Cyber World Demonstrates the Future of the Cyberpunk Genre

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In 1984, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer took the science fiction world by storm. Cyberpunk was here to stay and in 1986, with the illustrious Bruce Sterling at the helm, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology solidified the cyberpunk ethos. As the cyberpunk movement traveled up the time stream into the ’90s, many believed the cyberpunk moment was over and declared cyberpunk dead. There was an established look and feel to the genre at this point, an aesthetic, that had begun to feel stifling to people like Paul Di Filippo. Di Filippo’s Ribofunk solidified a “new” aesthetic which came to be known as biopunk. It was an attempt to break free of perceived literary shackles that cyberpunk had slowly crafted through the ’80s. Post-cyberpunk was also an attempt to move beyond cyberpunk with books like The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. It is debatable whether any of these delineations  in cybernetic sand are real or necessary, but regardless of the reality, they’re perceived shackles. And that is what punk has always been about breaking.  It has been 30 years since Mirrorshades and 20 years since Ribofunk, cyberpunk is ready for its next genesis. Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow may very well be that anthology.

Cyber World is a short fiction anthology published by Hex Publishers and edited by Jason Heller and Joshua Viola. The anthology collects twenty stories from some authors you may recognize and newcomers that you may not: Stephen Graham Jones, Paolo Bacigalupi, Saladin Ahmed, Alyssa Wong, Nisi Shawl, Cat Rambo, Paul Graham Raven, Keith Ferrell, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Mario Acevedo, Matthew Kressel, Darin Bradley, Chinelo Onwualu, E. Lily Yu, Minister Faust, Madeline Ashby, and Isabel Yap. The cover and an illustration for each story were provided by Aaron Lovett. The anthology also features a forward by Richard Kadrey and a limited edition soundtrack featuring Celldweller, Circle of Dust, Megadrive, and Scandroid. This is an impressive collection. 

“Cyberpunk isn’t cool anymore because it doesn’t have to be. It’s gone beyond cool. It’s life itself, the good and bad of it.” —Richard Kadrey, author of Metrophage and Sandman Slim

Taken as a whole Cyber World nails many of the issues that face the modern cyberpunk. The world has been smaller through globalization, and this is well represented by having stories that take place all over the world. You have a few western world stories, but many are set in the disadvantaged places in the world. This is important because this is where the biggest divide between the haves and have-nots exists. If you want to see the cyberpunk now, go to Sao Paolo or the Philippines. The second big theme that runs through the text is non-traditional sexual preferences. In fact, the theme of polyamory comes up twice in different stories by different authors. The third major theme is how we reconcile technology with our lives as it becomes more ubiquitous. Do we merge with it or keep it at arm’s length? Will we have a choice? These kinds of discussions are important as we move into the increasingly diverse future.

Possibly my favorite story in the anthology was by Mario Acevedo called Reactions. I say possibly because there are so many good stories included, but also because I was biased toward this story because of the setting. The story’s protagonist, who is dealing with the fallout of drugs used to enhance the use of mind-linked drones for warfare as he heads back home to reconnect with his family. During the course of the story as he heads to his home in Yakima, WA, he also passes through Ellensburg, WA. Yakima and Ellensburg were where I lived out my childhood and young adult life. So, this story felt intimately familiar to me in ways that it might not to other readers.

My other favorites were The Mightly Phin, by Nisi Shawl; Your Bones Will Not Be Unknown, by Alyssa Wong; and A Song Transmuted, by Sarah Pinsker. In The Mightly Phin we are introduced to a prison ship in space run by an AI. Three of the inmates are in a polyamorous relationship, and the Warden AI wants to be part of it. What sold me on this story, though, was the surreal virtual environments and The Matrix-like uncertainty of reality. Your Bones Will Not Be Unknown is a great story where a young woman is sent by one crime boss to assassinate another. It is easily the most visceral story and the twist merits a story all to itself. A Song Transmuted didn’t surprise me; it gave me exactly what I wanted. A young woman who loves music becomes her own instrument it just feels so cyberpunk.

“This is the upgrade: the new, real sound of diverse futures, mad and magnificent, the world on a wire. Essential.” —Warren Ellis, author of Gun Machine and Transmetropolitan

The only complaints that Cyber World managed to well up in me are very minor. First, there are some stories that ended anti-climatically. This is not uncommon with short stories; endings are the hardest to write and it is sometimes easier to write something more like an excerpt from a larger story. The second was with Wysiomg, by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. This story isn’t inherently bad; the story is actually interesting. My problem was that due to the narrator’s diction the story was very hard to follow — often frustratingly so. It was unique, perhaps a little bit too unique for my tastes.

“Maybe cyberpunk isn’t truly dead. Maybe it’s been hibernating. Changing. Breaking itself down into a brew of constituent elements, safe in a chrysalis tucked between snug bundles of transatlantic fiber optic cable. Re-making itself in the shadow of the new, distributed, global culture.” Joshua Viola, Editor of Cyber World

The included soundtrack is excellent listening while you devour these stories. I uploaded it to my phone and read the ebook while playing the music in the background. It helps to immerse you in the stories. I found the Megadrive and Celldweller tracks the most captivating, largely because they didn’t have any lyrics and drove me into the words on the page. Memory Dealer by Megadrive was a particular favorite with its soft driving synths.

“Don’t call this a cyberpunk book.” —Jason Heller, Editor of Cyber World

I am going to call this book cyberpunk despite the call by Heller to not do so. I understand his hesitation. It is the same hesitation that has brought pause to Neal Stephenson and Paul Di Filippo who want to break away from the established norms of the genre. This is, of course, necessary to keep the genre fresh, but that is cyberpunk’s legacy. Cyberpunk was a break from the established norms of science fiction. Although most people are most familiar with the works that exemplify the Neuromancer/Blade Runner aesthetic of cyberpunk, it is important to remember that cyberpunk has always been much wider than that. Space and alien life were important plot elements in a number of original cyberpunk stories like Dr. Adder, Frontera, and The Artificial Kid. Wherever high technology comes in contact with those living the low life, cyberpunk will be a relevant genre. This means it is always changing, always evolving, and that is a good thing. Stasis is death, cyberpunk lives.

Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow – 9/10

You can get your copy of Cyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow here.

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This book was received from Hex Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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