Saturday, December 24, 2011

Notes for a future post on cyberpunk

I'd like to say that my political awakening was probably somewhere between Alien/Aliens (corporations will kill you for a profit) and Neuromancer (corporations will remake you to suit their needs, but man, do they have cool stuff!); so, naturally, when the fun podcast Writing Excuses attempted to define cyberpunk, I was bound to have some serious thoughts on the matter.

This post is not those serious thoughts, but only my initial thoughts/my dissent from what they said at Writing Excuses. In order:
  1. Yes, Mary Robinette Kowal is correct when she notes that the "punk" has to do with a gritty, street-level aspect. Things are not clean and perfect. In an interview, Gibson noted that the dirty sneakers in Alien was a big influence, and we can see how that's a serious change from our previous images of space travel.
  2. There's an argument about whether "cyberpunk" as a literary genre has more to do with hacker/anti-corp culture ("we'll make it ourselves") or not--and I definitely agree with Mary (again) that the "maker" culture that we live in now is only partly present in many of the foundational works of cyberpunk. For instance, Gibson's Neuromancer includes a lot of mods, but also a lot of brand-name stuff, stuff that they just collected--the military-grade "icebreaker" that they get is Chinese military, not something they made in their garage with their maker-bot.
  3. They discuss the East vs. West dynamic of cyberpunk, but that's only part of it; cyberpunk takes place in a post-industrial world, where capital is free to flow, so it's a world of globalization that extends beyond East vs. West. There's nothing really strange in doing African or Arabic cyberpunk, as all those elements exist in the foundation texts.
  4. Is there a big fear of corporations in cyberpunk? This is one of the standard academic lit readings of Neuromancer, that the corporations will do a number on your very being and we'll all end up programmable ROMs in the machine, like the Dixie Flatline construct. What that reading misses is a) how there are spaces beyond corporate control ("perversity" is one name for it, historical trauama is another); and b) how remaking of the self occurs in non-corporate settings (Dixie training Case).
  5. Similarly, does cyberpunk have a fear of technology? It seems more ambivalent to me.
  6. Does cyberpunk have a sense of wonder or a world-weariness? That's such a great question that I think I need to take a few days off to re-read "The Gernsback Continuum," which has a lot to say on this issue.

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