Looking back on cyberpunk1.0

Paul Raven @ 21-09-2010

An interesting personal-reflection post from Adam “Everyware” Greenfield on his formative experiences with cyberpunk. In a fresh refingering of the “we live in that fictional world now” riff, he wonders if anything could possibly strike such a powerful chord for him again:

[This graffiti’d Chinese shipping container] struck me as occupying an amazing position in material-semantic possibility space, the polemical-made-real. Running past it was something like listening to a digital file of Brazilian speedmetal, or having a woman you meet at a party nonchalantly introducing you to her wife, in that everyday life seemed to have more or less effortlessly remolded itself around tropes which once, and not so very long ago, dripped with futurity.

And a world filled with such objects is in some way almost beyond commentary, or critique. Maybe this is why William Gibson’s own last few books, delightful as they remain — the brand-new Zero History being the most recent case in point — read as yarns told about people we (quite literally) already know, capering through places, scenes and contexts we know all too well. It’s competently constructed entertainment, resonant enough of our moment, and is amusing as something to play the roman-à-clef game with. But it’s not (and cannot be?) revelatory. I’m having a hard time imagining anyone having their ass kicked by Zero History the way mine was by Neuromancer.

I know what Greenfield’s talking about here, but I suspect that personal subjectivity has a lot to do with it; Justin Pickard crops up in the comments to point out that, as a younger reader, he got something of the same gutpunch from Gibson’s Pattern Recognition reproducing the world he recognised from beyond the book’s covers. Just like the books we read, we’re products of our own milieu… atemporality is rarer than it might appear from inside our favoured goldfish bowl.

I can easily imagine the inquisitive teens of today seeing themselves and their world in Lauren Beukes’ Moxyland, or in the more recent works of Ian McDonald and (to a lesser extent, because as much as I feel he tries earnestly to capture the world as-is, he can’t help but Disney-fy it at the same time) Cory Doctorow. But thinking about sf from this angle, it feels to me like there’s a real paucity of works that seek to engage the world on political and economic terms in the way that cyberpunk grappled with the Eighties…

… or perhaps that’s what’s going on in the world of YA urban fantasy (or whatever we’re calling it this week). Which might possibly explain why I just don’t understand the appeal of that stuff whatsoever. *shrug*

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