Subgenre Study: Cyberpunk

Ah, cyberpunk, the father of all other punks.

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that became popular in the 1980s.  It tends to involve a world where data and computers are ubiquitous, cyborgs are common, and the world has more or less gone to hell.  William Gibson’s Neuromancer is considered to be a leader in the subgenre.

(Cyberpunk always makes me think of the Borg from Star Trek.  I’m not sure that’s an accurate connection but I’m not sure it’s too far off, either.)

The stories themselves tend to center on hackers, AIs, giant megacorporations, things of that ilk.  (Often some sort of confrontation between the evil megacorporation and the poor, but extremely tech savvy, common man who is fighting for the good of mankind or at least a subset of it.)  They are science fiction because unlike some of the other punks, it is often set in the near future as opposed to being a modified past. 

The world is almost always some sort of dystopia.  Some examples of this can be seen in the Matrix, where machines have imprisoned humans in their own minds, or Blade Runner, where androids have become sentient enough that they can pass as human.  Other examples: Ghost in the Shell, Terminator, 12 Monkeys, A.I.

(I apologize for most of my examples being movies rather than books.  Like steampunk, this is a subgenre that I find lends itself very well to visual media, such as movies, comics, and costuming.)

Apparently we’ve moved past Cyberpunk into Postcyberpunk.  Postcyberpunk incorporates the technology and stylistic techniques of cyberpunk, but tends to lack the anti-establishment mentality that is common to its parent subgenre.  Many examples of this subgenre also lack the dystopia that seems to be omnipresent in cyberpunk.

There’s also a related spin-off subgenre known as Biopunk, where humans (and animals) tend to be modified genetically rather than by cybernetics.

What are your favorite bits of cyberpunk (postcyberpunk, biopunk), Squiders?  Why do you think that the gritty, angry cyberpunk of the 80s has morphed into the technology-accepting, more optimistic postcyberpunk of today?

2 responses to this post.

  1. High Tech + Low Life = cyberpunk

    I’m not sure if any particular technology was part of this subgenre, as long as it was set in the near future. In fact, Most important was the fact that technology be in the hands of those who were, let’s say “less than worthy”.

    Why is cyberpunk not so popular these days? Well, maybe its risky to write. After all, if you’re in the near future, you get proven wrong pretty fast. Not many authors take the risk. Bruce Sterling is my favorite. But there are others. Greg Egan perhaps?


  2. […] the lists of subgenres seem a bit confused. You have things like “cyberpunk,” which has clear themes and tones that are fairly universal throughout the subgenre, but […]


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