.

Answers to the inevitable questions: Is postcyberpunk a movement? No. Aren't there cyberpunk or postcyberpunk works that don't fit these definitions? Yes. Sterling's Schismatrix and his other Shaper/Mechanist stories tend to defy this schema (though it becomes more applicable if you consider "Moving in Clades," the last third of Schismatrix, as postcyberpunk), and Cadigan seems to have run the sequence in reverse. Aren't there many newer writers (Jack Womack, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Linda Nagata, Nicola Griffith, etc.) whose work might be labeled postcyberpunk but which you haven't gotten around to reading yet? ?Tis true. Mea culpa. Aren't there books that came out in the 1990s that look like postcyberpunk that don't fit your definitions? Alexander Jablokov's Nimbus, Paul J. McAuley's Fairyland, and, of course, Stephenson's Snow Crash, all defy this taxonomy, or else must be regarded as mutant hybrids or late arriving "classic" cyberpunk. Aren't these definitions rather hard and fast? Not only that, they're ham-handed, Procrustean, and will probably look misguided in many particulars a decade or so hence. Yet postcyberpunk is a very real, and very vital, part of the modern science fiction landscape. Necroville, Slant, and Holy Fire, for all their differences, have far more in common with each other than they do with most works of modern science fiction as a whole, or even with other books in the 10% of SF that isn't crap.

Of all the mutant strains currently percolating through the science fiction body politic, postcyberpunk is the one best suited to explore themes related to world of accelerating technological innovation and ever-increasing complexity in ways relevant to our everyday lives without losing the "sense of wonder" that characterizes science fiction at its best. This is not to say that postcyberpunk is the only game in town; science fiction writers like Octavia Butler, Stephen Baxter, and Jack McDevitt (to name but three) are all doing good work outside its boundaries. But postcyberpunk is the most important game in town, and the one best suited for honing the genre's cutting edge.

Lawrence Person is a science fiction writer and editor in Austin, Texas. His work has appeared in (among others) Asimov's, Analog, Reason, National Review, Liberty, and SF Eye. He currently runs the latest incarnation of the Turkey City Writer's Workshop with Bruce Sterling, and edits the Hugo-nominated small press SF magazine Nova Express .

All Slashdot feature and review contributors now get *free Slashdot t-shirts* from Copyleft. Lawrence, to get yours please send your mailing/shipping address and shirt size (along with this article's URL to jog my memory) to roblimo.nojunk@slashdot.org, minus the spambot-defeating "nojunk."

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto

Comments Filter:
  • One major point about cyberpunk; it exemplified the values of the 1980's because it was written by the generation of the eighties.

    Faceless multinationals. Deracination. Computers everywhere. Depersonalisation. Marketing and neon signs and trademarks and brand names.

    As much as anything else this was a cultural thing, signifying the arrival of a new generation of SF writers who came of age during the late 70's and early 80's. Each generation writes about what it knows and its cultural attitudes and expectations show through in its prose (except where someone makes a deliberate attempt to obscure the issue). This is why, for example, British new wave SF from the late sixties is so different from US new wave SF -- the cultural background of the writers was radically different.

    The post-cyberpunk phenomenon is partly a symptom of the writers aging, partly a sign of the changing times ... and partly a symptom of a new generation of writers emerging on the scene. Someone who was 25 in 1980 is now 44. Is it sane to expect them to be writing the same stuff today? Cyberpunk had to die, or mutate, or whatever. If it hadn't, it would be about as relevent today as E. E. "Doc" Smith's two-fisted engineer-heros would be in the middle of Woodstock or the summer of love.

    Biologists have a special technical term for phenomena that stop changing. They call them "dead".

  • Surely this is just the same as crakers/hackers
    crakers are the cyberpunks and hackers the postcyberpunks

    crackers destroy infiltrate etc, hacker create code, families etc.

    everyone grows up eventually
  • (thinks to self "silly thoughts may follow")

    I am officaly decalring this sentence a Eringestably sentence, full of all the things all right thinking critics would classify as belonging to such a school.

    Now I officaly decalre this sentence a PostEringestably sentence...because, well, because it came after the other one.

    A scholarly sounding thesis and five 8 part books of critisism will follow

    Folks, just say no to the POstPReAntIPro syndrome of literature. Look back onthe years and decades of this blah blah blah and realise its full of sound and fury signifying monkey.

    Devoid of anything interesting to say many great authors and more worthless critics will drege up this tired old chestnut to make print. Its all about seeing one self look semi intelligent now and again.

