Literary Cyberpunk

Literary Cyberpunk. To some, the idea probably sounds almost oxymoronic– the idea that Cyberpunk, this bastard child of Science Fiction and Film Noir that hangs at the bottom of a long cord of darker futures and intentionally drags itself through the grit and dirt of society in order to better project a speculative future into the realm of fiction could be more than a fecund curiosity. To some, it is little more than another broken branch of escapist and artless prose aimed at the sick and deranged, a shiny and worthless pebble to distract those of us not smart enough or enlightened enough to confine our literary tastes to the aged and the normal. They look down upon readers of what is distastefully referred to as “genre fiction” and raise on pillars books and authors who meekly tread down the well-worn paths of everyday life and recast them in the trappings of literary, non-genre fiction in order to give them a sort of meaning and life in the same way that a corpse is given meaning and life if it is painted by an artist as a man in a suit, sitting on a park bench with a briefcase and a newspaper. They worship the dead and the unimaginative retellings of memories that could have come from any man on the street and pin medals on authors almost the instant they draw their last breaths. Literature, as a singular non-genre category into which the books favored by the bourgeois fall, is sick and bland, is a slow, suffocating death stamped out in print.

It does, however, have one redeeming quality– the messages, the concepts, and the life meanings it imparts in the reading. Literature is the bare bones of reality and life, of concept and meaning, an ominous skeleton presented naked before a crowd, with just enough skin to show that it once was alive. What the world needs is literature, but literature heavy in imagination. The corpse must be given more than skin or clothes or a briefcase and a newspaper. It must be replaced with a starship or a purple sky, with a man in an diving bell astride a rocket-powered apple, or a man from an alternate future out to change the wrong past. Thoroughly beaten periods in history must be replaced or recast into the grand and sweeping vistas of the future. Instead of calling Space Westerns “Bat Durstons” with a sour and hateful flick of the tongue, we should be looking into the frontiers of the past and consider not only what they teach us about ourselves, but what they can teach us about where we may end up in the future. Space is out there, the future is out there, new upheavals, new revolutions, new periods of social reform and unrest are waiting to be found in the depths of an uncast future. Can something as transgressive as Cyberpunk be literary? Can it be woven and crafted in such a way that there is something of value to be gained from reading it? Yes, and such writing should be more widely recognized and available to readers. Even if you consider what writers like Neal Stephenson, Philip K. Dick or George Alec Effinger have already accomplished toward this end, there is something out there still to be done, still to be discovered. True, enriching and meaningful literature should not be bland. It should be imaginative! It should invade the mind with imagery and meaning, with secret messages riding in on the backs of jetbikes or lost in the bumperstickers of passing hoversedans. It should quicken in the mind and make us question our own lives, make us work toward utopian futures and long to set foot beyond this cradle we call Earth.

What the world needs now are literary and linguistic activists. People who stand up and realize that there are still places and ways to create higher orders of intellectual art that challenge and inspire, that inform and entertain. Are you with me? This is the frontier. This is where the root of a thousand preconceived notions lays exposed and ready to be severed, ready to be cut so that the literary world and the world of imagination can truly soar, and soar together, without the anchors of a stuffy, bourgeois past that even in passing leaves the taste of dust and emptiness to linger on the mind.

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