By Paulo Bacigalupi June 20, 2012 Illustration: Eero Pitkänen
'The Windup Girl author Paolo Bacigalupi on what we can learn from the cyberpunk breakthrough.
Science fiction was stuck in a complacent groove by the 1980s. You could go into a bookstore and find Arthur C. Clarke’s next Odyssey installment or Isaac Asimov’s books about the three laws of robotics. Robert Heinlein was still churning out sex and philosophy.
But despite the efforts of a variety of literary insurgencies, science fiction felt very much like it did 20 or 30 years before. It was a La-Z-Boy-recliner experience of the future. Competent men of science did competent things, aerospace was the coolest tech, and politics revolved around the conflicts of nation states.
And then came cyberpunk—Pat Cadigan, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling. It was subversive and gritty, a poetry-kaleidoscope trip into the for-profit future. Faceless corporations loomed over the ant-sized dramas of human endeavors, moving billions of dollars and yen around the globe while the human beings of the story scrapped it out on the streets.
It was cyberspace and console cowboys, leather jackets, Zeiss eye implants, modded Russian knockoff prostheses, extinct horses, mirrorshades. The future was bizarre and threatening—and also strangely real....'