Cyberpunk: Past, Present or Future?

640x960_17218_Coffee_time_2d_sci_fi_cyborg_robot_girl_woman_picture_image_digital_artThe Matrix. Blade Runner. Terminator. These films have come to define our mainstream perception of cyberpunk. And when we think of the cyberpunk genre, we often imagine some far-off future, a cityscape of neon lights and flying vehicles, a world foreign from our own.

But is it?

I’m writing this from my favorite Starbucks, where I’m huddled in the corner, trying to stay warm. It’s drafty in here, everyone wearing coats and hats even while inside. A couple of older gentlemen sit across from me, discussing their plans for a new church program. I can hear them in between songs, but I’m concentrating, focusing, trying to put words to the thoughts in my head. I’m listening to The Matrix soundtrack on repeat, my headphones plugged into my touchscreen laptop computer. My iPhone sits face-up on my armchair so I can easily see new texts. The woman two seats away keys something into her laptop while holding a device to her ear. Beyond her, a man in a leather jacket appears to be talking to himself. Upon further inspection, I see he’s wearing a Bluetooth.

So much technology. Everywhere.

Merriam-Webster defines cyberpunk as “science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology.” As a genre it became popular in the early 1980s. Authors like William Gibson (Neuromancer) and Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was made into the film Blade Runner) tapped into societal fear about an unknown future, a future of machines and widespread enslavement to technology. Films like the Terminator series, Johnny Mnemonic, Robocop, 12 Monkeys, and The Matrix trilogy all fall in the cyberpunk genre.

Early cyberpunk described a future society dominated by technology.

Sound familiar?

In a thoughtful post entitled Whatever Happened to Cyberpunk, sci-fi writer Damien Walter says the futuristic world described in Neuromancer and other early cyberpunk works has already come and gone.

“Being a teenager in the 90s was like living half your life in a digital mind-control experiment, as advertisers vied to control our spending patterns,” Walter writes. “Here…where screens occupy every corner of our world, I’m guessing being a teenager is like living 98% of your life in a digital mind control that is no longer experimental.”

Scary. And true. Observe any group of teens at the mall. Observe anybody anywhere, for that matter.

Face it, early cyberpunk described societal fears that have already become manifest. We’re living in that world right now.

Kinda makes me wonder…what’s coming next?

5 thoughts on “Cyberpunk: Past, Present or Future?

  1. In 1983, Bruce Bethke wrote a short story entitled”Cyberpunk,” which led to the widespread use of the name. The reason I know this is that I read his blog on writing and actually won a small writing contest. My prize was a copy of his novel “Wild Wild West.” Bethke absolutely hates the novel and the experience that went along with it.

    Bethke is a great guy, lives in Minnesota, and is now the editor of: http://stupefyingstories.com

    Sorry for the name dropping, but what’s next, right? I don’t have a clue, but hopefully if I hang around your site, you will keep me informed.

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    1. Is that the same “Wild Wild West” that became a movie with Will Smith? Interesting that he hates the novel. Has he said why?

      Thanks for sharing this…I knew that Bethke is credited with first using the term cyberpunk, but had no idea that you had a history with him!

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  2. Bethke blogged the whole story about his novel “Wild Wild West.” His agent and publisher talked him into writing the novel because he did not want to do it. The publisher promised to publish Bethke’s following novel without any questions asked. Bethke was given the script from the movie and he drafted the novel. The script was changed and changed and changed. He kept having to redo the novel. Finally, the deadline for the novel and the movie’s release was fast arriving. The publishing company eventually accepted what he had and called it quits.

    The movie bombed. Then, the book bombed. The publisher told Bethke that his reputation was lousy because of the novel and refused to honor their agreement. Bethke’s promising writing career died.

    He ended up working for a software company and writing a little bit on the side. He now states that the book bought a new roof for his home.

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    1. This is a frightening story from a writer’s perspective, because I think most writers fear losing control in the editing/publishing process and facing pressure to write something that we don’t want to write. Writing is an art, and publishing is business. How difficult to keep the two separate sometimes! You’ve definitely piqued my interest about Bethke…I need to spend some more time reading his stuff.

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