December 7, 2022

What Is Cyberpunk?

Reprinted from article by https://www.neondystopia.com/what-is-cyberpunk/

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction set in a dystopian futuristic setting that tends to focus on the “combination of low life with high technology”, featuring futuristic technologies and scientific achievements such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, that interact with society Crash, dystopia or decay all at the same time. Much of cyberpunk is rooted in the New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 70s, examining the influence of drug culture, technology, and the sexual revolution, while avoiding the utopian tendencies of earlier science fiction.

Trying to define Cyberpunk is a difficult task. In short, however, Cyberpunk refers to both a culture and a genre. Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that features advanced science and technology in an urban, dystopian future. On one side you have powerful mega-corporations and private security forces, and on the other you have the dark and gritty underworld of illegal trade, gangs, drugs, and vice. In between all of this is politics, corruption, and social upheaval.

“High tech. Low life.”

Cyberpunk is also a culture with attitude and a distinct style. Anti-authoritarian, brand-averse, tech-literate; these are just some of the qualities you may find in a cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk Origins

Cyberpunk began as a literary movement but has become a subcultural organism. “What is Cyberpunk?” is a complex and multi-layered question, whose answer is ever-changing as the subculture and our perception of the future changes. The tendrils, that began in the written word, have infiltrated beyond movies to all forms of art, fashion and philosophy generating an all-encompassing and ever-growing subculture.

There are number of ways to examine the origins of the cyberpunk movement. The term “cyberpunk” itself can be traced to the short story Cyberpunk by Bruce Bethke. Then of course, there are the core cyberpunk authors that are generally accepted to have laid the ground work of the cyberpunk movement William Gibson (Gibson is considered the founder of Cyberpunk), Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley and Lewis Shiner. There are also a number of precursor novels that had strong themes and imagery that would be later associated with the cyberpunk genre such as The Demolished Man (1953) and The Stars My Destination (1956) by Alfred Bester, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Phillip K. Dick, Dr. Adder (Written in 1972, but not published until 1984) by K.W. Jeter, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon, The Shockwave Rider (1975) by John Brunner, and True Names (1981) by Vernor Vinge. More recently Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash (1992), is largely credited with bringing cyberpunk into the post-cyberpunk era.

Finding A Definition

We can break down a basic definition of cyberpunk by dissecting the word itself. Cyber refers to technology, and is most often associated with cyberspace (this word was originally coined by William Gibson himself), and cybernetic enhancements to the body. But this can can also refer to other technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology for instance.

Punk, on the other hand, refers to the people and the attitude that cyberpunk has. Protagonists in cyberpunk tend to be outsiders, anti-heros, outcasts, criminals, visionaries, dissenters, and misfits. The underlying aspect that applies to all of these groups is their subversive nature.

To subvert is to overthrow or undermine something. The cyberpunk genre itself subverted science fiction, and we never looked back. To be punk is to question authority, and to actively subvert any of that authority you don’t agree with. Different people do this in different ways, just as our cyberpunk protagonists do. An example is Motoko Kusanagi from the Ghost in the Shell franchise. On the surface she seems to be a tool and agent for the Japanese government. This is true, but this is not what defines her, nor how she defines herself. Throughout the series she is not afraid to go rogue and take things into her own hands if it will get her closer to what she thinks is right – fuck the politicians. She is a subversive element within the government.

When Is Cyberpunk?

Cyberpunk is now. Many of the things that were predicted in cyberpunk are coming to pass today. Improvements in prosthetics and brain computer interface have resulted in brain controlled prosthetics, a mainstay of cyberpunk. Corporations increasing dominate global politics, and influence culture creating a situation ripe for subversion. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer, creating a larger and larger divide. The cyberworld is ever merging with the real world through things such as the Internet of Things, social media, mobile technology, virtual reality, and augmented reality. Hackers have brought gangs, corporations, governments, and individuals to their knees. We have entered the cyberpunk age. Welcome.

Cyberpunk has spread to all forms of media, creating a subculture rather a simple genre. There are cyberpunk movies, television, comics, music, and art everywhere. All you have to do is look. Cyberpunk has influenced fashion, architecture, and philosophy. Cyberpunk has become much more than what it was when it began. And it will continue to evolve and become more relevant as we move further from the Cyberpunk Now into the Cyberpunk Future.