    File under Masterbation

    (thinks to self waits for applause, not even a sausge)

    Ying Ti IddleI Pooo

  • I think that Lawrence may be over-analysing the cyberpunk genre and perceiving a new genre (which he calls post-cyberpunk), which is really only a development of the cyberpunk genre, in the same way as the SF genre has developed over many decades, and continues to develop.

    I think there are many different facets to cyberpunk, just as there are to science-fiction. Anyone who read my "Mirrorshades of Cyberpunk" web-page from about five years back, will know what I mean - cyberpunk means different things to different people.

    I think it's disingenuous to attempt to effectively create an entirely new genre. It isn't necessary and I don't think it's correct.

    Perhaps Lawrence wants to be able to say in five years time that he invented the term "postcyberpunk", but if he wants to do that, I think he'll need to come up with something a bit better than this.

    ..is for Deadly.

  • It's beside the point to argue whether or not such distinctions are valid. All such distinctions are valid in a subjective sense only. And there is clearly a huge stylistic difference between Neuromancer and The Diamond Age.

    Others have said in this forum that since cyberpunk isn't dead yet it is too early to announce post-cyberpunk. Well, that's just nonsense too. "post-" appelations are often used to denote an offshoot variant of a yet extant school, when that offshoot is the unambiguous inheritor of the earlier tradition. And Lawrence's definition is just about broad enough to fit the bill.

    What Lawrence has done is to identify a trend which is clearly now in full swing: the re-humanisation and de-alienation of visions of the future.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • This line of argument would be a lot more convincing if not for the fact that non-cyberpunk visions of the future that were not lacking in characterization, plotting, and the other things that too much of the sub-genre's writing were short on hadn't continued to come into existance even as cyberpunk was blooming.

    I believe I've dealt with that point already - synchronicity doesn't exclude use of the "post-" appelation.

    It's far more reasonable to see this as the maturing of the writers who are so obsessed with this small corner of speculative writing, so it's not post-cyberpunk, it's just adolescent cyberpunk. The cheeks no longer have the infant's rosy blush, but some more substantial values may be developing to make up for that loss of novelty.

    As I said, the issue of whether it's a new school or just a branch of the old is moot. For the purpose of this discussion, compare and contrast, it might as well be treated hypothetically as separate.

    And as others have said, the biggest new thing about the cyberpunk movement was that there were enough stories with some common tropes being written at the same time to catch Dozois' eye and get a collective name.

    This is precisely why there *is* a "post-cyberpunk" school already. Gibson's novel struck such a chord in the heads of techno-savvy alienated youngsters that the meme spread rapidly: books, movies, rock videos, TV ads etc. Before long the imagery was recognisable to everyone, not just teenaged science fiction fans. Having become so established, ten years later a counter-revolution was inevitable. And though the birth of these offshoots may seem early to you, co-existence with the original school still does not introduce doubt as to their parentage.

    The triumph of breathless, handwaving technological miracles over such old fashioned story telling values as good characterization has been a recurring pandemic in science fiction. In some ways it's part of the charm of the genre.

    That might have been true of science fiction up until the 1950's. Since then science fiction has been divided into two categories - what's usually referred to as sci-fi (trashy pulp "the thing from mars" type stories and movies) and the more thoughtful science fiction which often passes for literature - e.g. Frank Herbert's Dune series.

    I for one don't find the former particularly charming, it's cheap and nasty and usually produced by people who have no love of science fiction at all - they are just using a hackneyed old formula to capture a slice of the market.

    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • by mattc ( 12417 )
    This article makes "post-cyberpunk" sound really lame.. like the Disney of cyberpunk.. I'm not sure this is the kind of label these authors want.
  • The dystopian vision is as recurrent in science fiction as is the utopian vision. H.G. Well had both kinds, though he leaned toward dystopian. World War II had a profound impact on the genre (as well as everything else). For years before and even more years following it the militarist vision dominated, in a variety of moods. Sometimes euphoric, sometimes rebellious, and sometimes bureaucratic. But all flavors of the militarist vision isolated the story from the society in a way that had not happened earlier, and that which stopped happening gradually during the early sixties. It sort of recurred during and after the Vietnam War^H^H^HConflict, but in a disgusted/minor key (with a few exceptions, e.g. Heinlein and Haldeman). The military theme seems to rise and fall with the social context in a much more predictable way than the dystopian/utopian cycle. But neither is an anomoly. (I just know for certain which I prefer.)
  • I have noticed this movement of authors away from horrific cyberpunk (cybernetic people) to a more orgaic representation, where technology and humans live side by side.

