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Cyberpunk and cyberspace

Related: 1980s - 1990s - science fiction - computer - Wired Magazine - Mondo 2000 (1990s) - hackers - networks - the new flesh - rhizomatic structures - informationalism - hypertext - Donna J. Haraway - Bruce Sterling - William Gibson - Douglas Rushkoff - space

RanXerox, or Ranx is my archetypical cyberpunk hero.

"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts...A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..." --William Gibson, Neuromancer

The word "cyberpunk" was coined by Bruce Bethke in 1980, and made wildly popular by William Gibson, who coined the term "cyberspace" and popularized it in "Neuromancer" and its sequel novels. [Jul 2006]

One of the central themes in cyberpunk fiction is established early on by writers like Gibson and Cadigan and by filmmakers like Cronenberg: technology's invasion/replacement of, effect upon, or indistinguishability from the human body. The body, within cyberpunk visions, becomes a physical site for the working out of postmodern conflict and for the speculative mapping of technology. But these conflicts, issues with reproduction (both sexual and mechanical, if there's a difference), and constructions of the body have as much to do with current perception and fears of the body in relation to technology as they do with the future- mapping "speculation" of sci fi. -- The Cyberpunk Project


Cyberpunk (a portmanteau of cybernetics and punk) is a sub-genre of science fiction and dystopian fiction, focusing on advanced technology such as computers or information technology coupled with some degree of breakdown in the social order. "Classic cyberpunk characters were marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of society in generally dystopic futures where daily life was impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datsphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body."[1] The plot of cyberpunk writing often centres on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and mega corporations, tending to be set within a near-future Earth, rather than the "outer space" locales prevalent in science fiction at the time of cyberpunk's inception. The cities of this future typically have dystopian characteristics, but are also marked by extraordinary energy and diversity. Much of the genre's "atmosphere" echoes film noir, and written works in the genre often use techniques from detective fiction. Primary exponents of the cyberpunk field include William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley and Bruce Sterling. The term became widespread in the 1980s and remains current today.

During the early and mid-1980s, cyberpunk became a fashionable topic in academic circles, where it began to be the subject of postmodernist investigation. In the same period, the genre penetrated Hollywood and became one of cinema's staple science-fiction styles. Many popular, high-grossing films such as Blade Runner and the Matrix trilogy can be seen as prominent developments of the genre's visual styles and themes. Computer games, board games and role-playing games often feature storylines that are heavily influenced by cyberpunk writing and movies. Beginning in the early 1990s, trends in fashion and music were labeled as cyberpunk. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberpunk [Jul 2006]


Cyberspace refers to a (virtual) reality within the world's computers and computer networks. Cyberspace is a common theme in science fiction.

The word "cyberspace" was coined by William Gibson, the Canadian science fiction writer, in his work titled "Burning Chrome".

While cyberspace should not be confused with the real Internet, the term is often used simply to refer to objects and identities that exist largely within the computing network itself, so that a web site, for example, might be metaphorically said to "exist in cyberspace." According to this interpretation, events taking place on the Internet are not therefore happening in the countries where the participants or the servers are physically located, but "in cyberspace". This becomes a reasonable viewpoint once distributed services (e.g. Freenet) become widespread, and the physical identity and location of the participants become impossible to determine due to anonymous or pseudonymous communication. The laws of any particular nation state would therefore not apply.

"Meatspace" is a term coined later as an opposite of "cyberspace". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberspace, [May 2004]

Meatspace [...]

MeatSpace is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek term used in opposition to the term CyberSpace. MeatSpace refers the physical world, the world in which meat lives and works and moves.

Telephone [...]

Q: "Is there any situation when people actually enter cyberspace?"
A: "Well, you know, I think in a very real sense cyberspace is the place where a long distance telephone call takes place. Actually it's the place where any telephone call takes place and we take that very much for granted." --William Gibson, November 23, 1994

"Cyberspace is the `place` where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person's phone, in some other city. _The_place_between_ the phones. The indefinate place _out_there_, where the two of you, human beings, actually meet and communicate." --Bruce Sterling [The Hacker Crackdown]


  1. Cyber Reader: Critical Writings for the Digital Era (2002) - Neil Spiller [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    Cyber Reader is an anthology of extracts from key texts related to the theme of cyberspace - the virtual communicative space created by digital technologies. Approaching the subject from a variety of fields, including science fiction, this book reflects the multidisciplinary basis of cyberspace and illustrates how different disciplines can inform one another. Over forty texts are presented in chronological order, beginning with some precursors to cyberspace theory as we know it today. Writings by early theoreticians such as Charles Babbage and Alan Turing, or authors such as EM Forster, help to give a historical perspective to the subject, while texts on theoretical developments show the parallels between real and imagined worlds.

