Cyberpunk (a portmanteau of cybernetics and punk) is a sub-genre of science fiction which focuses on computers or information technology. The plot of cyberpunk literature often revolves around the conflict between hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorps. It is the result of a self-correction in the science fiction genre, which classically had ignored the importance of information technology.
Cyberpunk writers tend to use elements from the hard-boiled detective novel, film noir, Japanese anime, and post-modernist prose to describe the nihilistic, underground side of the digital society which started to evolve in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Cyberpunk's dystopian world has been called the antithesis of the mid-twentieth century's utopian science fiction visions, as typified by Star Trek.
The science fiction editor Gardner Dozois is generally acknowledged as being the person who popularized the term "cyberpunk" as a genre of literature. Minnesota writer Bruce Bethke claims to have coined the term originally in 1980 for his short story "Cyberpunk," although the story was not actually published until November 1983, in Amazing Science Fiction Stories, Volume 57, Number 4. The term was quickly appropriated as a label to be applied to the works of Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, Michael Swanwick, Pat Cadigan, Richard Kadrey and others. John Shirley's articles on Sterling and Rucker can be read here .
In cyberpunk literature, much of the action takes place online, in cyberspace - the clear borderline between the real and the virtual becomes blurred. A typical (though not universal) feature of the genre is a direct connection between the human brain and computer systems.
Cyberpunk's world is a sinister, dark place with networked computers that dominate every aspect of life. Giant multinational corporations have replaced governments as centres of power. The alienated outsider's battle against a totalitarian system is a common theme in science fiction; however, in conventional science fiction those systems tended to be sterile, ordered, and state-controlled. In sharp contrast, Cyberpunk shows the seamy underbelly of corporatocracy, and the Sisyphean battle against their power by disillusioned renegades. Protagonists in cyberpunk literature often include computer hackers and warriors inspired by Japanese anime, including cyborgs, samurai, and ninja. Protagonists are distinguished from others by their foul language, appreciation of art, and roguish charm—heroes are scoundrels, never clean-cut "good guys."
Cyberpunk literature tends to be strongly dystopian and pessimistic. It is often a metaphor for the present day, reflecting worries about large corporations, corruption in governments, and alienation. Some cyberpunk authors also intend their works to act as warnings of possible futures that may follow from current trends. As such, cyberpunk is often written with the intention of disquieting the reader and calling him to action.
Cyberpunk stories are seen by some social theorists as fictional forecasts of the evolution of the Internet. The virtual world of the Internet often appears in cyberpunk under various names, including "cyberspace," the "Metaverse" (as seen in Snow Crash), and the "Matrix" (originally from Doctor Who and later on in Neuromancer, but further popularized by the role playing game Shadowrun and later by the movie The Matrix).
Notable precursors to the genre
- George Orwell (1984, 1948)
- Alfred Bester (The Stars My Destination (Tiger! Tiger!), 1956)
- William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch, 1959, The Soft Machine, 1961)
- Roger Zelazny (Dream Master (He Who Shapes) )
- Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner)
- David Drake (Lacey and His Friends , 1974)
- John Brunner (The Shockwave Rider, 1975)
- John M. Ford (Web of Angels , 1980)
- K. W. Jeter (Dr. Adder , published in the 1980s but written earlier)
- Vernor Vinge (True Names, 1981)
- James Tiptree, Jr. (The Girl Who Was Plugged In, 1974)
- Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, 1932)
Cyberpunk writers and works
William Gibson with his novel Neuromancer (1984) is likely the most famous writer connected with the term cyberpunk. He emphasized style, character development and atmosphere over traditional science-fictional tropes, and Neuromancer was awarded the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards. Other famous cyberpunk writers include Bruce Sterling (who functioned as cyberpunk's chief ideologue with his fanzine Cheap Truth), Rudy Rucker, Pat Cadigan, and Neal Stephenson.
Raymond Chandler with his bleak, cynical worldview and staccato prose strongly influenced the creators of the genre. The world of cyberpunk is the dystopian, hopeless world of film noir, but pushed just a little bit into the future. Philip K. Dick also had a strong influence on the genre; his works contain recurring themes of social decay, artificial intelligence, and blurred lines between reality and some kind of virtual reality. Dick's characters are also marginalized more often than not.
The film Blade Runner (1982) based on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in a dystopian future in which synthetic life forms have substandard rights. The Robocop series has a more near-futuristic setting where at least one corporation , Omni Consumer Products, is an all-powerful presence in the city of Detroit.
The short-lived television series Max Headroom also introduced many viewers to the genre.
The Japanese manga-ka Masamune Shirow often writes in the cyberpunk style. His most notable stories within the genre include Appleseed, Black Magic M-66 , and especially Ghost in the Shell, which has been adapted into a critically acclaimed anime that questions, on several levels, the delineation between life and simulation. Ghost in the Shell has also been further adapted as a related television anime series called Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.
The most recent follow-up from Ghost in the Shell is the 2004 anime film from Mamoru Oshii called Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. Beyond his obvious reference to Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence achieves a unique spatial atmosphere and is one of the most philosophical tales related to artificial life. The story, replete with historical and literacy references, "does not hold the view that the world revolves around the human race. Instead it concludes that all forms of life—humans, animals and robots—are equal" (Mamoru Oshii).