    Well, thats just my $0.02

    Oh, and first post :P (always wanted that!)
  • Each year the composer Glenn Branca [glennbranca.com] gives out this award for cyberpunk novels. He also sells a lot of the books. Quite odd seeing as Branca's music is not electronic, but experimental orchestra/multiple guitars. The link on the front page is wrong the address for the cyberpunk section is http://www.glennbranca.com/cyber.html [glennbranca.com], not cyberpunk.html.
  • Anyways, the most successful Cyberpunk story of this year was definetly the Matrix, which does not fit into the definition of his post- class by a longshot. And the next cyberpunk movie is probably going to be the film version of Neuromancer (barring the Matrix sequels).

    So film-makers are stealing ideas from 20 year old science fiction? Move along, nothing new to see here - the mainstream is inevitably some way behind the "cutting edge", and cinema is a medium which requires mainstream capital to back it up. I don't think that your counter-example is a good one.
  • Thanks for the link man - even if the moderators haven't seen fit to give you an "Informative" mark-up I was buzzed to read "Cyberpunk".

    I'd even heard of the story before , but had no idea that it was available online.

    Cool beans!
  • I suppose all this classification is fun to discuss, but other than that, I rarely see the point. As with most other things, like software, people, and music, SF falls into one of two categories for me: It's Cool or It Sucks.

    But, if you enjoy making finer grained classifications, amuse yourselves :)
  • Heinlein already thought of that one, back in "The Man who Sold the Moon" . . .
  • Errr, I'm always confused about post x-ism so forgive me if I'm mistaken. ;)

    I just realized that I haven't read much of the works mentioned as exemplary of post-cyberpunk, but I feel it is a bit awkward to hail its arrival. It makes little sense to attribute cyberpunk "has its own universe" uniquely, and the distinction, or the relation between cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk doesn't seem very clear.

    Indeed, I think people have been creating entire worlds for their books since long ago. Well, there are entire worlds in the ordinary sci-fi, and phantasy, etc. (No need to mention ;) Now, what makes cyberpunk some special kind of sci-fi? Uh, I suppose those're the very attributes the critic would find not highly (hi-tech/low-life, etc.) Plus, that's the cool part of it ;)

    Secondly, I think trying to label a work as post-cyberpunk is only being excessively enthusiastic about cyberpunk. I personally don't like stuff that can be labelled that easily.

    Besides, the shift to populism is a bit repulsive for some of the sci-fi audience. Saying that the future will be all too good for the common man, that's just too optimistic. After all, couldn't it be part of a shift to populism in all of literature, or all of sci-fi? Then it isn't so appropriate to call it post-cyberpunk.

    John McCarthy once said that if you solve every problem in a scientific and optimal way, then there is no room for literature. How's the twist, the drama and tragedy are to occur in such a regular society and with regular characters? Where's the sci-fi then? Are soap-operas in which people talk about internet "post-cyberpunk"? I guess not. (BTW, there are some pseudo sci-fi, or cyberpunk novels that are made to talk politically, say feminism, or homosexual rights, whatever.. Are those post-cyberpunk? Worthless crap... bash 'em!)

  • I'll bet we can work a "D13, Mikro$quish, D13!" theme into it somehow. Then it will belong here on Slapdash!
  • Maybe it's just a case of differing viewpoints, but it seems to me that most cyberpunk works describe futures where centralized control is diminished or non-existant, not all-pervasive and authoritarian.

  • But the interesting thing I find about this is that a significant amount of what Jules Verne (and other writers of the time) predicted in their works was outlandish at the time, but actually became the commonplace today.

    And an equally significant amount of it is still outlandish. In fact, much old science fiction is dated in its view of technology, either because we can now say "But it doesn`t work like that!" or because the things that were predicted are as far off as ever. Paris in 1999, anyone?

    The only reason some of the things predicted in science fiction have come true is that science fiction predicts so many different things that some of them are bound to come to pass sooner or later. What`s fascinating about science fiction is not generally the technology; that`s just a plot device. It`s the people and the way they react to the technology that`s fascinating, and that`s true whether the technology is likely or not.

    Having said that, I am not in the least tolerant of scientific inaccuracy. If you`re trying to be scientific about it, you should at least have the common courtesy to research what you`re writing and make sure it`s internally consistent, and, if set in this universe, externally consistent as well.
  • Someone had to say it. Where I come from, when people get a little older and suddenly stop being so revolutionary, there's a word for that. And whether or not you actually think it's a bad thing to "sell out" like that, it sure as hell is pretty normal. Not something that should be analyzed as if it's a shocking development.

