- Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives
The editors, Graham J. Murphy and Sherryl Vint, clearly know their subject matter when they open their introduction to Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives by acknowledging cyberpunk’s “tumultuous, conflicted, at times contradictory history” (xi). The collection is gathered into three parts, each beginning with a reprint of an influential essay and continuing with newly written essays that advance and complicate the arguments: part 1, “Situating Cyberpunk,” begins with Brian McHale’s “Towards a poetics of cyberpunk” from his 1992 critical work Constructing Postmodernism; part 2, “The Political Economy of Cyberpunk,” begins with “Global Economy, Local Texts: Utopian/Dystopian Tension in William Gibson’s Cyberpunk Trilogy” by Tom Moylan; and part 3, “The Politics of Embodiment in Cyberpunk,” begins with Karen Cadora’s “Feminist Cyberpunk.”
McHale’s linking of cyberpunk with postmodernism has occasioned many a conversation about the politics of academic canonicity and the deleterious effects of the marketing decisions of publishing houses on the subgenre. What has been overlooked has been McHale’s contribution to the development of cyberpunk from earlier generic conventions that it accidentally shares with other subgenres of science fiction. This is a good place to point out that the postmodernism in McHale’s essay has less to do with style and the politics of late-capitalism and more to do with thematic considerations. According to McHale, cyberpunk comes out of the traditions of the romance, as does much of science fiction, and provides an alternative response to the same issues that postmodernism is oriented toward.
Neil Easterbrook’s essay in this section, “Recognizing Patterns: Gibson’s Hermeneutics from the Bridge Trilogy to Pattern Recognition,” takes up the challenge to look beyond cyberpunk by an astute examination of Gibson’s novels. The earlier trilogy, collectively known as his Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer , Count Zero , and Mona Lisa Overdrive ), is in Easterbrook’s suggestive scheme cyberpunk and the Bridge novels (Virtual Light , Idoru , and All Tomorrow’s Parties ) are post-cyberpunk. Easterbrook convincingly points out the binary flickering differences between the two, but I’m a little disappointed by the conceptualization. The difference between cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk in the works of one of the fathers of cyberpunk is represented in a table reminiscent of Ihab Hassan’s comparison of modernism and postmodernism. It would be foolish to argue against cyberpunk’s romantic roots, as McHale points out, but surely there was more to cyberpunk than a modernist re-working of the romance. Easterbrook does make a good case, however, for treating Gibson’s postcyberpunk novels as post-modern with their interest in self-referentiality and global networks. But one can argue that cyberpunk is only too aware of global dynamics and that the very notion of cyberspace is self-referential. At the level of style, Easterbrook is quite correct in the distinctions between [End Page 424] cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk, and I’ll even give him the humorous pairing of cyberpunk and adolescence and post-cyberpunk and middle-age, but looking to Gibson to provide us with post-cyberpunk is too far a reach. Easterbrook would have been far better off to head to other writers such as Greg Egan or Tricia Sullivan or Nalo Hopkinson.
Andrew M. Butler’s essay, “Journeys Beyond Being: The Cyberpunk- Flavored Novels of Jeff Noon,” manages to do what Easterbrook might have been able to do if he hadn’t shackled himself to Gibson’s work for his understanding of post-cyberpunk. A brief word about Butler’s style is necessary: I get the sense I’m listening to a well-read, thoughtful, insightful friend who could easily continue to keep me engaged for many hours more. What propels Jeff Noon’s work from cyberpunk to post-cyberpunk is his representation of the body. The body in cyberpunk is the problem, the meat, the casing, that needs to be sloughed off so that pure information, speed, and the imagination can come to the forefront. The post-cyberpunk as exhibited in Jeff Noon’s work, Butler correctly says...