Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Anders on Abandoning Cyberpunk for Fantasy

io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders wonders why cyberpunk writers are jumping the ship for dark fantasy. Excerpts:
Cyberpunk has fallen from its peak in the 1980s and early 1990s, but the great cyberpunk authors are still writing. And many of them have turned to fantasy. ...


Rudy Rucker, author of the Ware tetralogy and Postsingular, among many others, has described his new novel Jim and the Flims as being akin to fantasy. Also, Black Glass author John Shirley published the mystical Bleak History in 2009.

Metrophage author Richard Kadrey has gained a huge following for his Sandman Slim novels -- the third one, Aloha from Hell, is coming October 18. Richard K. Morgan, author of the cyberpunk Takeshi Kovacs novels, has written a bloody fantasy, The Steel Remains, with the sequel, The Cold Commands (or The Dark Commands), coming October 11. Meanwhile, some of Synners author Pat Cadigan's recent stories have seemed much more fantasy-oriented.

What's going on here?
Read the whole thing. Some of Anders' suggestions seem a bit off to me. For example, can we really state that cyberpunk's tropes can no longer speak to the current human condition or that fantasy fits better with a noir mindset? Failing to speak to universal experience is more of an authorial than genre problem, and early works from the godfather of cyberpunk drew so heavily on hardboiled that crime fiction aficionados still read them. But on at least two points, she hits the nail on the head. First, money follows fantasy more than science fiction. Richard Kadrey quips, "I never made a dime in the SF world. Fantasy keeps the lights on and smoke coming out of the chimney." And no wonder, given that the highly technical nature of much SF discourages casual readers. Second, Anders thinks that much of cyberpunk's vision of the future has come true. It's hard to argue otherwise when iPhones do much of the work of any fictional brainjack. Indeed, the closest contemporary entry in the genre that I've read is Paolo Bacigalupi's delightful The Windup Girl, only instead of investigating human-computer interactions he ponders the mysteries of genetics (albeit a bit simplistically). Perhaps cyberpunk's spirit will stay with us, only with a shift in subject matter.

(Picture: CC 2006 by Stuck in Customs)


Digital Orc said...

Hi, I'm been doing some thinking along similar lines, but coming from a different source of the genre. I've observed a similar shift in the tabletop gaming community. I've also got an open poll to generate some data to fuel another thesis. Nice blog, I'll be sure to visit from time to time.

Loren Eaton said...

Very interesting post, Dylan! Thanks for sharing it with us.