Recommend exemplary cyberpunk fiction for a new anthology

Paul Raven @ 04-03-2010

Cover art for Korean edition of Mirrorshades anthologyWe love our (post?)cyberpunk here at Futurismic, and we’re guessing you probably do, too. So here’s a chance to show off your knowledge of the genre, and aid antipodean anthologist extaordinaire Jonathan Strahan in constructing a new retrospective volume that reassesses cyberpunk’s impact on sf and the world at large – a reflection of the reflections in Chairman Bruce’s Mirrorshades, if you will. [cover of Korean edition of Mirrorshades courtesy Wikipedia]

Everyone who makes a recommendation gets a shout-out in the acknowledgements, too. Take it away, Mr Strahan:

What I am doing now, though, is asking you to recommend your favourite cyberpunk story using my Cyberpunk Fiction Database. I am looking for recommendations for short stories, novels, and anthologies, and am considering any cyberpunk story, no matter when it was published.  I am especially interested in / looking for recommendations for work by women, people of colour and others.  Cyberpunk was mostly a white male phenomenon, but I’m eager to present as full a picture of this important movement as possible. Anyone recommending a story will be acknowledged in the final book. I’ve put some recommendations in myself, just to get things started.  You can see what’s already in the database here.

It would be excellent to see some web-published fiction appear in the final list… and I’d be even more impressed to see something published here at Futurismic make the cut! Someone has already recommended Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s recent offering “Biting The Snake’s Tail”, and I’ll be entering a few more examples myself… but please don’t let that stop you from recommending any other tales – from here or anywhere else – that you feel exemplify this complex and occasionally ill-defined genre. It’ll take a few minutes, and you’ll make some fiction writer somewhere very happy indeed. 🙂

Speaking of cyberpunk, here’s something that drifted serendipitously through my Twitter feed this morning courtesy of BlueTyson: a re-pub of an old essay by Chairman Bruce himself, looking back on cyberpunk from the vantage point of the early nineties. I’m not sure exactly when or where it was originally published (so feel free to let me know in the comments so I can attribute it correctly), but it’s interesting to see how much of what Sterling says still rings true today – try exchanging the word ‘cyberpunk’ for ‘Mundane’, perhaps, or maybe ‘Optimist’:

Human thought itself, in its unprecedented guise as computer software, is becoming something to be crystallized, replicated, made a commodity. Even the insides of our brains aren’t sacred; on the contrary, the human brain is a primary target of increasingly successful research, ontological and spiritual questions be damned. The idea that, under these circumstances, Human Nature is somehow destined to prevail against the Great Machine, is simply silly; it seems weirdly beside the point. It’s as if a rodent philosopher in a lab-cage, about to have his brain bored and wired for the edification of Big Science, were to piously declare that in the end Rodent Nature must triumph.

Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats. This is a hard thing to think about, but it’s the truth. It won’t go away because we cover our eyes.

This is cyberpunk.

[…]

Cyberpunk was a voice of Bohemia – Bohemia in the 1980’s. The technosocial changes loose in contemporary society were bound to affect its counterculture. Cyberpunk was the literary incarnation of this phenomenon. And the phenomenon is still growing. Communication technologies in particular are becoming much less respectable, much more volatile, and increasingly in the hands of people you might not introduce to your grandma.

[…]

This generation will have to watch a century of manic waste and carelessness hit home, and we know it. We will be lucky not to suffer greatly from ecological blunders already committed; we will be extremely lucky not to see tens of millions of fellow human beings dying horribly on television as we Westerners sit in our living rooms munching our cheeseburgers. And this is not some wacky Bohemian jeremiad; this is an objective statement about the condition of the world, easily confirmed by anyone with the courage to look at the facts.

These prospects must and should effect our thoughts and expressions and, yes, our actions; and if writers close their eyes to this, they may be entertainers, but they are not fit to call themselves science fiction writers. And cyberpunks are science fiction writers – not a “subgenre” or a “cult,” but the thing itself. We deserve this title and we should not be deprived of it.

And just in case you’re snorting in derision at the uselessness of genre taxonomy, bear in mind that the same thing happens music all the time in. But there’s a reason that genre definitions, as loose and fluid and contentious as they may be, survive: because they’re useful.

Clearly none of this really matters, especially if you’re like me and you prefer to take bands on a case-by-case basis. I can’t say definitively I like post-punk music, because there are bands I love who might meet the specifications, and there are also bands I don’t.

Where labeling music comes in handy is in drawing comparisons, especially in the digital age when it’s far simpler to discover whether you’re really going to enjoy something before actually spending your money on it. Artists frequently stream entire albums in advance of their official drop date, and even after it’s out, one can always sample bits and pieces on file-sharing services like iTunes. And, let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of grey area stuff happening out there, too. Music leaks like the bathroom sink in two consecutive Manhattan apartments a friend of mine has lived in.

Oh, don’t mind me – I’ve been waffling on about the similarities between sf and rock music culture for years, now. 🙂

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