Frequently Asked Questions
This is Version 4.0 of the alt.cyberpunk FAQ. Although previous FAQs have not been allocated version numbers, due the number of people now involved, I've taken the liberty to do so. Previous maintainers / editors and version numbers are given below:
- Version 3: Erich Schneider
I would also like to recognise and express my thanks to Jer and Stack for all their help and assistance in compiling this version of the FAQ.
This FAQ, as with Cyberpunk literature, is a living document. If you have any comments, criticisms, additions, questions please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (I especially welcome reports of "broken links", either in the ASCII or HTML versions). Send to that address as well if you would like the latest version of this document.
The vast number of the "answers" here should be prefixed with an "in my opinion". It would be ridiculous for me to claim to be an ultimate Cyberpunk authority.
Gardner Dozois, one of the editors of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine during the early '80s, is generally acknowledged as the first person to popularize the term "Cyberpunk", when describing a body of literature. Dozois doesn't claim to have coined the term; he says he picked it up "on the street somewhere".
It is probably no coincidence that Bruce Bethke wrote a short story titled "Cyberpunk" in 1980 and submitted it Asimov's mag, when Dozois may have been doing first readings, and got it published in Amazing in 1983, when Dozois was editor of 1983 Year's Best SF and would be expected to be reading the major SF magazines. But as Bethke says, "who gives a rat's ass, anyway?!". (Bethke is not really a Cyberpunk author; in mid-1995 he published Headcrash, which he calls "a cybernetically-aware comedy". (Thanks to Bruce for his help on this issue.)
Before its christening the "Cyberpunk movement", known to its members as "The Movement", had existed for quite some time, centred around Bruce Sterling's samizdat, Cheap Truth. Authors like Sterling, Rucker and Shirley submitted articles pseudonymously to this newsletter, hyping the works of people in the group and vigorously attacking the "SF mainstream". This helped form the core "movement consciousness". (The run of Cheap Truth is available by anonymous FTP in the directory "ftp.io.com:/pub/usr/shiva/SMOF-BBS/cheap.truth").
Cyberpunk literature, in general, deals with marginalized people in technologically-enhanced cultural "systems". In Cyberpunk stories' settings, there is usually a "system" which dominates the lives of most "ordinary" people, be it an oppressive government, a group of large, paternalistic corporations or a fundamentalist religion. These systems are enhanced by certain technologies, particularly "information technology" (computers, the mass media), making the system better at keeping those within it, inside it. Often this technological system extends into its human "components" as well, via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned or genetically engineered organs, etc. Humans themselves become part of "the Machine". This is the "cyber" aspect of Cyberpunk. However, in any cultural system, there are always those who live on its margins, on "the Edge": criminals, outcasts, visionaries or those who simply want freedom for its own sake. Cyberpunk literature focuses on these people, and often on how they turn the system's technological tools to their own ends. This is the "punk" aspect of Cyberpunk.
The best Cyberpunk works are distinguished from previous works with similar themes, by a certain style. The setting is urban, the mood is dark and pessimistic. Concepts are thrown at the reader without explanation, much like new developments are thrown at us in our everyday lives. There is often a sense of moral ambiguity; simply fighting "the system" (to topple it, or just to stay alive) does not make the main characters "heroes" or "good" in the traditional sense.
Spurred on by Cyberpunk literature in the mid-1980's, certain groups of people started referring to themselves as Cyberpunk, because they correctly noticed the seeds of the fictional "techno-system" in Western society today, and because they identified with the marginalized characters in Cyberpunk stories. Within the last few years, the mass media has caught on to this, spontaneously dubbing certain people and groups "Cyberpunk".
Some other groups which are associtaed with Cyberpunk are:
So are Cyberpunks any or all of the above, well not really. One person's "Cyberpunk" is another's obnoxious teenager with some technical skill thrown in, a self-designated Cyberpunk looking for the latest trend to identify with or yet another mass media label used as a marketing ploy. Whilst most Cyberpunks understand, and some have a a good working knowledge of the above definitions, these pursuits are seen as a means, rather than an end. The "end" of course depends upon your own personal goals.
There are those who claim that "Cyberpunk" is indefinable, which in some sense it is. Moreover, most regulars on alt.cp are uncomfortable about even implying that there actually are any cyberpunks. The point being that we all live in a cyberpunk society today, after all Gisbon himself said "The future has arrived; it's just not evenly distributed".
Therefore, by definition most some people are already Cyberpunks. That is why when some post on alt.cp claiming that "I am a cyberpunk" don't get flamed to death, just ignored, whereas statements such as "survival through technological superiority" get flamed from here to eternity and back.
In the end, anybody insisting they are a Cyberpunk will probably get flamed in alt.cyberpunk. Think of it as a trial by ordeal. John Shirley (noted cyberpunk author) didn't make it through the entrance exam. Chairman Bruce might just hack it, but AFAIK he's never come visiting.
