There’s always been a lot of back and forth on discussion boards and blogging sites about what makes something Cyberpunk (or really any genre for that matter). Is it the aesthetics or substance of a work that defines its Cyberpunkness? It’s an important question and bears talking about. I just don’t think there’s a definitive right answer. People like what they like. Fans of the genre are coming to Cyberpunk for different reasons and from different backgrounds. When I think about the question, the only answer I can give is my opinion.
The thing that drew me into Cyberpunk, and keeps me coming back, is that it’s predominantly a critique of contemporary culture. It’s the same reason I got really into the punk scene when I was younger, too. So the works that interest me the most are ones that challenge the status quo in some way or another. Stories have always had this revolutionary power to talk about things we can’t or don’t necessarily want to address in everyday life.
So when the conversation comes around to aesthetics versus substance, I definitely land on the substance side of things. I am a writer and thus very much invested in storytelling. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the old classics – I very much do, but I’m also okay with contemporary Cyberpunk that doesn’t exhibit all the hallmark tropes of the old school stuff. In fact, I prefer that contemporary works not fall back on those worn out stereotypes.
Wait! Just hear me out. My reasoning is this: Cyberpunk is about criticizing contemporary culture. That means that Gibson and Sterling and all the greats were really talking about the world as it was in the eighties. The futures they were prognosticating back then were informed largely by the world as they knew it back then. Why, then, should stories created thirty years later still reflect world views from before the Cold War ended? Or even from before 9/11? My opinion is they shouldn’t.
Technology has advanced so much since then. So have our attitudes towards it and then challenges that technology poses in our lives. I want to read about that. I want Cyberpunk that is more relatable to my current position in life. As much as I will always love Neuromancer, it was written before I was born. There is only so much I can relate to it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this is where I stand when it comes to my own writing in the genre, as well. You know, looking to the future or something equally cheesy. That’s what Cyberpunk is all about for me. But the more important question is: What is Cyberpunk to you?