Cyberpunk in Context: Introduction
Posted by erikthereddest
Hello everyone, ’tis I, Erik the Reddest, back on rotation. As many of you long-time readers are probably aware, I’m sort of the official science fiction guy here at Lantern Hollow (I’m the “Chair of Science Fiction” or something). A recent fascination of mine has been the cyberpunk genre, a brief aesthetic movement in the 80s and 90s that has since kept evolving and mutating and never seems to have actually died off (much like Postmodernism, but I’ll get to that later). Cyberpunk has been a part of mainstream SF media so long that there is almost a synonymous association of cyberpunk with science fiction, with its iconic imagery of humanity melded with machines and computers. In fact, as I am currently studying for a Master’s degree in English, this will be the area of study for my eventual thesis.
Part of my preliminary research has been in contextualizing this movement in science fiction, and let me tell you, I was blown away by all the things I didn’t know about the history of the genre. Basically, from writers like Jules Verne and Asimov, I didn’t really think about what happened in SF until the current batch of popular fiction which has permeated our culture. What I discovered was that science fiction underwent several massive paradigm shifts between the 60s and the 80s leading up to the cyberpunk movement, and interestingly enough, there hasn’t been much of a shift since. I spent a lot of my last rotation of posts in February talking about differences of media, and I would like to continue this in the pursuit of answering the question of why there hasn’t been a major change in how science fiction is written since cyberpunk first came onto the scene, officially with William Gibson’s Neuromancer (which I have talked about before extensively).
Now, before I start into this, you might be wondering why this is important. I know SF isn’t everyone’s thing. But everyone should recognize that science fiction in its many forms has had an enormous impact on Western culture, attaching itself to the dreams of the future as the development of technology drives us to bigger and more fantastic scientific leaps. My Science Fiction Round-up posts have been an attempt to chronicle this development to some degree, but just watching the news or seeing the newest commercials for consumer electronics should clue you in that we are rapidly losing context for the rate at which our technology is growing. Some say we are very near the Singularity, but some even say we’re already there. To see how we got where we are, let’s first look at how science fiction got to cyberpunk (marked by William Gibson’s entrance onto the scene).
From Gernsback to Gibson
In 1926, Hugo Gernsback, often included with Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as one of the “Fathers of Science Fiction,” popularized it with the mass market with his Amazing Stories “scientificion” magazine, attempting to explain hard-science concepts of the day to the common people through entertainment. This helped to establish a popular science fiction market and brought in writers of pulp-fiction novels to reap the benefits of a wider audience, but like many popular media, quickly became deluged with shallow writers. John W. Campbell Jr. picked up the torch to counter-revolutionize the genre with the hopes of creating a new movement toward more literary SF through his own magazine, Astounding Science Fiction (later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and even later simply Analog, as it is currently printed today). This began the Golden Age of Science Fiction from 1938 to 1946, in which writers such as A. E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein published their classic novels. After this, the New Wave of writers took over during the 50s, 60s, and 70s with novels such as William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, establishing postmodernist and deconstructionist themes and techniques as the artistic norm. This new batch of experimental writers was much more closely concerned with “soft” sciences than the “hard” science of Gernsback or Campbell, and explored the psychological, sociological, and cultural anthropological elements of futuristic worlds. Based in the hipster culture, the New Wave established itself as decidedly technophobic, a tendency which reversed itself as technology came to the hands of the new generation through the advent of personal computing, to later become entrenched in the cyberpunk culture which found its name in William Gibson’s short story “Burning Chrome.”
After that, cyberpunk took off, but I’ll get into it next week. For now, feel free to explore the links, but be ye forewarned: this stuff can be incredibly engrossing, be prepared to see your afternoon disappear!
Until then, has anyone read any New Wave authors like William S. Burroughs? From what I’ve read, he was pretty… eccentric, to say the least. What other authors have you read from before the 80s that maybe I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below!
About erikthereddestI'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.
Posted on April 3, 2013, in Authors, Books, Cyberpunk, Erik Marsh, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Neuromancer, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, William Gibson and tagged cyberpunk, History of science fiction, Hugo Gernsback, John W. Campbell Jr., Neuromancer, science fiction, William Gibson, William S. Burroughs. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.