Friday, December 7, 2007

Cyberpunk Redux

Recently I saw a copy of John Kessel's and James Patrick Kelly's anthology from Tachyon Press, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. It includes classic SF stories from the usual cyberpunk suspects -- Sterling, Cadigan, Shiner, -- as well as newer examples like Charles Stross's popular "Lobster." However, equally interesting is John Kessel's introduction, in which he intelligently (John is never otherwise) discusses the original cyberpunk movement of the '80's and its subsequent influence on the field. The introduction includes email exchanged twenty years ago between Kessel and Sterling when they were debating what SF was, should be, and could become. To read these is almost like looking into a time machine.

When Sterling as "Vincent Omniveritas" was holding forth in CHEAP TRUTH and Shiner as "Sue Denim" was slicing and dicing practically everybody's stories, cyberpunk was a hot controversy. Now it's an historical era. But the principles Sterling insisted on have definitely influenced SF: that the future be global, that technology is accelerating, that the uses to which it will be put will be at least as much criminal as legitimate, that technology will result in different and "post-human" humans, and that economics on a world scale should underlie any ambitious treatment of the future.

That last very much influenced me, even though I was never even remotely a cyberpunk. In 1989 I brought a not-very-good story to Sycamore Hill, a week-long writers' workshop attended by a widely disparate group of pros. Bruce Sterling tore my story apart, and no one, nowhere, no time, can be as savage a critic as Bruce. His underlying point was that I had paid no attention to how power or money worked in my invented society, and the results were unconvincing. After I'd gone home and licked my wounds for a while, I realized that Bruce was right. Power and money don't much interest me in real life, but that's no excuse for neglecting them in a future society where they must concern most people. So I thought about those mysteries, and thought, and thought, and the next thing I wrote was "Beggars In Spain." Thank you, Bruce.

1 comment:

BuffySquirrel said...

Beggars in Spain knocked me out when I first read it. I couldn't wrap my head around someone who never sleeps. Even the 'bedroom' without a bed freaked me out. Funny how much easier I find it to accept FTL space flight and uploaded humans than the removal of something so commonplace.

I found the sleepless dogs story far more disturbing in its implications, however.