Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Cyberpunk and Post Cyberpunk - What's in a Name?

I've always had some ambivalence about catagoriizing my work. I call Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences cyberpunk for my own convenience more than anything else. It saves me explaining to absolutely everyone what kind of books I have written so far. In fairness, however, I've had to explain to more people than not what cyberpunk IS. Lo, how the mighty have been subsumed in popular culture. :) I usually wind up saying something like, "You know The Matrix? That's cyberpunk. Which The Matrix is, though it's vaguely turned inside out - the focus being on the fabric of the virtual life emulating the real world in the current era - rather than on the fabric of the technological future.

But on reflection, particularly after reading this article, it probably would be much more accurate to describe my work as post-cyberpunk. Certainly the "punk" aspect is largely missing from my work. Punks, as they existed in the mid 1970s, and as they inspired Gibson et al, were - to grossly oversimplify - a bunch of alienated, black leather clad kids trying to find their way in a society that largely didn't give a crap about them, and which they considered corrupt and unsalvageable. Without them, post-cyberpunk probably is closest to the mark. But it's not a label I'm fond of, frankly. Not many people know what it is, the post-(fill in major category here) construction looks really, really stupid when the next big thing rolls along.

For example, post-modernism is a bastard construction on top of a poor choice of names in the first place. "Modernism" was a movement rejecting the traditions and embracing the change and modernizations occurring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It fell out of fashion after world war 2, and what came after was post-modernism. All well and good, except that the word "modern" is intrinsically linked to the present. So post-modernism was the rejection of the whole idea, as I understand it, having skimmed the wikipedia articles on modernism and postmodernism, that progress is intrinsically good. The problem is, the literal construction of the term means "whatever happens after what's happening today. Modernism and post-modernism are interesting cultural movements, but for pete's sake, they needed better names.

Likewise post-cyberpunk. Yes. As a cultural movement in science fiction, it's undeniable that the alienated criminals of classic cyberpunk usually wind up on a slab early in the story, and the protagonists are frequently the ones forced to put them there. Yes, post-cyberpunk protagonists usually are part of their societies, and their societies are far less bleak and diseased than their classic cyberpunk counterparts. Yes, in fact, what I write would best be called post-cyberpunk. But calling it "whatever comes after cyberpunk" still seems dumb to me.

So what to call it?

A friend of mine, Jeff Duntemann jokingly called it "cyberbilly". I kind of like that. It describes what I do. (see my previous rant about cyberpunk in wide open spaces and big square states). Richard K. Morgan calls his work, which is in a somewhat similar vein, generally, "future noir." I like that too, although Morgan's work tends to be a lot darker and, well, more noir-ish than mine does. Chris Moriarty writes a very interesting essay on what cyberpunk is, and from that perspective, my published output thus far certainly fits. I don't know. Cyberlife? Ugh. If Apple, Inc doesn't own that term as a trademark, they undoubtedly soon will.

For now, for the sake of marketing, I guess I'll stick with cyberpunk. You know and I know that it's not, quite, but it's convenient.

Anyway, the next book I'm working on is space opera.
Except that it's not quite.
Oh bother.



Anonymous said...

Being an old Gibson fan I finally admitted that cyberpunk is dead and buried. It is tough, as I just re-bought and re-read Burning Chrome+Neuromancer.
It's hard to sort out what the spiritual successor is actually called. I enjoyed Looking Glass immensely, and although I'm usually not a big art fan, the cover art for LG is The Bomb.
and will be picking up Irreconcible Differences

I suggest my favorite authors- C. Moriaty, R. Morgan, Stephenson, C. Stross, B. Sterling, et al get together, virtually of course, and coin the succesor's name.
I just completed and submitted my first novella, a cybernetic thriller with post modern base flavors asissted by equal dashes of nostaglic cyberpunk and info age
I'll put aside modesty and try coining the term "Inforage"

JRS said...

InfoRage has a nice ring to it. :) Glad to hear you enjoyed Looking Glass, and thanks for posting.


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