Chapter 8

Cyberpunk is originally a literature- and film-oriented movement. We will begin with literature.

There are different science fiction genres (abbreviated: sci-fi ), and the definitions are somewhat arbitrary. Sci-fi bibliographies often range across such wide areas as fantasy and horror , but this book is not about science fiction literature in general. I will therefore proceed to the part of sci-fi that is called cyberpunk.

The definition of cyberpunk is usually that it is a book that resembles something written by William Gibson ; a type of futuristic account of society where advanced computer, nano-, and biotechnology as well as artificial intelligence is part of the ordinary. The world is rigidly segregated by a small, ruling elite of multinational corporations and a large, brutal mass of regular people. Governments have yielded to large conglomerates and mafias, which control the world. The action generally takes place in enormous metropolitan areas of a ghetto-like character. Drugs of all kinds are widely available, the pace is fast, and personal and environmental descriptions are superficial and often (in the case of Gibson) chock-full of trademarks and digital jargon. A typical cyberpunk story is set around the year 2020.

Cyberpunk is usually referred to as dystopian , as it describes something close to the opposite of a utopia . Most early science fiction novels were utopian, where disease was a thing of times past, a unified political system had replaced constant conflict, and the action usually centered around a group of scientists on a mission across the universe, or on space heroes such as Flash Gordon . The TV series Star Trek is a definitive utopia. It is not the case that a utopia has no problems; it is simply that "the good guys" are always the winner and never morally questionable. All utopian chronicles are optimistic visions of the society of the future.

In a dystopia, many problems remain in the world, the natural environment is almost completely ruined, and politics is (as usual) chaotic. The books are therefore much more plausible than classical sci-fi works, and has acquired a wide readership among people who normally do not read sci-fi. Earlier, some were of the opinion that it was unnecessary to descrabe realities that were worse than the one on Earth. Some dystopian authors, like Stephen King, therefore abandoned science fiction in favor of writing horror literature. Dystopias are, however, more suitable for social criticism than utopian works. Since many dystopias are satirical or comedic, cyberpunk constitutes a sharp contrast through its cold realism. Other notable dystopias are Karin Boyes' Kallocain and George Orwell's 1984 .

Just like most US science fiction, cyberpunk has its roots in so-called pulp fiction. Pulp is a rough cellulose material used to make paper, and pulp fiction derives its name from the rough, porous quality of the paper it was printed on. Since the film industry was still at an embryonic stage, people read much more books and magazines, and pulp was the "crude", cheap literature. Comics and TV series such as Flash Gordon are also called pulp, since they were inspired by stories and illustrations from these magazines. Pulp seems silly and incredibly far-fetched to the normal Swedish reader, but for sci-fi lovers across the world, pulp is the origin and source of all modern science fiction, and the cause of its own subculture.

Bruce Sterling , Gibson, and a few other sci-fi authors had their own pulp magazine called Cheap Truth . Although it wasn't produced in the 50's, it was run in and with the same spirit as the best early pulp magazines. They thought that no really good sci-fi was being written. They encouraged people to get their own word processors and write good, vivid, and readable science fiction. Not seldom did they come down on best-selling authors in the genre. An interesting detail about Cheap Truth was that it wasn't copyrighted, and that copying and distribution was encouraged.

Cyberpunk is a little more than this, but the literary genre is basically synonymous with a small group of American authors, of which William Gibson and Bruce Sterling were the most famous. A few 2000 AD comics, especially Judge Dredd , are also considered cyberpunk, since their world is somewhat similar to Gibson's dystopias. The term cyberpunk was supposedly coined by a gentleman named Gardner Dozois in a review of Gibson's first book, Neuromancer . Dozois is said to have, in turn, gotten that label from a short story by Bruce Bethke , which had been submitted for his review. (1)

The message of the cyberpunk novel is one of warning - the stories are nightmarish visions of a future society that we risk becoming subjects of, unless we take precautions. The word cyberpunk is derived from cybernetics = humans or society in the interaction with machines (from the greek kybeternetes = first mate or pilot), and punk = virtually lawless individual with a mildly anarchistic social view, cowboy style, living in the underground.

1. This resulted in a considerable amount of controversy. Bethke considered it his right to define the term "cyberpunk", since he had invented it. Bethke's definition does not coincide with Dozois's.


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