The debate rages. Well maybe not “rages,” but its still going strong. I saw a rant a few days ago about how someone’s photo that they posted on reddit did not qualify as cyberpunk, because cyberpunk is not a “look.” You can find these rants almost daily by scrolling around. Hmmm. I discussed in a previous post why I believe that The Lightstream Chronicles is more aptly described as cyberpunk or sci-fi noir, than a standard science fiction crime thriller, and I provided some solid back-up for that conclusion. The reddit community defines it as this:
TL;DR: A genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology. Some would say it’s the world we live in today (but remember; it’s easy to get caught up in the romantic idea that our cyberpunk aesthetic is becoming a reality and forget that its a dystopic fate).
So, the group admits that there is, indeed a cyberpunk aesthetic, but it also sounds like that in, and of itself, is insufficient to satisfy—it needs the whole mélange to go with it. I have been reading a fascinating recap of the making of Blade Runner, in a book that is now out of print, entitled (interestingly enough) Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, by Paul Sammon. The author goes through almost every frame of the movie and provides comprehensive details on every aspect of the film from inception to its current cult status. Sammon (325) describes the films tie to the cyberpunk genre this way as a “a clearcut product of the 1980s”
“Cyberpunk also utilized many of the same narrative devices as Blade Runner; cyberpunk fiction was typically set in a sprawling megalopolis of the near, dark, and decadent future, pitted hard-edged, street-level outlaws against omniscient (and corrupt) corporations, and viewed emerging hypertechnologies with equal portions of fascination and distrust. And despite its air of superficial diffidence, cyberpunk—also very much like Blade Runner—was, at heart, essentially moral art, deeply concerned with all the flaws, compromises, and ethical choices that will always haunt humanity no matter how exotic or futuristic the background against which human dramas are played out.” 1
Yeah, baby. That’s what I call cyberpunk, and The Lightstream Chronicles is all about that. Hence, I am less of a stickler about whether or not the cyberpunk aesthetic contains the whole mélange. I think there is a cyberpunk aesthetic and it is indeed all around us. You can see what I’m talking about on my tumblr site.
Sammon also wisely quotes Bruce Sterling from his introduction to his Mirrorshades anthology.
“Cyberpunk is known for its telling use of detail, its carefully constructed intricacy, its willingness to carry extrapolation into the fabric of daily life. It favors ‘crammed’ prose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overload that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock ‘wall of sound’ (Sammon 325).”
If you follow that line of thinking you can also see why design fiction clearly emerges as an offspring of the overall genre. Personally, I think design fiction is at its best when it is playing on the edge of dystopia; mainly because society lives precariously close to that edge everyday and the emerging “hypertechnologies” that Sammon alludes to only take us closer to falling over that edge.
1. Sammon, Paul. Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1996. 325. Print.