The link between film noir (and its literary antecedent) and cyberpunk is not a revelation. The influence has been noted by countless critics, as well as cyberpunk authors themselves, most frequently that which Raymond Chandler had on William Gibson. Chandler, who came to writing late, not publishing his first short story until he was in his mid-40s, wrote boldly and flamboyantly. His protagonists were men embittered by the injustices of the American system, but resigned to working either within or parallel to it. ...Read the whole thing. While recently listening to Audible Frontiers' excellent production of Gibson's Burning Chrome, I was struck yet again by how much his stories "Johnny Mnemonic," "New Rose Hotel" and "Dogfight" feel like crime fiction. Bowes is right about cyberpunk's parentage; those high-tech thrillers have noir in at least one branch of their family tree. But I think he misses a big thematic commonality between the genres. True, both share a preoccupation with social injustice (whether real or perceived), the criminal underground and the illicit allure of all types of vice. But they also often touch upon the impulse towards self-destruction, that which the ancient Greeks called hamartia, the bent part of human nature that causes us to indulge in the things we ought to hate. Without getting too spoilery, Neuromancer has a plot shaped like a horseshoe, wherein the protagonist rises from abject lows to great heights only to descend once again in the end. Both noir and cyberpunk know that the darkest places aren't secreted in some distant computer network or crouching in a dingy alleyway. They lie within.
Where Chandler lost his job in the Depression, Gibson came of age in the 1960s, as one of many young people in that generation who felt little to no connection to "normal" people, drifting from place to place, identifying with the counterculture and, all too often, with the drug culture (experience which Gibson chronicles vividly in his novels). ...
In the end, what noir and cyberpunk share is a simultaneous, paradoxical status as distinctly past-tense forms that nonetheless keep popping up everywhere in subsequent art. ... Fittingly, as each was widely criticized -- and exalted -- as valuing style over substance, the lasting impact of noir and cyberpunk (connecting the two as one entity, since there is no cyberpunk without noir) is greatest in the visual arts and cinema. For in the shadows lies danger and mystery. Sex and power. The simultaneous thrill and fear of confronting death. Noir, and all its descendants, including cyberpunk, is the shadow.
(Picture: CC 2008 by ronocdh)