Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that features advanced science and technology in an urban, dystopian future.
It’s also a culture with a certain attitude and a distinct style. Anti-authoritarian, brand-averse, and tech-literate.
Cyberpunk started in the 1960s and 1970s in the new wave science fiction movement with Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was later adapted to the movie Blade Runner.
But the term didn’t exist when he wrote the book. The term was born with the release of Neuromancer by William Gibson, who is considered the pseudo-founder of the genre.
Bruce Sterling later also solidified the genre with his anthology of short stories in Mirrorshades. Later Cyberpunk media that popularized the genre include the Matrix trilogy by the Wachowskis, and Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson.
It can be somewhat tricky to categorize cyberpunk, as many forms of media might take some elements but not all of them. While others may debate this issue, I find that the piece of media has to have high-tech elements, while also must have some sort of problem with the world or dystopia in some way. In this way, a movie that is time-traveling but has little to no emphasis on technology other than the time-traveling technology would not be considered cyberpunk. Nor would a dystopian society without any focus on technology be considered cyberpunk either.
A movie that has high-tech but has a mostly perfect society, or perhaps focuses more on alien technology as a form of high-tech, would also not be considered cyberpunk.
In terms of literature, the biggest influence on the genre in my view would be Philip K Dick. Not only did he write Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, his works also inspired many other movie adaptations, including Total Recall and Minority Report. William Gibson, in addition to Neuromancer, also wrote other books that were again adapted into movies and fit the genre. These include Johnny Mnemonic.
A new revival to the genre, and one which has just been released but has yet to show its true lasting influence, is Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon.
The reason for the massive influence of this new piece is because of its highly popular Netflix adaptation. My hope is that the genre will be renewed once again, with revived interest due to other cultural factors such as new rising technology like virtual reality technology and self-driving cars, as well as other popular series warning of the dangers of technology, such as the other Netflix series Black Mirror.
If this genre interests you as much as it does me, I invite you to linger for a while on these pages. They are born out of a love for the genre, and hopefully will add to your interest and fascination as well. Happy travels, Alice.
–Alex V. Woods, writer and founder of Cyberpunk Matrix