    The fact that this critic admits he hasn't read the "newer" writers relevant to his point (including, coincidentally, all three of the women he mentions as potentially within the scope of his analysis. Well, 3/4 if you count Pat Cadigan, who he briefly mentions) also calls his conclusions into question. As does his questioning of the term "class" because of the vast social mobility within the US (actually, the gaps between haves and have-nots have been widening steadily over the last 20 years, AND percentile-wise social mobility has slowed even after you correct for the age-distribution effect of stagnant boomers.)
  • Neuromancer was written by an author incapable of writing anything of value.
    His later works are significatly better.
    Pat Cadigan is one of the few authors of the genre who really seems to be able to write about the ideas effectly in a humanstic sense.
    (I'm a gadget freak, but showing a little humanity in a piece has far more value that showing NONE like Bruce Sterling and Gibson.)
  • One wonders what crazy advertising stunts companies will get up to next ... colonising the moon just to plant a permanent billboard sign? The future will probably be stranger than we can ever expect.

    Check out this recent /. article. [slashdot.org]

    Apparently, they opted for the rocket when they realized the cost of shining a laser billboard on the moon would be prohibitive.

    The future is strange, and it is here.
  • Lawrence Person is right on the dot with this. (no pun in tended.) This third wave of SF is very integrated with all facets of society, which has been always been quite rare.

    I agree with your assessment, because classic SF usually dealt with the gee-whiz facets of the future (i.e., rocket ships, time machines, etc.). I did questions one of Person's assertions though, where he says the postcyberpunk heroes are from "the middle class. (And we do need a better term; here in the United States, economic mobility has rendered the concept of "class" nearly obsolete.)"

    Economic mobility has not eliminated class, it only enables one to cross classes. As a poor Chicano comp sci student who lives in a barrio, I am considered part of the "lower class", but the minute I start making in excess of $50K/yr I will probably move to a better neighborhood and will be accepted by my new neighbors as part of the middle class.

    As long as this is a capitalistic country discrimination (in the economic sense) will still exist. In fact, even the most utopian SF (Star Trek comes to mind) still has classes (warrior, technical, merchant, etc.). People being people, the tendency to organize people and society into classes will always exist...

  • A sub-genre that is a little over 15 years old is unlikely to be post-itself anytime soon. If anything, I would say that this is still pre-whatever the future of sci-fi is.

    Anyways, the most successful Cyberpunk story of this year was definetly the Matrix, which does not fit into the definition of his post- class by a longshot. And the next cyberpunk movie is probably going to be the film version of Neuromancer (barring the Matrix sequels).

    Whatever the world is tomorrow, there will obviously still be people holding down jobs, having families, watching massmarket entertainment, and who value being able to take a walk in the park over freedom of information and action. But those people are not necessarily the most interesting to read about...

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • I first read Neuromancer only many years after it had been released. By that time, the whole idea of cyberpunk had already been widely popularized and even somewhat stale. Reading Neuromancer, because it had been so widely copied, the cyberpunk ideas in Neuromancer itself seemed incredibly cliched.

    I felt the same way when I saw Star Wars for the first time, in re-release on the big screen, nearly 20 years after it first came out. Stale and cliched.

    But it's hard to escape this fate... the very success and acceptance of an idea makes it widespread and commonplace. What was once an astounding plot element becomes a mere premise, and authors have to push on deeper to find new magic.

  • There are very sharp differences in income, wealth, culture, values, language (slang), etc. between the generations. Probably more so than the divisions between ethnic groups or other social divisions. Not a problem, because generations come and go and have the good sense to die off, taking their outdated ideas with them but leaving their worldly goods behind.

    But with longevity, generation gaps would harden into outright class warfare. Imagine 160 year-old boomers and 140 year-old Xers at each other's throats, forever.

  • I am one of those who can only appreciate the culture in sight and sound. We were required to read Neuromancer in college (Comparative Liturature) and I wrote a 3 page paper on it without reading the book (passed with a "C"!). Any new definition of the culture will require a new movie, a video consoule (not just a video game but a whole new system), and other media intense stuff. I thought the Mortal Kombat crowd was leading us for a while but they were just a fleeting thought, really. I think the culture has been struggling since the death of the concept album in the mid 1980s. Altogether, I hope that whatever comes next is a beautiful evolution. Trying to relive the days of D&D, Rush, Atari... it's all still there but the toys have gotten better for us. I'm only 23 and even I see that the kids are being spoiled these days. :)
  • Why do we always need to classify everything. In some cases it is good (bioligy, checmistry, etc...) But I think that classifing humans is proetty stupid.

    I mean, look at personality tests, while you may kind of fit your description, you will never fully fit it. You may be a Republican, Democrat or Independent (or...Libretarian :)), but it dosen't mean you agree with the `party' on everything.

    I think classification of humans is just turning us into communists (ok...a little extreme...). We should value our diffrences and indivuduality, not how much we are like everybody else.