An attempt to list cinema and television works that could be classified as cyberpunk is as follows:
List of films
Escape from New York (1981)
- Escape from L.A. (1996)
- Blade Runner (1982)
- Liquid Sky (1982)
- The Running Man (1987)
- Akira (1988)
- Robocop (1988)
- Total Recall (1990)
- Sneakers (1992)
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
- The Lawnmower Man 2 (1996)
- Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
- Ghost in the Shell: Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence) (2004)
- Avalon (2001)
- Dark City (1998)
- The Matrix (1999)
- Minority Report (2002)
- Imposter (2002)
- Paycheck (2003)
List of TV series
It is truly difficult to pinpoint what music embodies the cyberpunk genre due to the widespread styles and flavors used in the realm of the cyberpunk genre. Songs in genres ranging from classical music all the way to noize may fit environments created in cyberpunk fiction. Typically electronica, electronic body music, industrial, noize , futurepop, alternative rock, goth rock, and intelligent dance music are used in cyberpunk films and identify a cyberpunk sound.
- UV : Plays new styled EBM music with songs discussing technology. They were featured in the Matrix DVD Box set
- KMFDM: Plays guitar industrial and were featured on the soundtrack to Johnny Mnemonic.
- Velvet Acid Christ: Plays in the style of aggro-industrial.
- Gridlock: Plays "noize" music.
- VNV Nation: Plays futurepop.
At least two role-playing games called Cyberpunk exist: Cyberpunk 2020, by R. Talsorian Games, and GURPS Cyberpunk, published by Steve Jackson Games as a module of the GURPS family of role-playing games. Cyberpunk 2020 was designed with the settings of William Gibson's writings in mind, and to some extent with his approval, unlike the perhaps more creative approach taken by FASA in producing the Shadowrun game (see below). Both Cyberpunk-titled games are set in the near future, in a world where cybernetics and computers are even more present than today.
Another cyberpunk RPG included the (out of print) game Cyberspace, released by Iron Crown enterprises. Corporate corruption is a frequent theme in these games' adventures. The characters often find themselves skirting the law, if not outright flouting it. Recently, the d20 Open Gaming Movement has brought several new entries into the arena, including Mongoose's d20 Cyberpunk and LRG 's Digital Burn .
In 1990, in an odd re-convergence of cyberpunk art and reality, the U.S. Secret Service raided Steve Jackson Games's headquarters during Operation Sundevil and confiscated all their computers. This was—allegedly—because the GURPS Cyberpunk sourcebook could be used to perpetrate computer crime. That was, in fact, not the main reason for the raid, but after the event it was too late to correct the public's impression. Steve Jackson Games later won a lawsuit against the Secret Service, aided by the freshly minted Electronic Frontier Foundation. (See the GURPS Cyberpunk page.)
Role-playing games have also produced one of the more unique takes on the genre in the form of the 1989 game series Shadowrun. Here, the setting is still that of the dystopic near future; however, it also incorporates heavy elements of fantasy literature and games, such as magic, spirits, elves, and dragons. Shadowrun's cyberpunk facets were modeled in large part on William Gibson's writings, and the game's publishers, FASA, have been accused by many as having directly ripped off Gibson's work without even a statement of influence. Gibson, meanwhile, has been reported to be less than impressed with the inclusion of elements of high fantasy within clearly derivative setting elements and storytelling techniques that he had pioneered. Nevertheless, Shadowrun has introduced many to the genre, and still remains popular among gamers.
The trans-genre RPG Torg (published by West End Games) also included a variant cyberpunk setting (or "cosm") called the Cyberpapacy. This setting was originally a medieval religious dystopia which underwent a sudden Tech Surge. Instead of corporations or corrupt governments, the Cyberpapacy was dominated by the "False Papacy of Avignon ". Instead of an Internet, hackers roamed the "GodNet ", a computer network rife with overtly religious symbology, home to angels, demons, and other biblical figures.
Computer games have frequently used cyberpunk as sources of inspiration. The most prevalent of these are the System Shock series, the Deus Ex series and the Shadowrun video games. A recent notable cyberpunk computer game is Uplink, Created by Introversion Software in 2002, in which the player works as a freelance hacker in 2010.
- Beneath a Steel Sky
- Deus Ex
- Enter the Matrix
- Flashback: The Quest for Identity
- Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller
- Minority Report
- Red Faction
- System Shock
- Total Recall
- Metal Gear
An unusual sub-sub-genre of cyberpunk is steampunk, which is set in an anachronistic Victorian environment, but with cyberpunk's bleak, film noir world view. The Difference Engine was probably the novel that helped bring this genre to the forefront.
Cyberprep is a term that reflects the flip side of cyberpunk.
The early nineties saw the emergence of biopunk, a derivative sub-genre building not on informational technology but on biology, the other dominating scientific field of the end of the twentieth century. Individuals are enhanced not by mechanical means, but by genetic manipulation of their very chromosomes. Paul Di Filippo is seen as the most prominent biopunk writer.
"Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. We can do just about anything you can imagine to rats. And closing your eyes and refusing to think about this won't make it go away. That is cyberpunk." —Bruce Sterling
- Cyberpunk fashion
- alt.cyberpunk usenet group FAQ file
- The Cyberpunk Reading List that emerged from the usenet group
- Cyberpunk - The original Bruce Bethke story
- Cyberpunk Information Database
- Cyberpunk R.I.P. - By Paul Saffo, Wired Magazine
- English 309K - Cyberpunk Fiction
- GURPS Cyberpunk website
- R. Talsorian series on Cyberpunk film
- West End Games official website
- Introversion Software official website
- Salroth - Online CyberPunk Game site
- A Matrix & Ghost in the Shell comparison
- Neometropolis Magazine
- UV official site
- KMFDM official site
- Velvet Acid Christ official site
- Gridlock official site
- VNV Nation official site