    Each extract is prefaced by a short introduction by editor Neil Spiller explaining key themes and terms and providing cross references to related texts. An extensive bibliography enables readers to pursue strands of study that interest them.

    Cyber Reader is an essential source book, introducing students and researchers to cyberspatial theory and practice. It will help readers understand the wealth of opportunities, both practical and theoretical, that cyberspace engenders and enable them to chart its impact on many disciplines. --book description

    Cyber Reader displays no dearth of speculative fiction, either, with contributions from William Gibson, Greg Bear, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson, to name but a few. If the anthology comes up short anywhere, it's in the lack of what Wilhelm Reich once refered to as "the adversary position." Granted, there are exceptions-E. M. Forster's 1909 cautionary tale, "The Machine Stops," for example, and a revealing excerpt from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's monumental "A Thousand Plateaux." But overall, the anthology leans in favor of rationalism and rationalization; even its dystopias pack a certain glamour. --http://www.raintaxi.com/online/2002fall/cyber.shtml [Aug 2004]

  2. Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction - Larry McCaffery [book, Amazon US]
    Editor McCaffery here collects over 50 essays, short stories, novel excerpts, literary criticism, poetry, artworks, and a comic strip that illustrate the influences on and of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction and its distinctive sensibility. Most of the space goes to the two godfathers of cyberpunk, William Gibson (whose Neuromancer , Berkley, 1984, won the science fiction triple crown--Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards) and Bruce Sterling ( Schismatrix , LJ 6/15/85), but most other major cyberpunk writers are represented. McCaffery does not limit cyberpunk to science fiction but puts it in the context of postmodern literature and 1980s popular culture. The only flaw is that Sterling's preface to Mirrorshades ( LJ 12/86), often considered a cyberpunk manifesto and constantly referred to in the essays, is not presented until the end of the nonfiction section. An important work; highly recommended for all sf, literature, and pop culture collections. -- Keith R.A. DeCandido, "Library Journal" Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

  3. Neuromancer (1984) - William Gibson [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    See entry for William Gibson

  4. Neal Stephenson - Diamond Age[Amazon US]
    Another addition to the thread: Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. Readers familiar with the cyberpunk generation of SF writers will know Stephenson's previous Snow Crash, one of the most brilliant, vigorous, picaresque, and influential of the type. In Snow Crash, as in cyberpunk generally, the purpose of networked information technology and all its street-level accoutrements (including the fact that the very notion of "street" culture is altered irrevocably by the insertion into the cultural field of virtual space) is to serve as the allegorical foundation for a near-future world dominated by neo-corporate social structures. Functioning to the exclusion of family, village, nation, and other socialities, such structures of human life are the great "virtual"experience. The Diamond Age is another beautifully rendered and detailed imagination of such a world, though more interested in nanotechnology than cybertechnology and more gentle and erudite in tone than picaresque. The use of the Romantics, including Wordsworth and Coleridge, is clear. But the real heart of the book is the "clave" or "phyle" (corporate clan) of the Vickys--who style their life and ideology after the Victorian age. The plot of the novel places the world view of the Vickys into play against the world of a powerful post-colonial China in ways that make for delicious ironies in the history and meaning of imperialism (including a neo- or retro-Boxer Rebellion). In general, the whole notion of setting Victorian culture in play against the grain of postindustrial and global culture is a delicious one.

Uncanny Networks: Dialogues with the Virtual Intelligentsia (2003) - Geert Lovink

  1. Uncanny Networks: Dialogues with the Virtual Intelligentsia (2003) - Geert Lovink [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    The interviews collected in this work are with artists, critics, and theorists who are involved in building the content, interfaces, and architectures of new media. Topics discussed include digital aesthetics, sound art, navigating deep audio space, European media philosophy, and hybrid identities. --Synopsis

    For Geert Lovink, interviews are imaginative texts that can help create global, networked discourses not only among different professions but also among different cultures and social groups. Conducting interviews online, over a period of weeks or months, allows the participants to compose documents of depth and breadth, rather than simply snapshots of timely references. The interviews collected in this book are with artists, critics and theorists who are intimately involved in building the content, interfaces and architectures of new media. The interviewees include Mark Dery, Kodwo Eshun, Bruno Latour, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Lev Manovich and Slavoj Zizek. The topics discussed include digital aesthetics, sound art, navigating deep audio space, European media philosophy, the Internet in Eastern Europe, the mixing of old and new in India, critical media studies in the Asia-Pacific, Japanese techno tribes, hybrid identities, the storage of social movements, theory of the virtual class, virtual and urban spaces, corporate takeover of the Internet and cyberspace and the rise of nongovernmental organisations.

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