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Dec. 16th, 2013 @ 09:03 pm Cyberpunk is today
Current Mood: pensivepensive
I haven't read the book myself, but I read a review of Reamde by Neil Stephenson. One of the commenters said that he likes SF and that he selected the book because of that, but that it felt more like a modern thriller in the vein of Tom Clancy.

This is because reality has overtaken cyberpunk, and all novels that deal with information-as-a-commodity, with the growing gap between haves and have-nots and with networks/systems of information (in my mind key characteristics of cyberpunk) -- they don't need SF components anymore. Everything is already here. You do not need to invent technology to tell a cyberpunk story anymore.

William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition", published in 2005, posits technology that allows one to 'see' virtual objects at a certain place, determined by GPS coordinates. He describes mobile computers and video googles. And then GPS-enabled smartphones happened, and stuff like Layar implemented that precise technology, except less bulky.
His latest, "Zero History", published last year, is also a very cyberpunk story, but it does not have to invent any new technology in order to tell the story. There are a few unlikely things thrown in (such as The Ugliest Shirt), but it's not a whole new technology that's needed for the plot.
It is also interesting that "Pattern Recognition" is the first book in a trilogy, with "Zero History" the last. One of the characters indeed remarks how her iPhone now does what she previously needed all that specialty equipment for.

So basically, we are living in an SF story. Specifically, a cyberpunk story. Not in the "Neuromancer"-sense, but in the sense that most of the concepts in cyberpunk have become reality in one way or the other. (And "Neuromancer", which was published in 1986, does not have cell phones. Some younger readers think that's a major plot point, but it is merely because there were no cell phones back then, and Gibson had not thought about then.)
No, we don't have brain implants to 'jack in' to computers, but we do have brain implants that allow a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear. We have augmented reality in the form of smartphones or even Google Glass. It's just that we understand these technologies, and that takes away the 'magic' of SF. Cyberpunk has indeed become a genre of the modern thriller.

I only wish that certain other aspects of cyberpunk had not become a reality too, such as the ubiquitous surveillance, the increased power of corporations and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.
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From:usmu
Date:December 17th, 2013 03:15 am (UTC)
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One of the things that make me love Gibson is that he's always has had his finger to the pulse of the present near future. The main difference between his earlier and later work is that he stopped pretending the stuff was happening in the far future.

The main topic of the trilogies, he always seems to write three interconnected books before moving on, is not technology, but the interplay between culture and technology. As much of the early cyberpunk his earlier books deal with '80s morality taken to the extreme. His latest three are on branding and the commoditization of culture and cultural artifacts.

That's why he's been able to transition so well into a new mode of writing without losing relevance or power. He seems to understand what's happening on the cross-section between culture and technology better than most of us and articulate what's going on before we are fully, if at all, able to understand it.

I say this because I don't think we actually understand new technology, we're just comfortable with using it. We can see what it does and use it to do things we want to, but how it works or what consequences it has on our lives and society in general are generally not concepts we have fully explored. Or are able to fully explore as the rate of technological development has gone up considerably over the last decades. This is why the techno thrillers genre is still viable, because it explores that space. As it always has. And that's why it's, to me, completely different genre than cyberpunk/SF.

And that is also why I feel SF in general is pretty down and almost out on the technology front. It's pretty hard to write hard SF and coming up with new technology without looking foolish in the near future because it's already outdated or spectacularly wrong. Stephenson suffers from this. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Snowcrash, it was hopelessly outdated technology wise.

Anyway, Stephenson has written techno thrillers before. Most of his works have been SF, but Cryptonomicon is a straight up techno thriller, set in WW2. So you really need to watch which book you're getting when picking up his books.
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From:fub
Date:December 19th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
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I say this because I don't think we actually understand new technology, we're just comfortable with using it.
That's the Law of Unintended Consequences. Or as it says in one of Gibson's novels: the street finds its own uses for things.

I think I'd argue the other way around: modern techno-thrillers have turned into cyberpunk, because that's the world we live in today...

(And you know I share your enthousiasm for Gibson's writing!)
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