Monday, 21 August 2017

Cyberpunk Science Fiction (1980s)

In the early 1980s there was a reaction against the New Wave’s rosy depiction of the future, and writers began looking at the 'punk' underbelly of future society, which didn't enjoy all the amazing benefits of everyone else. These early works have been credited with "renovating" science fiction literature after it had fallen largely into insignificance in the 1970s. William Gibson's debut novel Neuromancer (1984) encapsulated this movement. It was the first winner of the science-fiction 'triple crown' — the Nebula Award, the Philip K Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. Other key writers in the movement included Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, and later Neal Stephenson. We will be looking at some of their key novels in the weeks to come.


William Gibson

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William Ford Gibson (born March 17, 1948) is an American-Canadian speculative fiction writer and essayist widely credited with pioneering the science fiction subgenre known as cyberpunk. Beginning his writing career in the late 1970s, his early works were noir, near-future stories that explored the effects of technology, cybernetics, and computer networks on humans—a "combination of lowlife and high tech"—and helped to create an iconography for the information age before the ubiquity of the Internet in the 1990s. Gibson notably coined the term "cyberspace" in his short story Burning Chrome (1982) and later popularized the concept in his acclaimed debut novel Neuromancer (1984).

After expanding on Neuromancer with two more novels to complete the dystopic Sprawl trilogy, Gibson collaborated with Bruce Sterling on the alternate history novel The Difference Engine (1990), which became an important work of the science fiction subgenre steampunk. In the 1990s, Gibson composed the Bridge trilogy of novels, which explored the sociological developments of near-future urban environments, postindustrial society, and late capitalism. Following the turn of the century and the events of 9/11, Gibson emerged with a string of increasingly realist novels—Pattern Recognition (2003), Spook Country (2007), and Zero History (2010)—set in a roughly contemporary world. These works saw his name reach mainstream bestseller lists for the first time. His more recent novel, The Peripheral (2014), returned to a more overt engagement with technology and recognizable science fiction concerns.

In 1999, The Guardian described Gibson as "probably the most important novelist of the past two decades," while the Sydney Morning Herald called him the "noir prophet" of cyberpunk.

Bruce Sterling

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Michael Bruce Sterling (born April 14, 1954) is an American science fiction author known for his novels and work on the Mirrorshades anthology. This work helped to define the cyberpunk genre. In addition, he is one of the subgenre's chief ideological promulgators. This has earned him the nickname "Chairman Bruce". He won Hugo Awards for his novelettes Bicycle Repairman and Taklamakan. His first novel, Involution Ocean, published in 1977, features the world Nullaqua where all the atmosphere is contained in a single, miles-deep crater. The story concerns a ship sailing on the ocean of dust at the bottom, which hunts creatures called dustwhales that live beneath the surface. It is partially a science-fictional pastiche of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

From the late 1970s onwards, Sterling wrote a series of stories set in the Shaper/Mechanist universe: the solar system is colonised, with two major warring factions. The Mechanists use a great deal of computer-based mechanical technologies; the Shapers do genetic engineering on a massive scale. The situation is complicated by the eventual contact with alien civilizations; humanity eventually splits into many subspecies, with the implication that many of these effectively vanish from the galaxy, reminiscent of The Singularity in the works of Vernor Vinge. The Shaper/Mechanist stories can be found in the collection Crystal Express and the collection Schismatrix Plus, which contains the original novel Schismatrix and all of the stories set in the Shaper/Mechanist universe. Alastair Reynolds identified Schismatrix and the other Shaper/Mechanist stories as one of the greatest influences on his own work.

John Shirley

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John Shirley (born 10 February 1953) is an American writer, primarily of fantasy and science fiction and songwriting. Shirley has written novels, short stories, TV scripts and screenplays, and has published over 40 books and 8 short-story collections. As a musician, Shirley has fronted his own bands and written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and others. John Shirley is known for his cyberpunk science fiction novels, such as the A Song Called Youth trilogy, City Come A-Walkin' and Black Glass, as well as his suspense (as in his novels Spider Moon and The Brigade), horror novels and stories (e.g., Demons and Crawlers and the story collection Black Butterflies) and horror film work. The A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy, Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra and Eclipse Corona, has been slated for a new edition by Dover Books in 2017.

Neal Stephenson

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Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer and game designer known for his works of speculative fiction. His novels have been categorized as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, and baroque. Stephenson's work explores subjects such as mathematics, cryptography, linguistics, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired. He has also written novels with his uncle, George Jewsbury ("J. Frederick George"), under the collective pseudonym Stephen Bury.

Stephenson has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system, and is also a cofounder of Subutai Corporation, whose first offering is the interactive fiction project The Mongoliad. He is currently Magic Leap's Chief Futurist.

Stephenson's first novel, The Big U, published in 1984, was a satirical take on life at American Megaversity, a vast, bland and alienating research university beset by chaotic riots. His next novel, Zodiac (1988), was a thriller following the exploits of a radical environmentalist protagonist in his struggle against corporate polluters. Neither novel attracted much critical attention on first publication, but showcased concerns that Stephenson would further develop in his later work.

Stephenson's breakthrough came in 1992 with Snow Crash, a comic novel in the late cyberpunk or post-cyberpunk tradition fusing memetics, computer viruses, and other high-tech themes with Sumerian mythology, along with a sociological extrapolation of extreme laissez-faire capitalism and collectivism. Snow Crash was the first of Stephenson's epic science fiction novels. Stephenson at this time would later be described by Mike Godwin as "a slight, unassuming grad-student type whose soft-spoken demeanour gave no obvious indication that he had written the manic apotheosis of cyberpunk science fiction."

[adapted from Wikipedia and other sources]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz

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