[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 21 February 2004]
Interesting but short interview with William Gibson at The Philadelphia Enquirer. [Edit Sept. 26, 2013: Like most newspapers, the Philly Enquirer breaks links with wild abandon, so this one no longer works.]
I’ve been a massive Gibson fan-boy ever since Neuromancer completely shattered my head during my formative years. Heck, I’m even dork enough that I keep naming my computers after characters and objects in his books.
The fun paradox with Gibson is that he prophesied all this grungy tech, even coining the term “cyberspace,” but is a completely non-technical person. Or perhaps that’s not a paradox, but the source of his strength–he envisions society, not technology, and fits in whatever technology resonates with that vision of society. Not being technological allows him to remain unfettered by the realities of the current state of tech. In an older interview,
Gibson talked about having a problem with his Mac, calling Apple Care, and having the tech explain to him how hard drives work. Gibson was quite bummed out–he’d had this idea of some kind of crystal doing magic things, and a bunch of spinning platters with a rust coating was a big let-down.
I’m personally really bummed that cyberpunk as a literary genre has flamed out, or perhaps been assimilated into the mainstream of sci-fi and thus been diluted. The real value of cyberpunk may have been to inject life into the horrible stagnated sci-fi scene of the time.
If for some reason you’ve managed to go through your days without a good inoculation of dystopia, here’s a highly subjective and woefully incomplete Canon of Cyberpunk:
Neuromancer, of course. Along with the rest of Gibson’s work.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Came out at the end of the movement, and sort of encapsulates it. Stephenson isn’t all that dystopic, though.
Islands in the Net, and Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling. Sterling is probably the hardest-edge of the cyberpunk authors when it comes to technology, and he crams his novels shock full of ideas. His prose is far less stylish than Gibson, though.
When Gravity Fails, by George Effinger. All the hardcore elements of the genre with the interesting twist of taking place in an Arab country.
Mirroshades, edited by Bruce Sterling. Very nice anthology of short stories by the movers and shakers in the genre.
Halo, by Tom Maddox. Halo diverges a bit from the classic formula, but stays in the general mindset of the movement.
To delve further into the cyberpunk world view and the sources that highly influenced the scene, the following proto-cyberpunk novels make excellent reading:
The Atrocity Exhibition, by J.G. Ballard. An incredibly rich and hallucinatory book that stands all by itself as its own genre. The sensibilities are pure cyberpunk, though. Be warned that it is in places quite dense. Try to find an annotated edition.
1984, by George Orwell. No cyberpunk collection is complete without the granddaddy of technological dystopia. If you haven’t read it since high school, it’s eminently worth picking up again. After you read it, watch some C-SPAN…
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. This is the seminal proto-cyberpunk novel. A huge influence on all the cyberpunk authors. Be aware that you will have to read it at least twice to have any idea what is going on, but it’s well worth it, as Pynchon’s prose is in places arguably some of the finest ever produced in the English language. (I may get viciously pummeled by goons from English departments across the world for such a statement, but hey, that’s life on the edge.)
That should do it for a good starter kit. Later on, I’ll put together a list of recommended background music.