Cyberpunk in Context: Differentiation

Hello everyone, welcome back. Last week I continued my overview of how Cyberpunk fits in the context of SF history, and as this is my last week on rotation, this week I’d like to take a look at how things have developed from there. Again, a disclaimer: there are a ton of things I’m not addressing here, so if you think of something you think I should have commented on, please comment below.

Cyberpunk: The Differentiation

cyberpunk noir cityscape

What aesthetic, you ask? Generally, this.

Considering the aesthetic and literary shifts that cyberpunk introduced to SF, it is interesting to consider how short its life was as a movement. By most critics’ accounts, cyberpunk stopped being a pure movement (i.e. it started morphing into something else). This is usually considered to coincide with the final book of Rudy Rucker’s Ware Tetralogy, giving cyberpunk an approximate lifespan of 1984-2000, if we’re taking it from Neuromancer to Realware, the final Ware book.

Some time before this point, many smaller sub-movements had started to form, but it wasn’t until after this point that these smaller movements began to collectively overwhelm cyberpunk as the main flavor of the genre. In his article “Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto,” literary critic and author Lawrence Person sums up the transition by associating it with cyberpunk’s own genesis:

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 science fiction, but rather just another flavor of science fiction. 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.

Just as Gibson and the other cyberpunks had read the Golden Age authors right along side the New Wave, contemporary writers have been reading cyberpunk novels and fantasy novels, which have often been marketed alongside SF due to a perceived common demographic. With this in mind, it’s not surprising at all that we’ve been mixing genres ever since. This phenomenon has thus created “postcyberpunk,” the myriad sub-sub-genres that have sprouted from the movement, some reacting to cyberpunk’s philosophy, but all borrowing aesthetically and conceptually in one way or another.

The Island of Dr. Moreau (Dover Thrift Editions)  H. G. Wells

This book, other than its outdated ideas about technology, is basically biopunk.

As the cultural conversation shifted from the development of information technologies in the 80s and 90s to the ethical and sociological questions surrounding biotechnologies, the biopunk genre turned out novels describing future dystopian worlds of bioengineered humans reminiscent of The Isle of Dr. Moreau, or where any shmuck with a computer can engineer a deadly virus to potentially wipe out humanity. Further along, nanopunk came onto the scene focused on the development of nanotechnology and sub-molecular robotics, often to the exclusion of bioengineering, or as an extension of the technological progress often imagined in the cyberpunk genre. Steampunk, partially established by the collaborative work The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, set itself up with a “neovictorian” aesthetic applied to alternate-history fiction, whereas dieselpunk did the same with the post WWI era.

Generally, science fiction since the advent of cyberpunk has maintained its postmodern attitude of skepticism toward the use of technology by authorities, criminals, and private citizens, and has explored the possible worlds created if such technologies had existed in previous ages of history. The unifying factors are the aesthetic approach, often utilizing the same noir grittiness and tone as cyberpunk, but focused on the extrapolation of a particular technology group substituting information technology.

That’s it for now! Next time I’ll give a focused look at these mutant sub-genres and give you some suggestions if you want to experience them yourself. Until then, did I miss anything you think is important? Let me know in the comments below!


About erikthereddest

I'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 24, 2013, in Authors, Books, Cyberpunk, Erik Marsh, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Neuromancer, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, William Gibson and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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