    That's my $(2^4*3+1/7%3*2/100)
  • a gr8 book btw
  • I think you're making a valid point here--as more sf writers have a technical grasp of what near-future technology can make possible, we get less of the wild flights of rapturous purple prose about being in "the Crystal Wind" or what have you (which is damn hard to pull off if you can't write as well as Gibson). Will this inevitably lead to more writing about believable people and believable tech instead? Got me, but it'd be nice.

    But Rucker is a mathematician and a computer scientist, and I've always considered his stuff (with the possible exception of White Light) to be the weakest written by the Big Five cyberpunks in the key period. Technological savvy alone clearly doesn't define post-cyberpunkness--Gene Wolfe is an engineer by training. Gregory Benford is a physicist and Pat Murphy works at the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco.

    Further, I think Williams' City on Fire, although really something of an art-deco fantasy novel, and Bear's Queen of Angels are fine examples of the supposed form, and neither author has any technical training or particular knowledge that I'm aware of. Worth thinking about. (I'll acknowledge that these are all older writers, but I don't know anything about the professional training of Ian McDonald, e.g. Perhaps there is a trend here that I'm unaware of.)

  • >Postcyberpunk is a return to an earlier, and much
    >larger theme in science fiction: the future is
    >going to be better than the past. Earlier
    >Cyberpunk is the anomaly.

    Well, even in the Neuromancer trilogy--pretty much the canonical cyberpunk books as far as I'm concerned--life at the top is still pretty good. Neuromancer just showed life near the bottom of the food chain, which isn't where sf usually places its concern.

    (As noted, Kornbluth is an earlier counterexample to the "in sf, life gets better" theory. So is The Space Merchants. So are two stories of Fritz Leiber's, the titles of which are currently escaping me.)

  • With a genre that deals with the "online" culture and the world that has evolved with cyberspace, I would think that perhaps the genre would evolve as fast as the cuture it represents. In the past 15 years a lot has changed in the world, a lot has matured. As Person said, Cyberpunk was everything changes. Well what do you do when you change too?

    As for the Matrix, it came out when it could come out. Excluding the special effects, it came out when the majority of the movie going public could understand the ramifications of the movie's message. Society is a little slow in it's uptake of the various aspects of it's sub-cultures. Now Cyberpunk movies can be profitable, which is what hollywood is really all about. They tell the stories, but only if they can make a profit.
  • Lawrence Person is right on the dot with this. (no pun in tended.) This third wave of SF is very integrated with all facets of society, which has been always been quite rare. He brings up many valid points that have Cyberpunk readers agreeing with many sentances. Neil Stephenson and Bruce Sterling, as mentioned, capture the essence of what Person is saying; Each of their recent respective works, namely in my mind The Diamond Age, has echoed thoroughness in capturing social life, with everything taken into account. Also, I had a good laugh at the "Show, don't explain," comment, which held true for earlier Cyberpunk works.
  • But the difference between Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk as defined in this article is too small to deliniate between genres. It's all cyberpunk to me.
  • If anyone's interested...

    here [neuromancer.org] is the website for the Neuromancer film.

    It's being directed by Chris Cunningham, the man behind those cool Aphex Twin filmclips and the recent Bjork filmclip for 'All is Full Of Love' among other things.
  • Its the same death knell given to any number of movements..

    I'm still puzzling over the "post-modern" to.. It may be my primitive interpretation but "modern" to me seems to me to relate to the present so post-modern would be some where in the future.

    I think the major difference would be not in the movement its self, but its audience, it has moved from a niche genre ( loosly defined.. ) to a vehicle in which to market gizmos to the masses ( washed or not ). So i think it could be called cyber yuppie instead of being defined in pre/post terms. The punk is gone.the mechanics remain the same.

    its now almost as much a status thing in the 90's to have a palm pilot [bostonphoenix.com] as it was to have a bmw in the 80's.
  • I was thinking _Earth_ as well while reading the article. The net being hooked into everything, the jaw-motion interfaces, Tru-Vu goggles, having to read a minimum threshold of daily news in order to keep the right to vote, the cultish NorAChuGa and Ra Boys, the horrifying description of the Helvetian war, Sea State, intelligent software agents of inestimable subtlety and power, the social marginalization of waste, hamburgers, and cigarettes, the whole ball of wax. Brin made a future we can visualize. An amazing work everyone should read. Lorenzo Smythe
  • It's all cyberpunk to me.

    Nah, really it's all rock 'n' roll.

    About halfway through I was wondering where he would put Snow Crash, with its clearly marginalized Protagonist but relentless humor. I was glad to see it on the "uncategorizeable" list. For that matter, where would The Big U go? It's got all the cyberpunk ingredients except for the science fiction.

