SF/F Genre Glossary

What is Cyberpunk?

This is a continuation of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

City Skyline by Razer
City Skyline Concept Art by Razer

What is Cyberpunk?

A subgenre of science fiction. Cyberpunk depicts dystopian near-future world’s and issues of high-tech are explored via the underbelly of society. Protagonists are plucked from the fringes of society: criminals, hackers, the displaced and poor.  There is frequently an undercurrent of rebellion, of trying to preserve individualism in a world of corporate interests.  Elements of noir and crime fiction are also featured.

Frequently explored themes:

  • Impact of technology on society
  • Access to information
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Corporate control of society
  • Fusion of human and machine

Examples:

Books:
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Movies:
Blade Runner, Akira, The Terminator, Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix.

Further Reading:
Cyberpunk – a short story by Bruce Bethke
Cyberpunk – Aspects and Expectations

Some articles suggest that cyberpunk is a genre long past it’s peak. Was cyberpunk, like the new weird, a literary movement rather than a genre? Is cyberpunk dead?

10 Comments

  1. I don’t think any genre truly dies (and by saying that, I guess I cast my lot as saying cyberpunk is, in fact, a genre and not a “movement”). Certainly, some aspects of cyberpunk (like the aesthetic) are still current – and have made their way into other genres, and influenced them. For instance, after Matrix came out, we soon saw those Werewolf vs. Vampire movies that borrowed heavily from Matrix’s aesthetic.

    Further, we’ve seen more stories in other fantasy/sci-fi subgenres focus on protagonists that are disaffected outcasts, or which explore similar themes within the constraints of their own genres.

    1. Hmm yes I don’t think it’s possible for a genre to die, only wax or wane in terms of popularity. At the very least, it seems the cyberpunk aesthetic is still alive and well.

      I’ve also run into the term “post-cyberpunk” which seems to be associated with characters try to affect positive change in a dystopian world, instead of simply trying to survive in one.

      “Protagonists that are disaffected outcasts” seems to be a recurring theme around here! If you ask me, the next trend in books may be the return to the heroic character. These things seem to go in cycles.

      1. “I don’t think it’s possible for a genre to die, only wax or wane in terms of popularity”

        Very true. In the 1970s, Space Opera seemed dead as a doornail. Even comic books were way to hip by then to subscribe to such simple-minded heroes and villains.

        Then Star Wars came out.

  2. Lua

    I’m not a big science fiction fan thus I didn’t know that much about Cyberpunk, your post was quiet informative for me 🙂
    However, I agree with Stephen, I don’t believe a genre can actually die, they keep on living by influences other movements & genres…

    1. Thanks for the input Lua!

      I think genre boundaries are only half useful (good for categorizing/marketing) but in truth they overlap, bleed into each other, have children… I agree, they keep living on in some form.

  3. I would recommend Snow Crash and (especially) The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson. The latter is very strong (deeper than SC), and also provides one of my favorite moments in any story I’ve ever encountered. I’ve written about it, but I won’t link in case you haven’t read the book.

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