July 15, 2010

Other people’s revolutions

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:15 pm by Chris

A manifesto, of sorts.

I came to cyperpunk too late, and out of order: Schismatrix, The Fortunate Fall, Neuromancer, and finally Snow Crash. Not that it mattered, those books would have had very little cultural relevance for me when they were first published: New Zealand only got its first Internet connection in 1992. There was no local equivalent for me of Josh Ellis’s Mondo 2000 experience , and even if a copy of Mondo 2000 had made its way into my hands it wouldn’t have made much sense. Its cultural revolution was not my cultural revolution, not really. Just like the cyberpunks’ technological revolution was not my technological revolution, at least not yet.

The only revolution we could ever really claim to have owned, out here on the edge of the world, was the god-damned free-market revolution that brought the country to its knees, twice, and may yet reduce it to a low-tech version of Gibson’s dystopia. Cyperpunk without the punk. Or the cyber.

The information revolution has only thrown into sharper relief the tyranny of distance that has always dogged us: new ideas, new people, new products, still an expensive plane ride away or on the end of a long and unprofitable shipping route. High-tech imports still a cargo-cult commodity in a way that lets any shiny new pocket-sized device cost two or three weeks worth of the average wage. Or own revolutions, our free-thinkers and mould-breakers and re-purposers, stifled by the distance and a lack of momentum, poor cousins forever to the rising energy of Africa or South America: even the quiet resurgence of Maori and Pasifika culture likely to remain our own, even as global culture appropriates their symbols and meanings and stories.

We are here. We hover, perpetually, on the brink, and we will never embrace that which we stand beside until we can make it our own.


  1. Gordon said,

    Excellent piece! Poetry!

  2. Congrats on the job. 😀

    I just wanted to say that I wouldn’t classify Schismatrix as Cyberpunk, or Sterling as a cyberpunk author. While there are computer based aspects to it, and while there is a certain punk feel at times, I think it’s more a transhuman work. It’s about going beyond humanity as we understand it. Cybernetics are a part of that, but only a part, cyberpunk doesn’t capture the whole gist.

    YMMV. 🙂

  3. Chris said,

    On the contrary, my dear Sinclair: Schismatrix is most definitely cyberpunk. If it deals in transhumanism, then so do Neuromancer and The Fortunate Fall, and to a lesser extent Snow Crash. All those early cyberpunk works deal in the human condition, because the technologies they were riffing off hadn’t actually been invented in 1985 (at least, not in way that really affected most people’s lives). The later works that self-consciously describe themselves as cyberpunk tend to be more about the technology, written after some of that technology had come to be a fact of life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the later stuff is utter dribble. That includes Sterling’s later works, IMHO, and you may note that the _other_ authors in that group have had the good sense to steer clear of the cyberpunk genre in more recent years.

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