Cyberpunk – A New Anthology

Cyberpunk. In the early 1980s Interzone called for a “new science fiction” and a small group of writers in North America responded, starting a Movement that focussed on high tech and low life that used information technology and cybernetics, but took them out of the lab and onto the street where anyone could pick them up, recycle and reuse them.

The fiction was gritty, typically dark and dystopic, and in the mid-1980s, utterly thrilling. Writers like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, John Shirley, Lewis Shiner and others pushed the envelope and cyberpunk evolved into only the second true literary movement in the history of science fiction (after the New Wave).

In 1986 Bruce Sterling edited Mirrorshades, the definitive anthology of cyberpunk fiction. It featured just a dozen stories, all of which sketched out in one way or another, what cyberpunk was and what it meant. In some cases the authors weren’t cyberpunks per se, but the work in question very much was.

I’ve just accepted the challenge from Jeremy Lassen at Night Shade Books to, a quarter century later, follow in Bruce’s footsteps and edit a new anthology that will cast its net wider and deeper, and give a fuller picture of what the cyberpunk movement was and what it meant to the field. The anthology, which is still untitled (though I’m referring to it as Cyberpunk at the moment), is due out in 2012.

What I am doing now, though, is asking you to recommend your favourite cyberpunk story using my Cyberpunk Fiction Database. I am looking for recommendations for short stories, novels, and anthologies, and am considering any cyberpunk story, no matter when it was published.  I am especially interested in / looking for recommendations for work by women, people of colour and others.  Cyberpunk was mostly a white male phenomenon, but I’m eager to present as full a picture of this important movement as possible.  Anyone recommending a story will be acknowledged in the final book. I’ve put some recommendations in myself, just to get things started.  You can see what’s already in the database here.

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13 Comments

  1. “Mother in the Sky with Diamonds” – James Tiptree Junior – classic proto-cyberpunk work. I don’t know exactly when it was published, though, but it’s pre-1973.

    I also think NOVA is worty of mention since it anticipates many cyberpunk tropes although it’s obviously not short fiction.

  2. Hmmm…

    Johnny Mnemonic – William Gibson [likely ‘Dogfight’ [with Michael Swanwick]as well

    Dogwalker – Orson Scott Card

    The Caress – Greg Egan [?] I sure like this story though…this and ‘Learning to be Me’ were a gateway drug to Egan’s work.

    Probably some Norman Spinrad…’Streetmeat’ might apply.

  3. Hey Bruce – I am still unsure about Egan as a cyberpunk writer – Spinrad is interesting – Will also check out the Card – Thanks for the recs!!

  4. Strange to see only one Sterling story so far (although I agree that “The Beautiful and the Sublime” is a good one) but in a way it’s not strange either; for all his importance as spokesman of the movement, much of his fiction didn’t seem to fit easily into the category. The Shaper/Mech stories are still fantastic, and they have the requisite density of ideas, crammed prose and eyeball kicks – but there’s precious little that’s “punk” about them.

    I certainly don’t see Egan as operating in any kind of cyberpunk tradition. And while I think it’s legitimate to talk about stories that anticipated or shaped the movement before it crystallised, I don’t think there’s any sense in which one can talk about writing cyberpunk after about 1988. That’s my take, anyway: it was a specific movement borne of a particular period, and it lived fast and died young.

  5. I think you’ve hit on something here. In many ways, Sterling is the cyberpunk who didn’t really write cyberpunk. Even his contributions to Mirrorshades are actually collaborations with other writers. He defiinitely wrote hard SF, and SF with cyborgs, but while he wrote quite a few historical fantasies he didn’t write much about the mean streets. I would say that he turned into one of the great post-cyberpunk writers though.

    I’d also agree that the case for Egan is a cyberpunk seems hard to make. There’s no doubt he fits the ‘cyber’ part of the term and his fiction is dark in places, but I don’t think there’s anything ‘punk’ about it at all. I do wonder about the cyberpunk written after it lost the punk.

  6. Jonathan: it’s that mean streets thing which is not there in Sterling’s fiction (at least of the period). His protagonists tended to be elites of one sort of another, from the space diplomats of Swarm through the whole Shaper sequence, to the future aristocrats and artists of the Beautiful and the Sublime. Movers and shakers, rather than underdogs like Gibson’s Case. This is the case right through Sterling’s career, up to and including The Caryatids.

    I guess the second point is – when you talk about cyberpunk, is it a Movement, a subgenre, or a marketing category? I think it went through all three phases, with decreasing returns. The key figures associated with it, though, had pretty much moved on by the time the term escaped out into the world. 1988 is the cutoff for me – that’s the year that the last of the Sprawl novels came out, and also the year that Sterling published Islands in the Net, which (I think) marked the shift in his concerns to global themes – Earth and the nearish future – that carries right through to his recent books.

  7. I’d in general agree that the cyberpunk label doesn’t rest all that well on Egan, the particular story recommended by Blue Tyson, Luminous, feels quite relevant. Hacking the universe with mathematics to keep reality altering power out of the hands of a large corporation. I happened to have an anthology on hand with that story and just enjoyed the re-read. I also fairly recently read his first novel, Quarantine. It starts out pure cyberpunk but eventually settles into the mathematically philosophical hard SF he’s known for.

    Thanks a TON for making the database you’re compiling visible. I’ve already incorporated it into my genre mapping and recommendation utility. Feel free to check out the Cyberpunk Tagshadow

  8. As for the question of Egan’s relation to cyberpunk, I once had this to say. It depends on what your definition of cyberpunk is. “Learning to Be me” and “Reasons to Be Cheerful” are both stories that address some of cyberpunk’s central concerns, if not its style.

    Of the original cyberpunks’ works that weren’t in Mirrorshades, I would include John Shirley’s “Wolves of the Plateau.”

  9. If you can find a copy of Helen Merrick’s “The Secret Feminist Cabal,” there’s an excellent chapter (#6) on cyberpunk that deconstructs the idea that it was purely a white-male domain or invention; it’s filled with author references, too.

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