Interesting article: cyberpunk is broken?

CTRandall

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#2
Seems an exageration to claim there's a problem with all sci-fi. Maybe there's a problem with cyberpunk (I can't really comment on that) but there's so much good stuff out there that doesn't fall into the traps described in the article, so I don't buy it.
 

OHB

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#3
I fail to see how anything mentioned in the article proves that sci-fi is "broken." I also never felt that cyberpunk had any greater impact on pop culture than other subgenres of sci-fi. While steampunk is definitely a popular subgenre right now, a lot of the new sci-fi novels I've seen recently are very inventive, don't recycle storylines, and don't fall into a -punk category. I'm constantly in awe of the things that other writers come up with and sometimes wish I had thought of them first (though my creative style is very different from theirs).
 

Serendipity

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#5
The way I'm reading the article is that the author is arguing that the development of so many whatever-punks based on the shining success of the 1980s cyberpunk movement indicates variations on a theme, rather that anything spectacularly new in science fiction. It is this lack of the spectacularly new that the author argues is worrying, in that it means science fiction is likely to run out of steam.

Whilst I agree with the conclusion, I don't quite agree with how the author got there. When has there been anything spectacularly new in science fiction since the 1980s?

Science fiction has been become more literary since then. The writing has become more exemplary and more polished. But the ideas? Where are they?

In part I blame the recent conservatism of the publishing industry, which has quite understandably been driven by the need to cut costs while still making sufficient profit. This in turn makes it prefer tried and tested formulaic stories over brash new experiments.

The only way to break through this conservatism is to take a new technology and show its causal (not necessarily logical) drastic changes on society as a whole and weave a story into it.

However, what I have noticed is a lot of up and coming technologies are being introduced into society so slowly that people have a chance to get used to them, so don't need to grab science fiction stories that explain their consequences. Also, this would be fighting against the publishers guiding the public to accept literary science fiction as good to have side of the genre.

As evidence to back up my claims, the anthology of six stories I published back in 2017 examines a whole load of new technologies (and in fact an invention in one story has already become an actuality), but did it gain mass interest?

In short, until the hold of literary science fiction on the readership is bent to include the true progressive of up and coming technologies, then science fiction as a genre will go round the same buoy time and again until it gets boring.
 

Toby Frost

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#6
I think this article is really talking about two things: the trappings of cyberpunk as a look, and the story structure (and perhaps world-view) that, it claims, all the “punk” books use.

Firstly, the visual style of cyberpunk – mirrored shades, lone hackers, shiny skyscrapers and so on – is retro and, I suspect, the future won’t look all that much like it. So, games like Cyberpunk 2077 are tapping into a vision of the future that is now gone, in the same way that the 1950s view of the future, with silver clothes and rayguns, is gone (interestingly, William Gibson wrote a story about this called “The Gernsback Continuum”). Something a bit like it might happen in the future, perhaps, but it would require certain aspects of technology and fashion to stay the same or go backwards, which isn’t entirely unfeasible. There are many fax machines and no mobile phones in Neuromancer, for instance.

Secondly, and more interestingly, the one-good-man-against-the-world story structure is simply noir. It’s not quite Western, where the hero is taming a lawless (but not inherently corrupt) world, nor is it Grimdark, where the hero would be corrupted by the setting or would be corrupt to begin with. However, I think the story structure that the article describes is almost exactly the same as, say, the background of every Raymond Chandler novel. Marlowe, Chandler’s hero, is a good man in a corrupt city, who uses his skills to bend the rules and solve cases. However, he lacks the power to change the system in which he lives (and he’s too morally upright to get involved in it) which, as the article says, sets him up for sequels. (Orwell once observed that Charles Dickens wanted the world to be a better place, but couldn't imagine how it would work better other than to just put nicer people in charge of the same system. There might be an element of this, too.)

In fairness, I’m biased here: the two fantasy novels I’ve just written work in exactly the same way, and I see them as noir. I suppose the risk is that the story stops being about the tech, and could be told anywhere: the hacking computer could be a lockpick or a magic spell, depending on the circumstances. But I don’t see a great problem with this. Firstly, a lot of stories could be set in various places: Rogue One and Where Eagles Dare are pretty similar in terms of ideas, just exist in different settings. Also, a lot of SFF is sold these days as being an awesome emotional adventure (“Which characters would you like to see getting together?” etc) rather than the rather cold exploration of future technology that it used to be.

