What Is Cyberclunk?

In a Nutshell:

Half retro-future, half cultural mash-up, cyberclunk is science fiction that uses anachronism to reflect upon technology’s essential inelegance, because innovation, by definition, will always be the worst version of itself. Because it is new, it is flawed. This is the essence of cyberclunk.

The Long Version:

Science fiction has always been of its time. Any time we speculate about what we might become, we can only use our contemporary culture as a model. So inevitably we’re wrong. We accept this as an inherent reality of the genre. We read science fiction written in the recent past and forgive its anachronisms and quaint predictions because of what else it has to offer us.

As technology increasingly outpaces our ability to conceive of its collective impact, these anachronisms become more apparent and more frequent. Even in a world of instant publication, the written word can’t keep up. Literal predictions about the future become instantly dated.

The first objective of cyberclunk is to focus in the most obvious possible way on what science fiction does best: speculate about the ideas presented by technology, rather than its literal outcome. By unapologetically embracing anachronism, cyberclunk avoids all pretense to literal futurism. In some ways this approach is just as literal as what it’s trying to remedy. But I think that’s OK. Sometimes it takes a big dumb box of hammers to break something that needs to be broken.

Broader Objectives and Comparisons

What follows is a general overview of the two genres that cyberclunk has borrowed its name from, cyberpunk and steampunk. If you're already well familiar with these genres you can skip to the last paragraph where I elaborate on how cyberclunk differs from its predecessors. Otherwise, read on:

  Cyberpunk is a specific area of speculative futurism focused largely on virtual reality and artificial intelligence. This genre is best represented by authors such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. William Gibson is widely credited it's defining progenitor. Often cyberpunk is a meditation on the nature of reality and what it is to be human, themes that were heavily present in the work of Phillip K. Dick, often recognized as a seminal influence upon the genre.Cyberpunk was a synthesis of Dick's themes and ideas with aspects both formal and socially progressive presented by writers like Samuel Delaney, Harlan Ellison, John Brunner, Michael Moorcock and Ursula Leguin who, among others, collectively represented an informal movement that began in the late 60s known as science fiction's new wave.

Steampunk was a genre first introduced, or at least, first recognized with the publication of Gibson and Sterling's book The Difference Engine. Steampunk is a form of retro futurism that presents advanced technology as if invented at the dawn of the industrial age. Steampunk in popular culture has tended to focus more on its visual aesthetic--advanced steam powered machines and technology with Victorian-style ornament. When it's not used as a backdrop for high fantasy as it most often is, it has focused on  the historical and sociological consequences of these anachronisms, which was the original purpose of Sterling and and Gibson's book.

Both genres, like most science fiction, have their foundation in a romantic idea about the effectiveness of technology despite many of it's drawbacks and consequences. Technology still essentially works.

Cyberclunk presents a world much like our own where technology is broken.Technology is not the utopian analog to evolution that we like to pretend it is. Technology's ultimate destiny is not perfection, but social and environmental dissonance.With its rapid advancement, there's no time or room for it to develop organically.Unlike the rest of nature, it hasn't had time to adapt. So we are perpetually fixing it, trying to make it better, but there's no keeping up with its endless novelty and technology by  nature is novelty, flawed from its inception.Technology is a perpetual game of catch-up that we can never win. Which isn't to say that technology is inherently bad, but that it needs to be appraised cautiously, and with the understanding that it's never going to do exactly what we want it to do, and often it will do exactly what we don't. And then we'll try to fix it. And when we fix it, the problems will start anew.  

Try Also:

The Philosophy of Cyberclunk, Or Why Science Fiction Can't Escape Becoming Embarrassingly Dated

Why Cyberclunk Will Change How You View Science Fiction As a Genre

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