A new blog post series exploring the history and import of cyberpunk launches on Adafruit

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/02/24/a-new-blog-post-series-explori.html


This is great, looking forward to the whole series, Gareth.


Except for the “becoming ciborgs” part, everything is on point.

I will be always be baffled by the whole turn that made the mobile phone industry from having a huge variety of tiny, portable, and ingenious designs to stick to the plain tablet-like standard that has dominated the last decade…

Depressing thought, “cyberspace” turned out to be Facebook.


I’m very much the odd man out on this topic (even though I’m a long time resident on the freenode #cyberpunk channel) in that I think by the time the literary movement got “known” and commercialized to other media is was near dead. 92 does seem awful late to me.

To put it a different way, in the late 90s when I was living in Ura Harajuku, there was this shop that sold punk wear. You could buy a pre-studded and patched Shott motorcycle jacket for between ~$600^$1,000 depending on how authentic it looked. Or how there was a time when Hot Topic was in shopping malls in the US.

Like Hollywood or Japanese studios were cranking out big budget movies or major labels were releasing music sold as cyberpunk.

But hey sometimes I’m a curmudgeon and never pretended otherwise.

This is absolutely NOT a criticism of Garth’s work or the drive to document and understand, just my own ¥2.

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Cyberpunk got a lot right about the details of 2020 (at least if you cherry-pick the right cyberpunk), but it got one huge tonal element very wrong, in a very eighties way.

Specifically, most cyberpunk defines the world purely in terms of interesting Prime Movers (gunslinging ronin hax0rs, evil billionaires, hyper-competent assassins etc.) and forgets that there is such a thing as society. There is no place for the idea of collective vision or shared mythology, so it – and post-1980s mainstream thought in general – had no way of imagining #MeToo or fan culture or Turmpism.

I loved The Diamond Age (and still do), but if you compare and contrast Nell’s story with that of the Mouse Army, it’s like… holy shit.

I’d say this is pretty consistently how it goes, actually. The hardware settles on a defecto standard that is “good enough” and all the differentiation moves into software. You see this pattern in a lot of consumer electronics, and it makes sense- you don’t want your features and UI/UX to be locked into physical buttons and knobs if you don’t have to.

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I’d say that’s all genre fiction, period. Nobody talks about the legions of oppressed serfs that necessarily exist in Middle Earth, for example. You do see them in Game of Thrones, as props that get pushed out of the way during heroic sword fights. When they burn down King’s Landing, nobody even mentions the hundred-thousand people who just lost their homes.

Stories are told through the eyes of heroes and villains. I don’t see cyberpunk as any different. Now if you’re making this point more in the context of cyberpunk being a social movement, I’d say that part of it never made it out of the bedrooms of BBS sysops with delusions of grandeur.


Bravo, and thank you.

I think many of us would submit that for all practical purposes, we became cyborgs when we began carrying always-connected smartphones on our person almost all of the time. We actually found a better solution that essentially gave us all of the same abilities, without nasty surgery, rejection issues, etc. But the effects when it comes to our psyche, our culture, politics? Yeah, we’re cyborgs now.


Well, Anonymous ticked a lot of those marks for me, until they got busted.

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I would post the Max Headroom meme I have saved in the cloud, but an oppressive evil tech-corp has disabled my operating system from pasting viz data to this info stream, and I, alas, am not a ninja hacker but just a low level freelancer currently wage-slaving for a different, oppressive evil tech-corp, while trying to keep my mutation hidden from an authoritarian surveillance state/end-time religious cult. While the planet burns. I’m saying they nailed it.


Nah, it’s TikTok now.

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Funnily enough I was thinking of mentioning Game of Thrones (or rather “A Song of Ice and Fire”) as a contrasting example. It does use point-of-view characters – which, as you say, is hard to avoid – but it uses a lot of them, and more to the point the characters are often dealing with The World as much as with each other. Like, Danaerys emancipates Meereen, which would normally be a “happily ever after” situation, but then it keeps falling apart specifically because that mass of people actually each have their own issues, and form opinions among themselves rather than because a main character told them to. And it’s the same thing with the Night’s Watch turning on Jon, or when Cersei does her walk of shame and realises each of the jeering peasants have their own ideas about her.

I guess you’re right that lots of genre fiction treats society as wallpaper, but I feel like cyberpunk in particular renders the world outside the protagonists as Chinatown.

Actually, now I say that, I suppose part of it is consciously adopted from detective / noir genre fiction (which I’m not very familiar with).

At any rate, if a cyberpunk character buys a hot dog, I feel like we’d never hear about the hot dog vendor’s family life. At most we might get a description of his digital neon akkorokamui squid tattoo, as if he were a cool consumer product. And the hot dog would probably be some kind of futuristic lutefisk bibimbap.

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I´ve been saying for the last decade that we live in a bullshit cyberpunk dystopia.

I really enjoy Rudy Rucker’s work, I’m a big fan of the Ware Tetralogy(Software/Wetware/Freeware/Realware)

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At least Gibson’s cyberpunk had the idea of mainstream society besides the hackers. It’s just that the main characters have a low opinion of it. The Sprawl trilogy had the public into “simstim” in which people not only got to see celebrities, but got to experience what they were actually seeing and feeling. And the later Bridge trilogy had the somewhat less science fictional idea of virtual computer generated celebrities, which are practically feasible today.

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Now that you mention it, GoT actually does have a lot of good examples of the heroes’ effects on society. We did see a lot about how the lives of the people of different classes in the slave cities changed, and we learned a lot about the different cultures that Arya worked her way through in her journey to find her place in the world.

Like any genre, cyberpunk has a lot of good and bad content within it. One could argue that Gibson’s books are entirely about society, and the heroes are vaguely-defined props within it. That’s what I’ve always loved about it (disclaimer- he’s my favorite author of any stripe).

A meme that I like is that we are living in a dystopia, it’s just a boring one. Google “Boring Dystopia” to find great examples.

Actually I haven’t read any Gibson or Sterling for years, and I was probably unfair to use Neal Stephenson as a case study because he’s a whole ginormous can of worms all on his own.

Perhaps I will re-read Neuromancer as an adult and see what happens