Kicking cyberpunk’s ass

SF Signal reviewed the book: they didn’t really like it (well, to be precise, they said it was a “decent read with some major flaws that keep it from reaching greatness.”) But hey, one of the things that every new author has to recognize is that (gasp) not everybody is gonna love your novel. Yet what really got my attention was this:

Stephen Baxter, on the back cover, calls Mirrored Heavens ‘a crackling cyberthriller.’ Well, if you’re looking for cyberpunk, you won’t find it here. True, the two-man teams consist of a Razor (hacker) and a Mech (muscle), with the Razor providing network backup and support for the Mech. However, just because the Razors can access the Zone (network) and work some heavy duty magic doesn’t make this book cyberpunk. Yes the world of this future is a dystopia, but the characters here aren’t from the bottom of society, fighting against the government or corporations, they are the government, and far from fighting for the little guy, they are fighting to save the status quo.

This is fascinating to me, all the more so as I totally disagree.  At its heart, I take cyberpunk to be about the interface of humans to technology in a world where the tech is so immersive that humans are (almost literally) inside that tech, and vice versa.  As to where it goes from there:  it’s true that the dominant strand of cyberpunk thus far has focused on the predicament of the “lone wolf” fighting against corporate interests.  But I have yet to see the Cyberpunk Rulebook that says this is a necessity in order to merit inclusion within the subgenre.

And even if you showed it to me, I’d throw it out the window and get back to my work.  Because I think this kind of literal “checkboxing” isn’t just intellectually lazy:  it’s proof that cyberpunk, like any genre that’s been around for a while, needs a good kick in the ass every once in a while to keep the circulation going.  In fact, it’s ironic that a genre that was founded on an ethos of rebellion should try to dictate rules about Just How Bad-Ass a Noir Hero You Need To Be in order to be included.  But consider this:  if cyberpunk is fundamentally about alienation (and I think it is) .  . . why assume that those who are charged with defending the status quo are any less conflicted or alienated than those who fight it?

Especially when it turns out that the status quo just ain’t what anyone thought it was.

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10 Responses to “Kicking cyberpunk’s ass”

  1. Michael G. Munz Says:

    Hear, hear! I’m right there with you on the check-boxing. Perhaps they’d prefer writers just stamp out the same product all the time rather than exploring and developing a genre so it doesn’t get stale. Critics and marketing folk (the latter especially, it seems) love to be able to fit things into a category, but if a writer does that, it’s limiting.

    So SHAME on you for not looking at the genre in the exact same way everyone else does. Conform! Conform before it’s too late! ;)

  2. Joni Says:

    To me the book was (modern) cyberpunk. I don’t want to defend the critic here but I sort of understand where he’s coming from. The name of the genre comes from two parts cyber (as in cybernetic) and punk (as music and more like a movement). Yes, I guess you all already know this.

    The cyber part is filled and nobody can deny that but what about the punk part? Protagonists were “working for the Man” instead of opposing him. That is probably why the critic didn’t label the book as being part of the cyberpunk genre.

    Now, I am a long time Cyberpunk 2020 gamer and I think that in all our campaigns our characters have been more like cybernetic mercenaries rather than revolutionaries and that has defined my view of the genre more than anything else.

    Anyway, old cyberpunk has evolved and transformed a long time ago so I would still call this book as cyberpunk.

  3. David Williams Says:

    @ Joni: yeah, I hear ya, and your nuancing is well-taken. I think perhaps what I was reacting to was the implicit hierarchy that the reviewer is establishing–i.e., if it’s not “pure” cyberpunk with lots of good upstanding rebels with impeccable street credentials, then it’s somehow worse.

  4. me Says:

    as i look at it now from the perspective as a person who is only on page 128 of david’s book i can see that the cyber part is the government and the punk part is autumn rain.

    that being said, i can also see that autumn rain is the terrorist group that threatens human life. i see autumn rain, at this time anyhow, as the punks. the ones that want to shut down the government. the protester of what they believe to be wrong. as a person who has been to a lot of protests (it’s hard not to join in sometimes in DC) i find myself to side with the punks. from my underground roots i am anti government and if i could download someone else’s brain into mine, that would be neat then i could be a cyber punk!

    i think i need to read more of the book to really have a better understanding of the comment made by the critic and the rest of you.

    but that’s my take so far.
    i am reading this book from an undisclosed perception. oh i meant location

    once i learn more about autumn rain, i might feel differently, that i might root for the good guys? i can’t be sure….i have to read more now. and enjoy more coffee!

    happy saturday!

  5. Ehlonya Says:

    Modern day cyberpunk movie w/out the punkasses, i have to say would be Michael Clayton.

  6. Wired Says:

    Seems what most people still understand under the label “Cyberpunk” is basically the 1st edition “Shadowrun” RPG setting. It’s nice, but a literary genre isn’t exactly limited that closely.

  7. Tim Says:

    I agree with Joni, that there wasn’t really a “fighting against the man” feel to the book which might be where the critic was coming from. But, there was enough moral ambiguity with no obvious right choices to satisfy the most hardened cyberpunk reader.

    I find it interesting that the first point made by the critic is about the characterisation of the novels genre by someone else entirely…

    Personally I enjoyed it, it might not be 80s style cyberpunk but, hey, we don’t live in the 80’s anymore. :-)

  8. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » the last Mirrored Heavens review? Says:

    […] proof that I’m right to do my utmost to try to shake up a stilted genre; as I’ve said before, to me cyberpunk is fundamentally about alienation, and there’s no reason why servants of the […]

  9. Christa Says:

    I know I’m a little late to the party, but i wanted to throw my ideas out there. Cyberpunk is a genre that I really adore. I’m a Shadowrun nerd and I believe my life was changed by Neuromancer. I was born in ’84 so my views of Science Fiction were shaped by Cyberpunk. While you can’t have Cyberpunk without the Punk, you also can’t have the rebels without something to rebel against. Mirrored Heavens didn’t have a Case or a Molly in the same way that Neuromancer did, but let’s not forget that Case and Molly were getting paid. They weren’t working to bring down the man, they were working to get something out of the deal, like money or a new pancreas.

    I really had no question as to the Cyberpunk nature of this story. It’s not just the setting or the “zone”, but the feel of the world. Cyberpunk has always been a little bleak, but there’s always been hope in the stories to (even if it’s just the hope to survive). I’ve only read Mirrored Heaven, but I can see a bit of hope in it. The world didn’t get nuked after all.

  10. David Williams Says:

    @ Christa- never played Shadowrun, that was after my time. Us old-schoolers used to do Cyberpunk 2020:, which was great: “Live fast, die young, leave a highly augmented corpse. . .” A few of the lines in my books were stolen from the sessions me and my friends did back in the day. ..

    Perhaps the books are cyberpunk in the sense that these are the guys battling the punks. At any rate, now that we’ve got post-cyberpunk, the old categories are starting to blur. And yeah, it’s interesting–in some ways, if the human race *does* survive till 2110, that feels pretty optimistic to me. : )