There had been revolutions in science fiction before. In the '40s, Astounding had moved the genre away from space operas towards Campbellian "hard" SF. The '60s and early '70s had the New Wave: Samuel R. Delany, Ursula LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, Algis Budrys, all trying to bring some sort of literary quality to the genre. As Bruce Sterling himself has noted, the cyberpunk movement (fostered by editors Ellen Datlow at Omni and Gardner Dozois at Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction
Magazine) was different only in degree and in timing.
Timing is everything, though. Cyberpunk comes from two root words: cybernetics, the study of communications and control systems, and punk, the bastard son of garage rock birthed in the '70s. Cybernetics--for which one can read " computers"--was rapidly beginning to reshape society. Orwellian fantasies of Big Brother warred with an anarchistic hacker culture. Punk rock spewed vitriol, foisting a Do-It-Yourself ethos and scruffy street sensibilities on the culture at large; it also delivered the two great symbols of cyberpunk: mirrorshades and black leather.
Bruce Sterling started a little samizdat journal--a Xeroxed zine, reproduced and distributed by anyone who felt like it--of science fiction criticism called Cheap
Truth. Amazingly enough, stories started to get published--in Interzone,
Omni, IASFM--that practiced what
Sterling and his cohorts preached. A few stories here and there. Then Gibson's Neuromancer, and the floodgates opened.
Depending on when you date it from, cyberpunk is
somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen years old. Revolutions
die. The hacker ethic got killed off around the time Bill Gates
figured out how he could make a living charging for his software.
Punk rock died, maybe when the Clash recorded London
Calling with a big-name dinosaur of a producer. Maybe
cyberpunk died. Maybe it evolved. Whatever it was as a subgenre,
it's changed over the years, and artifacts were left behind. I
discovered one of them, Sterling's The Artificial Kid, on the shelf of my
library when I was 13. Cyberpunk's legacy may be the reshaping of
science fiction; it may be the fiction of pre-millenial tension;
it may be the perfect forum for exploration of what it means to
be postmodern. It may just be the sense of wonder it raised in the thirteen year-old me and a few books that are awfully fun to read, regardless of the stir they caused when they were written. That in itself is a pretty fine legacy.
This is what we define as cyberpunk. This is what we
think about it. We hope you enjoy.
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