For a long time, there was considerable discussion among fans of steampunk as to what exactly the “punk” meant. Was it anti-establishment or inherently political? The answer, at least in the UK, appears to be “no”. Most people take it to mean – in as much as they give it a clear meaning – “mixed up”. It's also worth pointing out that a lot of steampunk isn't anti-establishment or self-consciously "progressive": it enables writers to produce stories about explorers and the like in the style of Haggard or Conan Doyle, but to avoid the real-world trappings that would follow if they were set in reality. That sort of story seems far removed from the set-up that the article is talking about.
 
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Venusian Broon

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#7
An interesting response @Toby Frost.

I think the key line that I took from the article (we all seem to be taking all sorts of different things from it!) is "We are still, in many ways, living in the world Reagan and Thatcher built—a neoliberal world of growing precarity, corporate dominance, divestment from the welfare state, and social atomization."

Yeah, we can point out the differences from late 80's cyberpunk (Jonny Mnemonic only able to carry 80 Gbytes of memory!) but I think the attitudes and world view of the stripped down '-punk' works are actually the closest SF has got to getting the future 'right' as I can see we are tip-toeing into a cyberpunk world. I agree there is a degree of re-writing other historical periods with fantastical stories and tech, but it's also about putting these 'punk' attitudes, our neoliberal 'hackers', into eras that never had them.

That the -punk market has exploded into a huge constellation of sub-genres, well, that's just what happens to a mature genre, I feel.

It is interesting though, in my copy of Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove's history of SF: Trillion Year Spree, cyberpunk was highlighted as the last big 'movement' of SF. Which is fine given 'cause it was published in 1986...

...the question that I suddenly got was, what would Quadrillion Year Spree put as the main movements in SF after 1990 if it were to be published next year. Has it really just been everyone just trundling along with existing genres (or inventing new -punk subgenres)?

YA future dystopia? I'd guess that's a valid massive growth in the genre. If one were to put that to one side, I can't really think of a movement that's taken the SF world by storm since 1990. Anyone?
 

sknox

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#8
I have a hard time getting through articles like this one. There is a group of people who regard Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson) as a satire. They are in the minority. But the author of the article presents this opinion not merely as fact, but as a fact that all the smart kids know so if you don't agree you're obviously not one of the smart kids, go sit at that table over there.

Then there are comments like this one: "Some of these microgenre names describe real literary trends. Others are post-hoc labels applied to writers who have little to do with each other. "
Dear article author: *all* genres fit this description. SF, romance, adventure, thriller.

Or this: "This proliferation of SF punks is what you’d expect from the overproduction of popular culture "
Remove the word "punks" from the sentence and you can see what nonsense it is. All genres spawn sub-genres. Take a look at the list for mystery or romance for examples. This author looks at his own backyard and makes pronouncements about the future of the planet.

"If we’re still drawn to cyberpunk, that might be because 2019 is far more like 1982 than we’d care to admit."
Or, we're drawn to it because we like it. Or are we drawn to War and Peace because 2019 is far more like 1815 than we'd care to admit? People like well-told stories. Publishers jump on trends.

Well, yeah, author, then you wouldn't have much of an article, would you? You still don't. Oh, and you really ought to read John Brunner's Shockwave Rider.

Cyberpunk has never been my cuppa, but I wish all good fortune to those who write it. As for magazine writers, well, clearly this article is in indicator of the demise of the entire genre of magazine writing.
 

tinkerdan

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#9
I'd have to agree that there is a lot of poor stuff in the punk genres.
I just finished a few that were full of tropes and stereotypes and cliche's and lots of techno-babble.
It would seem that for the most part some authors take the mood or tone and add in all the cliched pieces of techno-babble that usually overshadow everything and then fill in the lines with one dimensional characters that are so interchangeable that you can loose track of who is who. [This particular author actually lost track and had characters in scenes that they simple were not in.]

However the general form was around long before someone gave it a name and from that time to now there are occasionally some that shine. Usually one out of every five or so is quite good; because the characters are just a bit more real and better defined, better written.

However to make the mistake to assume that the punks were the life and breath of science fiction and try to judge or predict the demise of science fiction base around all those horrible attempts at punk is going just a bit too far; or perhaps telling us about someones narrow choice of reading.
 

Toby Frost

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#12
"Neoliberal" seems to be one of those words, like "socialist", whose meaning changes depending on who is saying it. I've no real idea what it means here or anywhere else (perhaps "capitalist"?). Anyway, I've thought for some while that we live in a cyberpunk world without the cool stuff. Cyberpunk stresses individuality, but our world allows for much less than many cyberpunk settings.

In terms of SF "movements", I can't think of much. There is YA dystopia, but I don't know if that has anything more to say than the dystopias of 40 years ago, except seen through the eyes of teenagers. There's the growing diversity of characters in SF, but again, I wouldn't call that a movement so much as a reflection of social change. I suppose there has been a small movement towards space opera, often with a "hard" feeling, but I don't know enough to be able to tell whether that qualifies.