    OTOH, usually I see connections where normal people don't. Does anybody else see the similarities between the Hyperion series and Dave Matthews Band? Or am I just odder than I thought?

  • Science fiction has evolved, hasn't it? Would someone who grew up on Verne and Wells recognize Asimov or Niven? But the interesting thing I find about this is that a significant amount of what Jules Verne (and other writers of the time) predicted in their works was outlandish at the time, but actually became the commonplace today. Science fiction is the only genre that has to update itself with the technology, and that has made a huge difference in the evolution of the genre as a whole.
  • I first read Neuromancer only many years after it had been released. By that time, the whole idea of cyberpunk had already been widely popularized and even somewhat stale. Reading Neuromancer, because it had been so widely copied, the cyberpunk ideas in Neuromancer itself seemed incredibly cliched. Without originality to sustain it, the plot came across as weak and confused, and the characters cardboard-like. I think this is the problem with cyberpunk, and the reason why writers have moved away from it so rapidly: after the initial shock value, the genre doesn't really have enduring quality.
  • I don't think that it is "correct" or "incorrect", necessarily, to distinguish between cyberpunk and what Person wants to call "post-cyberpunk". It's just a different slice with the analytical scalpel, valuable if it helps to clarify the differences between the things that fall to the left of the slice and those that fall to the right.

    I think Person makes a valid distinction between the concerns of cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk. While post-cyberpunk is certainly an extension or continuation of cyberpunk, it seems in many ways more mature, more willing to construct plausible futures and characters. Perhaps this is simply because the original cyberpunk writers have gotten older and now want to write about believable people instead of just fantasising about the future of technology. Nevertheless, it is a significant change in the genre's concerns.

    '80s cyberpunk always seemed to want the reader to be aware that they were reading something new, different, and exciting, whereas newer books seem to accept the technology behind cyberpunk simply as part of the world -- virtual reality and vast computer networks may be important to the story, but the books don't focus on them so obsessively anymore. In a way, this makes "post-cyberpunk" seem as much an update of older mainstream SF as a continuation of cyberpunk, or an integration of cyberpunk back into the mainstream.

  • A sub-genre that is a little over 15 years old is unlikely to be post-itself anytime soon.

    Why not? The '60s new wave didn't last fifteen years. It didn't even last ten years.

    If anything, I would say that this is still pre-whatever the future of sci-fi is.

    Sure, but that's always the case.

    Anyways, the most successful Cyberpunk story of this year was definetly the Matrix, which does not fit into the definition of his post- class by a longshot.

    Three points:

    (1) Hollywood is always several years behind written SF; otherwise, the Neuromancer movie would have been made in the '80s.

    (2) The development of a new genre doesn't prevent anyone from continuing to work in older styles, so even if The Matrix were a novel (there's probably a novelization of it, but I mean an original novel) instead of a movie, it still wouldn't prove your point.

    (3) Popularity is irrelevant.

  • Someone had to say it. Where I come from, when people get a little older and suddenly stop being so revolutionary, there's a word for that.

    Yep. In this case, it's called "growing up". Some people never do. I respect Bruce Sterling for not repeating himself into his grave.

  • An interesting and fine article, that nicely maps some of the sea changes in SF. But to raise two criticisms:
    1. Why do people have to use the word "manifesto" so readily? Some of them have issued more manifestos than I've had hot meals.
    2. "Here in the United States, economic mobility has rendered the concept of "class" nearly obsolete." A ghastly statement, that I hope wasn't really meant (or doesn't mean what it seems to). How much do inner-city blacks have in common with the Kennedy clan? How much do the entrepeneur inhabitants of Woodside have in common with the immigrants that clean their houses? Regretably, class is alive an well.
  • It always interests me from a scientific/economic point of view how these future worlds might evolve. I recall one projection early this century of what South Africa might look like 50 years later. Absolutely nobody predicted that the landscape would be changed by skyscrapers. It's always the individuals (and their ego boosting activities) that leave the strongest mark (pyramids, Great Wall, etc). One wonders what crazy advertising stunts companies will get up to next ... colonising the moon just to plant a permanent billboard sign? The future will probably be stranger than we can ever expect.

    Perhaps /.ers could indulge in creation a chain of events that would create plausible scenarios leading to situations described in the post-cyberpunk SF scene. Example ...

    Someone discovers longevity drug (since 17 patent monopolies are the only guarenteed way of making profits) -> military enrolments plummet (nobody wants to risk their future) -> recruitment of lower-class from other countries to do dirty jobs -> need to steal tech to survive.

