What Happened to Cyberpunk?

Image by Dream Beam.

Any regular reader of Space Canon knows my fondness for cyberpunk; Gibson, Rudy Rucker, and Bruce Sterling have all received breathless passes on these pages. Cyberpunk at its peak–before the movement was co-opted by 90s ‘netsploitation flicks and video games–was sexy, prescient, fiercely countercultural, and absolutely the medium most fit for our impending technological milieu.

Still, even an old head like me knows that cyberpunk today is associated more with rollerblades, bad computer animation and mirrored sunglasses than any intellectual subculture of note. For most people, it’s basically a joke: ha ha, let’s rent Hackers! And yet, we live in a world where crypto-anarchic hacker cabals launch decentralized attacks on megacorporations and governments, where institutional intrusion into the Internet threatens our privacy, where even the most milquetoast norm lives half their life online. Which is to say, shouldn’t the issues raised by cyberpunk fiction be more relevant than ever?

Basically, what happened? Where did cyberpunk go? Well, the question piqued me so much that I wrote a long piece on the subject for my favorite blog, Motherboard. In the process, I managed to get essentially every major cyberpunk author, ranging from the O.G. participants to those who have (for better or worse) inherited their legacy, to contribute their thoughts on the question. Rudy Rucker offered this, “If nobody’s pissed off, you’re not trying hard enough. I’ll never stop being a cyberpunk.” William Gibson, on the other hand, was less rough-and-tumble; “Cyberpunk today,” he noted, “is a standard Pantone shade in pop culture.”

Want to know what Neal Stephenson said? Or Charlie Stross? Check out all ten cyberpundits’ contributions at “It Evolved Into Birds: Ten Science-Fictional Thinkers On the Past and Future of Cyberpunk.” And don’t miss the original essay, “What Happened to Cyberpunk?” And if that’s your thing, it’s blowing up on Reddit right now.

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