“Post-Cyberpunk” Fiction and Dystopia as Clickbait #cyberpunk

In an article on the sci-fi publisher Tor’s website, author Cory Doctorow explains some of the differences between the first-wave cyberpunk of the 1980s and the “post-cyberpunk” that came after.

But the cyberpunks departed from that strain in their lionization of technologists: they made tinkering with computers rock-star cool, gangster cool, revolutionary leader cool. Untethered from the tedious business of having to deal with computers as they were, or even as they could be (given theoretical limits on computing), the cyberpunks were able to fuse the technologist archetype with the wizard archetype, creating protagonists who could use networks to project their will over billions of people without seeking permission or even facing real consequences.

…these same writers were, as William Gibson put it, “attuned to the poetics of technological subculture” (Gibson’s degree is in comparative literature, after all). They wrote about how it felt to have mastery of technology, and what the ethical, social and personal connotations of that mastery were. In that regard, they were squarely in the tradition of the strain of sf that starts with Frankenstein and the technologist’s inner life of hubris, self-doubt, triumph and regret.

He goes on to explain that later authors, like himself, Neal Stephenson, Charlie Stross, Annalee Newitz, and others were inspired by Gibson, Sterling, and company but they had a different relationship to technology. Unlike the early authors, these post-cyberpunks were technologists themselves and brought a more sober relationship with technology to their fiction.

This “post-cyberpunk” fiction is just as attuned to the “poetics of technological subculture,” but with a significant difference: computers in post-cyberpunk fiction, are, by and large, not metaphors. Rather than imagining futuristic computers whose capabilities and limitations are defined by the plot, post-cyberpunk writers imagine futuristic plots whose contours are defined by the capabilities and limitations of computers from Cryptonomicon to my own Little Brother.

Cory’s piece is in support of his latest novel, Attack Surface, the third of his New York Times best-sellers in the Little Brother universe (Little Brother, Homeland).

Read the full article.

Another contemporary sci-fi author inspired by cyberpunk is Chris Brown. His third novel, Failed State, takes places in the same world as his highly-recommended Tropic of Kansas and Rules of Capture. As part of his book promotion, he also has an excellent essay on the Tor site, Dystopia as Clickbait: Science Fiction, Doomscrolling, and Reviving the Idea of the Future.

This spring, the fashion house Balenciaga launched its latest line with a fictional news broadcast from dystopia. Repurposing the uncanny valley as virtual runway, the video features prosthetically altered models with blackened mouths speaking in electronic blurts over a grim techno soundtrack, pantomiming headlines from a world of disappearing water, robot control, and planets realigning—all while wearing austerely futuristic new couture apparently designed to aesthetically summon this grim tomorrow into being, as the conceptual chyron crawl scrolls enigmatic koans like “In space humans cannot cry,” “Mushrooms have thousands of genders,” and (perhaps grimmest of all) “It’s always Fashion Week somewhere.” While it may not make you want to buy the clothes, it provides another remarkable example of people explaining what it feels like to be alive right now through reference to our darkest science fictions.

You don’t need to trawl avant-fashion shows to find it—just check your news feed.

Read the rest of the article here.


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