    What other interesting events could transpire? Oh well, more ways of killing time between coding runs. :-(

  • Most works of science fiction, cyberpunk or otherwise, setup a dualism between two different sets of values. One of these being human values - life, freedom, and beauty of form - and the other technological values - efficiency, accuracy, and function. Examples of this can be found in almost any work of science fiction from Shelley to Chricton. In Neuromancer, Gibson shows this in part through the battle between the humans and the AI. If, as Person says, postcyberpunk revolves around a world where there is no conflict between the two value sets then perhaps it presents itself as a new genre.
  • If you accept Lawrence's taxonomy (which
    like all such is just a piece of the
    picture) then Matrix is in the classic
    Gibson mold witha twist, like Snow Crash.
  • It's always interesting to see people mention Brunner as one of the forefathers of cyberpunk, as his dystopia never seemed to be the same as Gibson's dystopia. Brunner's science fiction always seemed thoroughly grounded in politics (often painfully so, as in The Stone That Never Came Down, though I tend to agree with his political viewpoint myself). Neuromancer, on the other hand, seemed to step away from specifically saying how we got there from here--a war, an economic shift to Japan, but there weren't specifics.

    Although The Shockwave Rider is certainly an uncle of cyberpunk--and seems to me to be less dated than The Jagged Orbit or Stand on Zanzibar--I'd have to say that it seems like something of an aberration compared to other Brunner works.

    I was one of those kids in the '80s Person mentions, glomming science fiction completely unaware of distinctions between drawn by others between Heinlein, LeGuin, and Walter Jon Williams. The thing that made Gibson stand out to me--reading after the fact, when Neuromancer was already famous and a recognized Important Book--was Gibson's language. His writing was just weird compared to the workmanlike prose of, say, Heinlein. I'd say that, within the genre, Cordwainer Smith and Alfred Bester by way of some of the New Wave writers are his real predecessors.

  • by tomwhore ( 10233 ) on Saturday October 09, 1999 @10:47AM (#1627329) Homepage Journal
    John Brunner

    Had the genre down cold in THE 60's and EARLY 70's

    Its sad when the sights fall short of insight into ones own favorite topics. Gibsons stuff is great and good, but it is continuations of themes rooted firly rooted Before his typewriter clacked on about the sprawl.

    Also , lest we forget, lets remeber who BUTCHERED and MADE CRAP his own great work of Johny Mnemonic? Twasnt Hollywood, was the author himself.

    All of which is a way of saying, beyond the post pre ant pro meaningless jangle of jaws is the fact that most genres are born years before they are given a name by the pundints.

    Honor the good stuff and, as the wise sage Flavor Flav says, dont belive the hype. Lables constrain, confine and make a camp concentration of otherwise great ideas.

    this message brought to you by the "Anarchists Unite Society...We Bring UNruly Things to Right(tm)

  • by Paul Johnson ( 33553 ) on Saturday October 09, 1999 @12:54PM (#1627330) Homepage
    "Earth" seems to me to be a classic example of this "post-cyberpunk" world. Technology is pervasive, and technological advances have led to many social changes. The Net is everywhere, and people who may not be able to eat tomorrow nevertheless have cheap handhelds. But there are no brain-computer interfaces and no gangs of 3LeeT street samurai.

    The novel tells the stories of a number of characters, including a top scientist, a female shuttle pilot, an environmental activist and her rebelliously straight daughter, and four middle class kids who start by barely avoiding dropping out of Dan Quayle High School. The characters are well drawn, but they are really just the vehicle for an exploration of Earth in the mid twenty-first century.

    In the afterword Brin discusses the cliches of cyberpunk and rejects them as plausible futures. Instead he has tried to take the same massively changed world that cyberpunk has, but leaven it with more rational extrapolation. The result is very convincing. Back in 94 I was trying to explain to management what the Internet was and what it could become. I told them that the best predictions I had found were "Islands In The Net" and "Earth".


  • Lawrence's article is well-reasoned and smart.

    But there's another element that defines postcpunk fiction: a technological grounding.

    The cyberpunk classics, with the exception of Rucker's work, were written by nontechnological personnel. The computer stuff, cyberspace, black ice, etc, were metaphors for modern communications infrastructure: network TV, telephones. Gibson's confessions about his nontechnical status (he typed Neuromancer on a manual typewriter and didn't know what the floppy drive was on his MacPlus) are now legendary.

    With the advent of programmer/writers like Stephenson and the new, improved self-trained techno Sterling, we're seeing credible SF written about computers, cyberspace and cracking.

    Gibson's work is just as smart and sexy as ever, but it's dating rather quickly. Viz Idoru, in which the plotline revolves around a mystical, drug-inspired ability to make oracular predictions based on playing with a browser. Gibson still isn't into technology, and it shows.

