What follows is Sterling's general take on the importance of the cyberpunk genre, quoted from his introduction to Mirrorshades. It may help to better orient the reader.
The new movement in science fiction was quickly recognized and given many labels: Radical Hard SF, the Outlaw Technolgists, the Eighties Wave, the Neuromantics, the Mirrorshades Group. But of all the labels pasted on and peeled throughout the early Eighties, one has stuck: cyberpunk.
Cyberpunk is a product of the Eighties milieu -- in some sense a definitive product. ...Like punk music, cyberpunk is in some sense a return to roots. The cyberpunks are perhaps the first SF generation to grow up not only within the literary tradition of science fiction but in a truly science-fictional world. For them, the techniques of classical "hard SF" --extrapolation, technological literacy-- are not just literary tools but an aid to daily life. They are a means of understanding, and highly valued.
In pop culture, practice comes first; theory follows limping in its tracks. Before the era of labels, cyberpunk was simply "the Movement" --a loose generational nexus of ambitious young writers, who swapped letters, manuscripts, ideas, glowing praise, and blistering criticism. There writers --Gibson, Rucker, Shiner, Shirley, Sterling-- found a friendly unity in their common outlook, common themes, even in certain oddly common symbols, which seemed to crop up in their work with a life of their own.
Technical culture has gotten out of hand. The advances of the sciences are so deeply radical, so disturbing, upsetting, and revolutionary, that they can no longer be contained. They are surgin into culture at large, they are invasive; they are everywhere. The traditional power structure, the traditional institutions, have lost control of the pace of change. And suddenly a new alliance is becoming evident: an integration of technology and the Eighties counterculture. An unholy alliance of the technical world and the world of organized dissent --the underground world of pop culture, visionary fluidity, and street-level anarchy.
Certain central themes spring up repeatedly in cyberpunk. The theme of body invasion: prosthetic limbs, implanted circuitry, cosmetic surgery, genetic alteration. The even more powerful theme of mind invasion: brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry--techniques radically redefining the nautre of humanity, the nature of self.
The cyberpunks, being hybrids themselves, are fascinated by interzones: the areas where, in the words of William Gibson, "the street finds its own uses for things." Roiling, irrepressible, street graffiti from that classic industrial artifact, the spray can. The subversive potential of the home printer and the photocopier.
The Eighties are an era of reassessment, of integration, of hybridized influences, of old notions shaken loose and reinterpreted with a new sophistication, a broader perspective. The cyberpunks aim for a wide-ranging, global point of view.