Introduction to the Deep Dark World of Cyberpunk Fiction

cyberpunk by mjbauer

My academic year started on a rather chaotic note. Four days before the first semester was to start, I realised I hadn’t enrolled in any courses. Thankfully I ended up managing to enroll in whatever courses caught my eye (that is, in my 1-second glance of hurry-up-hysteria). Consequently, I found myself stranded in a classroom with a PowerPoint on in the background, displaying grey buildings, computer screens, and an overall immense amount of green little numbers in diagonal columns (you know, like the ones they have in The Matrix, which turns out to be my first and foremost point of reference when trying to say anything remotely intelligent about Science Fiction cyberpunk or whatever dystopian genre you find to your liking). Now, if you’re like me, naively trying to broaden your horizon but then finding yourself gob-smacked at all the talk of technology and cybernetics, with a face that can convey you have NO IDEA what is going on and would VERY MUCH like a PRECISE definition of WHAT THE HELL cyberpunk is… well, then you’re in the right place.

My parents have always encouraged me to read. It was the thing to do before bedtime: “only ten more minutes and then lights go out,” was a regular. At the age of eleven I had mastered the secret ‘under the duvet cover with a flashlight’ move. I like emotional books. Humorous ones occasionally. Science fiction was an utterly unknown genre to me. Not that the aforementioned qualities can’t be found in SF, the latter certainly can, but in the context of technological infrastructures and cyborgs I seem to not be able to appreciate these notions, because the whole thing has to be real for me. Well, all right then, “what is real,” you might ask.

Questions similar to “what is real?” come up in class, but they often seem hopelessly unsolvable to me. I mean: are we really going to delve into subjects like that? The notion of consciousness has also been quite a conversational topic, but its complexity mainly poses a really good excuse for me to drift off into the realms of Half-Awake and Half-Asleep. There, I think about the latest Siri Hustvedt book I just bought, plan on how to factor ‘me-time reading’ into ‘cyber-time’ reading, because yes, rather than the dystopian notion of technology taking over ones life, the reading of cyberpunk fiction has taken over mine.

After about three classes I finally managed to somewhat consciously follow what was going on. The reading was Burning Chrome, written by the grandfather of cyberpunk, William Gibson, and I had read the story, but apparently neglected to understand the part where the main characters were in cyberspace, This meant that they didn’t have bodies, which meant that the sentence “Bodiless, we flew through space” did, in fact, make sense. Eureka! I felt on a roll after this one, read back my notes from the first class and what did I find hidden within my illegible writing? The answer to your prayers: the definition we’ve all been waiting for. No, cyberpunk is not a Sex Pistols song recorded in space. Rather, it contains the word “punk” because it embodies everything describing countercultures, shifts in lifestyles and societal rules. The punk era consisted of putting diaper pins in ears rather than in babies’ diapers, so the function of pins here, was warped. The “cyber” aspect of course stems from “cyberspace”: an imitation of the real world consisting of information. This combination of punk and cyber makes for a highly dystopian genre causing much time and space confusion. It is up to you to choose whether you want to be confused in a realm of floating around in identity crises, organized information systems and despondent thoughts about humanity. But I think my chaotic mind calls for floating around in the here and now, casually reading a SF book here and there, but mostly enjoying the daylight outside which frequently permeates my light reading.

 

ISA

Header image by mjbaur on deviantart.

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