    The New Wave of sf was often about writing sf where the science was bent to tell the story (in contrast with hard sf, where the story is constructed around a scientific conceit). Cyberpunk is often considered antithetical to New Wave in that it is "post-humanist" -- stories about social constructs without much regard for believable characters.

    Post-cyberpunk sf is technologically literate, and grounded in the science of the day (it's received wisdom that the 'Net is to the 90s what rocketry was to the 50s). It is also very humanist, even sentimental: Cryptonomicon, in particular, was as maudlin as any John Varley story. In this way, it is a return to pre-cyberpunk sf: the golden age hard stuff blended with the New Wave humanism and style.

    Perhaps Post-cyberpunk sf doesn't have anything to do with cyberpunk in any literary sense. If you believe that the modern Internet evolved from the technological vision of cyberpunk, and that the postcpunk writers are Internet savvy, then perhaps their debt to cyberpunk isn't literary, but technological: cyberpunk gave rise to the real-world technologies that postcpunk writers dote on.

  • by CdotZinger ( 86269 ) on Saturday October 09, 1999 @09:49AM (#1627332)
    I have to agree with the majority-opinion-so-far, that the distinction between "cyberpunk" and its "post-" in this case is pretty trivial, even by the standards of other "post-"s, like, say, postcoital or postmodern. The examples above are just cyberpunk books without the famous eighties' attitude (Miami Vice, Tom Waits (blah blah blah &c &c)).

    In order for something to be post-something-else, I'd say it has to be both unimaginable without Whatever it's post-ing, and so foreign to Whatever, that practitioners and diehard fans of Whatever will consider it totally shitty in comparison. (Nice sentence, eh?)

    Here's an example: Joyce's *Ulysses* is widely agreed to be exemplary of "modernism," and Mark Leyner's *My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist* is, whatever other insults you feel like hurling at it, a famous example of the "postmodern." You think James Joyce would like the look of his heir? Hardly. Does anyone you know who celebrates every Bloomsday also enthuse about the grandness of Leyner? Probably not. But if it weren't for Joyce's example in the artfully-recombined-doody-makes-great-literature department, *My Cousin* would be as tedious and pretentious as anything by John Barth or David Foster Wallace.

    In fact, I think Leyner's peak stuff from a decade or so ago would be a better candidate for "post-cyberpunk" enshrinement than any of the works mentioned above (by the unimaginable-without-X/mostly-hated-by-X standard). (But then again, he wrote my sig for me, so....)

    And there's a thing in a Derrida book about some prank calls he got from Heidegger's ghost that I should probably use to bolster my argument, but the book's, like, nine feet from my chair, and I'm feelin' kinda post-cogent today, so f it.

  • by morzeke ( 100541 ) on Saturday October 09, 1999 @07:36AM (#1627333) Homepage

    One of the points brought up in Person's article, that cyberpunk marked a shift in scifi mentality away from the "change one thing and see what happens" towards a world-building model, is not born out by the history. Just looking at a few classics, from Ender's Game to Stranger in a Strange Land to even the Foundation series, writers had been creating entire universes just as complex and varied as the world of Neuromancer or Snow Crash.

    What separates these earlier worlds from early cyberpunk(with it's high water mark of Neuromancer), is their generally cheery view of the world. This is not the case to the same extent with Ender's Game, but the case very well could be made that, at least under Person's definitions, Ender's Game is a sort of proto-cyberpunk.

    One of the main distinctions Person makes between cyberpunk and postcyberpunk is the corresponding world-views of the two subgenres. Postcyberpunk, just like the post-Cold War era into which it is written, has a rosier view of humanity, and of humanity's eventual perfectability(even if that eventual perfectability doesn't look precisely human(this is scifi, after all)), contrasting to the late Cold War mentality that the world is on it's way down; while technology gets increasingly spiffy, it's not making the world a better place.

    Postcyberpunk is a return to an earlier, and much larger theme in science fiction: the future is going to be better than the past. Earlier Cyberpunk is the anomaly.

  • Is it just me or did this statement seem so rediculous?

    To say the US is largely a classless society is so crazy. My girlfriend teaches in a school where most of the kids can't identify unique letters of alphabet at the end of grade two! These kids will never see the economic mobility the author is referring to.

    Let's not mention the fact that these kids don't access to key services that other countries would consider a necessity, like 1st-rate health care, public safety, etc. These are all things that those of us in the "middle class" largely take for granted.

    Then there's the upper class, the top 1% of our society that now have significantly more collective wealth than the remaining 99% of our society.

    This is a classless society?

How come everyone's going so slow if it's called rush hour?