Steampunk is interesting, but I'd call it more a style of fantasy than SF, and more a "look" or "theme" than a literary style. Personally, I think it's most unusual aspect (in the UK, at least) is that most steampunks tend to be a good deal older than the usual range you'd expect, which isn't really what we're talking about here.
 

Venusian Broon

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#13
In terms of SF "movements", I can't think of much. There is YA dystopia, but I don't know if that has anything more to say than the dystopias of 40 years ago, except seen through the eyes of teenagers. There's the growing diversity of characters in SF, but again, I wouldn't call that a movement so much as a reflection of social change. I suppose there has been a small movement towards space opera, often with a "hard" feeling, but I don't know enough to be able to tell whether that qualifies.
I think there has always been in the background of SF the genre of Space Opera, ever since the Golden age of pulp SF. Yes, it has mutated and taken different 'flavours' - for example, there was a 'new wave' of British Space Opera, headed by Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton etc... that became prominent in the early 1990s.

Yes, possibly there was a shift to a bit more realism - possibly (and feel free to shot me down) - and there was more of a movement in the US, at the same time of the NWoBSO, to do much more 'near-future' hard SF (i.e. like Red Mars) rather than the more fantastical and 'far-future' space operas of Use of Weapons. But harder Space Opera, a la Alastair Reynolds, doesn't feel removed at all, to me, from the universes of the Culture.

Space Opera is the Heavy Metal of SF. It'll always be there strumming power chords :)

With regards to YA dystopia, the question is 'Do significant movements need to be fresh and new?' As you say, possibly they are just another flavour of an existing genre and therefore possibly less significant as a 'movement'. In terms of book sales (and movie adaptions) however I'd guess such reasoning is irrelevant. It's been a while since I've analysed the top 100 SF books in Amazon, but I'd my guess is that YA SF will be winning hands down.
 

CTRandall

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#14
Space Opera is the Heavy Metal of SF. It'll always be there strumming power chords :)
Damn! Now I'll absolutely have to try my hand at writing a space opera. A Heavy Metal Space Opera. I know it's been done but I can't resist. Maybe I'll submit it for a 75-word challenge.
 

OHB

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#15
My main issue with the article is that the author acts like all sci-fi novels these days follow a punk subgenre formula. I can't comment on what the UK market is like right now, but in the US, most sci-fi literary agents specifically state that they don't want stories that follow a tried and tested formula. They're moving more toward weird fiction. In fact, I just read an agent's profile page that stated something like "If it's 'publishable,' don't send it to me." So I'm not really seeing this undying punk trend that the author describes. Likewise, I have seen the stories that other writers are working on right now, and they are anything but formulaic.
 

psikeyhackr

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#16
The persistence of cyberpunk under different labels is, perhaps, to be expected. After all, as many writers insist, science fiction isn’t in any real sense about the future. “Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists,” Ursula Le Guin writes in the introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness. It’s “not the business of novelists.” The real business of science fiction writers is to offer metaphors designed to help us see ourselves more clearly.
1982 - Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe on science fiction

Someone told me that Isaac Asimov could not write. I just laughed. What do the literary/humanities people want and expect from science fiction? And what do the sci/tech people want? What about everybody else?

Le Guin may have been a better writer but I do not even think of her as a science fiction writer. Mack Reynolds did better SF. It is not a matter of prediction but simply coming up with plausible extrapolations and wrapping a decent story around them.

What I find hi8larious about cyberpunk is Gibson's Neuromancer when he did not know squat about computers at the time. I read it in the 80s before he became famous. In the late 90s I was scratching my head wondering why such a big deal was being made about it.

But the problem is most so called SF ain't. It just has sci-fi tropes. It is nothing but entertaining stories. When stories do have worthwhile intellectual content the liberal arts types don't notice, or don't care/

Try Daemon and Freedom by Danial Suarez. And The Matrix was deeper then most so called cyberpunk.
 

Toby Frost

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#20
The other thing cyberpunk helped bring to SF (and I emphasise helped) is good characterisation. Just because a novel is a crime story, or a romance, or any other genre, authors shouldn't be able to get away writing flat characters: the lord and butler in a whodunnit, or the Man of Action or Tech Guy in SF. Whether or not you buy the idea that cyberpunk gives technology to the people or the like, it at least shows interesting people using technology.

Out of interest, I thought there was nothing in the Matrix that Philip K Dick hadn't done 20 years before, just that it substituted technology for mind-altering drugs. Maybe it's a psychedelic SF story that just looks like cyberpunk. Or maybe the two are very similar, but use slightly different trappings.
 

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