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Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology

with 6 comments

‘Preface’ by Bruce Sterling
‘The Gernsback Continuum’ by William Gibson
‘Snake-Eyes’ by Tom Maddox (Available online)
‘Rock On’ by Pat Cadigan
‘Tales Of Houdini’ by Rudy Rucker
‘400 Boys’ by Marc Laidlaw
‘Solstice’ by James Patrick Kelly
‘Petra’ by Greg Bear
‘Till Human Voices Wake Me’ by Lewis Shiner (Available online)
‘Freezone’ by John Shirley
‘Stone Lives’ by Paul di Filippo
‘Red Star, Winter Orbit’ by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
‘Mozart In Mirrorshades’ by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner

Before reading Mirrorshades I had formed two impressions of the book: firstly, it was a classic anthology; secondly, it was the cyberpunk anthology. Neither of these turned out to be true. Let’s look at the second first since it is right there on the cover.

What the book should really be called is Mirrorshades: The Movement Anthology. As Sterling suggests in his preface, this is really just a bunch of writers who know and like each other and are involved in a loose creative web. This might remind us of recently proposed punk-suffix genre of Mythpunk and it might also make us question how useful it is to apply a genre label to a group of individuals.

At the same time, the term cyberpunk – which Sterling is clearly ambivalent about – has stuck (perhaps he got his revenge with the similarly stubborn label of slipstream). As Patrick Hudson commented:

I’ve been reading these with interest, because I think that “cyberpunk” is a less homogenized form than is typically imagined. I suspect it’s not a sub-genre at all, but just a group of people and a place in time, or perhaps there’s two cyberpunks, one describing people and place and another a bunch of genreric cliches.

Let’s dismiss the first cyberpunk, the Movement, as being of solely historical interest these days. That leaves the second cyberpunk, the bunch of generic cliches or, more charitably, the set of tropes. Sterling himself seems to acknowledge the existence of this second cyberpunk:

It’s possible to make broad statements about cyberpunk and to establish its identifying traits… Mirrorshades should give readers new to Movement writing a broad introduction to cyberpunk’s tenets, themes, and topics.

However, if you can find the unifying tenets, themes and topics in Mirrorshades than I take my hat off to you. Sterling continues: “To my mind, these are showcase stories: strong, characteristic examples of each writer’s work to date.” This brings us to the question of how good the anthology is as a bunch of stories. To which the answer is not very. By my count there is only two good stories: ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ and ‘Petra’. At this point I should acknowledge that I owe Pat Cadigan an apology, ‘Rock On’ is better than the two stars I gave it. My calibration was thrown out of whack by my expectations. (Incidently I have had Cadigan’s The Ultimate Cyberpunk put forward to me as a suggestion for the real definitive anthology.) Still, the Gibson and Bear stories are the only ones really worth reading and this is an abysmal hit rate for an anthology, even a relatively slim one like this. Not that I consider either to be cyberpunk.

So what is cyberpunk? This is a question Jonathan Strahan has been asking too. He’s asking because he is putting together a cyberpunk anthology. Inter Nova are also putting together a special cyberpunk issue. So cyberpunk obviously isn’t dead, it’s just that – like the rest of SF – no one can define it.

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Written by Martin

5 May 2011 at 10:29

6 Responses

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  1. The idea at the time seems to have been something like “hard-sf with real characters”.

    Rich

    5 May 2011 at 12:11

  2. Unfortunately the stories in Mirrorshades are no more “hard-sf with real characters” than they are “radical hard SF”.

    Martin

    5 May 2011 at 14:07

  3. Futuristic Noir. (You know how to define noir, don’t you? Just put your lips together and, um, say ‘noir’).

    Adam Roberts

    5 May 2011 at 21:30

  4. genreric = generic? its in a quote.

    genre-ric is an interesting word in case its just me.

    Maybe Cyberpunk was originally a combination of the time and the people and now we are getting the straight to DVD remakes (Just saw the day the earth stood still 2002 and it left a bad taste in my mind).

    Larry

    6 May 2011 at 06:10

  5. Perhaps it is unfair to Patrick but I am going to preserve his typo since it is a direct quote.

    Martin

    6 May 2011 at 08:05

  6. After ponering it, I think it is worth maintaining the distinction between The Movement and cyberpunk, as it has come to be recognised. As it turns out, perhaps CP was a neologism ahead of its time. As it happened, I think the genre CP was more influenced by other cultural factors – Duran Duran videos, Mondo 2000 subculture, club culture, maybe things like Church of Sub Genius – more than by written SF which spent a bit of time catching up, I think. (There’s a pretty good Sub Genius anthology called something like “The Third Fist of Bob” that, IIRC, includes a lot of Movement writers.)

    I think of The Movement as the tail end of the New Wave, in the same way that punk rock was the tail end of the hippy movement. Sterling first novel, Involution Ocean, is a very conscious attempt at creating a New Wave SF novel. (Sterling: “I was trying to pass for a hard-bitten, drug-soaked, New Worlds British New Wave guy, but I was a college student.”)

    The cyberpunk of genreric (that’s no typo, that’s a neologism!*) cliche seems to be more a reaction to changing technological and social wotnots that’s been absorbed into the genre far more than the (admittedly self conscious) radicalism of The Movement.

    The Semiotext SF anthology of 199… er…. 1? demonstrates all this a little more clearly, I think, as by that time genre CP was well established, and separating from the idea of The Movement. Also, there were writers operating outside of it, along a more trad political/philosophical path, just as there are those working today whose work seems to avoid the influence of The Movement. I think it could probably be summarised as sex and drugs and rock and roll. Oh, and sci fi, too, if you insist. I think all that rock’n’roll stuff seems very Word or Mojo these days. Anytime any writer quotes Nine Inch Nails lyrics at me I can’t help thinking, “Up against the wall, John Shirley!”

    I mean, I think… it’s kind of early on a Friday and it’s been a few years since I read all this stuff. Maybe this summarises my thoughts of a decade or so ago. I wrote a profile of Bruce for The Zone back then which goes in to this a little: ]http://www.zone-sf.com/bsterling1.html

    P

    * not really, NB.

    Patrick H

    6 May 2011 at 09:47


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