What is cyberpunk?

Wikis > What is cyberpunk?
Art by Ian Llanas

Art by Ian Llanas

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction set in the near-future in which there is strong sense of helplessness, misery, dystopic ideals and loss of morality and/or humanity. It features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order such as corporations which control the lives of their workers and reside in microcosms dictated by the status quo.

Literature from which movies and video games originate in this genre point to a fear that the world may eventually be run solely by computers, including unusual scenarios where nonliving forms take on life-like actions and capabilities. Rebellion against large corporations and established organizations is a key aspect of cyberpunk. As such, main characters are often portrayed as alienated and marginalized by society.

The term cyberpunk was coined by Bruce Bethke in 1983 in his story “Cyberpunk.” The term combines “cybernetics” and “punk.” William Gibson however is credited with having written the quintessential cyberpunk novel “Neuromancer”. He is however, predated by the author John Shirley of whom Gibson says, “John Shirley was cyberpunk’s patient zero, first locus of the virus, certifiably virulent. A Carrier. City Come A-Walkin’ is evidence of that and more.”

Cyberpunk, however, did not come fully formed onto the scene. Like all literature, it is based on prior works which some term as proto-cyberpunk but which is largely known as science fiction. Works like Heinlein’s Friday or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or even further back in History with authors like E. T. A. Hoffmann’s The Sandman.