Andrew White

Why _should_ cyberpunk move on?

I’ve been reading all kinds of “why can’t cyberpunk move on” articles lately, most famous of which is likely this Slate article. The general complaint is that cyberpunk foretold our present to some extent: dramatic wealth inequality, rule by corporations, and the pervasiveness of technology and connectivity to the detriment of community and personal interactions. What cyberpunk isn’t offering is some kind of solution to this problem. Most cyberpunk fiction is classic noir fiction; big heists and hardboiled detective work. At the end of the piece of fiction the crook gets away with it, or the crime is solved. Even in works that deal with potentially world-changing events like Metrophage, the narrative focuses on the impact on the main character.

This is true, but I don’t beleive that it’s a valid complaint. Or at least, it’s not a real indictment of the genre. We have psychological thrillers, police procedurals, romcoms, space operas. Are they required to fix sociopaths, end crime, ensure we all have fulfilling relationships, or are headed for post-scarcity tech utopias? Genre fiction doesn’t need to focus on fixing things. It is perfectly fine for it to be fun to read.

I will say one thing in cyberpunk’s defence: A long time ago I read a book that took place in a future where no one owned anything, and had to essentially rent everything they owned from the company store. It meant that anyone middle class or below was unable to change jobs, quit, retire, or vacation. They worked themselves to death, or they became destitute. Even as a kid, that future seemed plausible to me. It changed the way I think about material goods, and what we can give up for a life of luxury. Cyberpunk has the potential to wake us up to some of the worst excesses of our current society.