To my knowledge, the term "Cyberspace" was first used by William Gibson in his story "Burning Chrome". That work first describes users using devices called "cyberdecks" to override their normal sensory organs, presenting them with a full-sensory interface to the world computer network. When doing so, said users are "in cyberspace". (The concept had appeared prior to Gibson, most notably in Vernor Vinge's story "True Names"). "Cyberspace" is thus the metaphorical "place" where one "is" when accessing the world computer net.
Even though Gibson's vision of how cyberspace is in some sense, surreal, it has stimulated many in the computing community. The word "cyberspace" is commonly used in the "mainstream world" with reference to the emergent world-wide computer network (especially the Internet). Also, some researchers in the "virtual reality" arena of computer science are trying to implement something like Gibson's Matrix into a more general computer-generated environment, even if its purpose is not "accessing the net".
The following is intended to be a short list of the best in-print Cyberpunk works. Note that quite a few works written before 1980 have been retroactively labelled "Cyberpunk" due to stylistic similarities, eg Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, or similar themes such as Brunner's The Shockwave Rider or Delany's Nova).
Some other good cyberpunk works include:
Some good out-of-print works to look for are Cadigan's Mindplayers, Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers, Daniel Keyes Moran's The Long Run, and Vernor Vinge's short story "True Names".
Some magazines which are popular among Cyberpunk fans are:
Many Cyberpunk fans have an uneasy relationship with Mondo 2000, their esteem for it varies according to the amount of technical content and affected hipness in the articles. Nonetheless, if anything could claim to be the Cyberpunk "magazine of record", this is it. With the departure of many of those providing creative impetus (notably, R.U. Sirius), its days may be numbered.
bOING-bOING's status is uncertain; most of its writers now work for Wired, it has ceased newsstand distribution and no longer offers subscriptions. However, if one can get a copy, it's worth looking at.
The magazine which, through aggressive positioning, has managed to become the "magazine of record" for modern techno-aware culture. It's aimed more at technically-oriented professionals with disposable income, but many cyberpunk fans like the articles on network and future related topics.
Described by some as the "house organ of the cyberpunk movement", founded by Stephen P. Brown at the urging of his friends Gibson, Shirley, and Sterling. Published semi-annually, and contains a regular column by Sterling.
Two mainstays of the computer underground. Phrack deals more with people and goings-on in the community, while 2600 focuses on techinical information.
TV gave us the late, lamented Max Headroom, which featured oodles of cyberpunk concepts. The Bravo cable network and the Sci-Fi Channel are rerunning the few episodes that were made. TV also gave us the somewhat bloated Wild Palms, with a "cyberspace", evil corporations, and a cameo by William Gibson.
Also shown on the Sci-Fi Channel is TekWar, a series based on William Shatner's "Tek" novels, which evolved from a set of TV movies based on those novels. While possessing some traditionally cyberpunk elements and extended "cyberspace runs", they (or at least the TV movies) tend to boil down to good guys vs. bad guys cop stories. (TekLords features a central plot element that those who have read Snow Crash will recognize.)
Blade Runner, based loosely on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is considered the archetypical cyberpunk movie. (Gibson has said that the visuals in Blade Runner match his vision of the urban future in Neuromancer.) Few other movies have matched it; some that are considered cyberpunk or marginally so are Alien and its sequels, Freejack, The Lawnmower Man, Until The End Of The World, the "Terminator" movies, Total Recall, Strange Days, and Brainstorm.
Cyberpunk stories can also be found in Japanese anime films, including the Bubblegum Crisis series and Ghost in the Shell.
There is an hourlong documentary called "Cyberpunk" available on video from Mystic Fire Video. It features some interview-style conversation with Gibson, is generally low-budget, and the consensus opinion on the net is that it isn't really worth anyone's time. Gibson is apparently embarrassed by it.
Regarding films based on Gibson stories: At one point a fly-by-night operation called "Cabana Boys Productions" had the rights to Neuromancer; this is why the front of the Neuromancer computer game's box claims it is "soon to be a motion picture from Cabana Boys". The rights have since reverted to Gibson, who is sitting on them at the moment.
Gibson's short story "Johnny Mnemonic" was made into a big-budget full-length motion picture. Gibson himself wrote the screenplay and was a close consultant to the director; the result "has his blessing", so to speak. As might be expected, there are many additions to the short story as well as outright differences. The film contains elements not only from the original story, but also from Neuromancer and Virtual Light; there is much more violent action, and the ending is more upbeat. Very significantly, Molly does not appear in the film; her place is taken by a character named "Jane" (who has no inset eyeglasses or retractable claws) due to issues surrounding use of the Molly character in any future Neuromancer production. (The film was not a critical or box-office success in the U.S., which Gibson has partly blamed on the post-production editing; he claims the longer Japanese release is the better one.)
"The Gernsback Continuum" was adapted into a short (15 minute) film in Britain; it has been shown on some European TV networks, but I don't know if it's available in the US. Rumors also abound that "New Rose Hotel" will be brought to the big screen by various directors. Other rumors claim that Count Zero will be made into a film titled The Zen Differential.
William Gibson wrote one of the many scripts for Alien 3. According to him, only one detail from his script made its way to the actual film: the bar codes visible on the backs of the prisoners' shaved heads. A synopsis of Gibson's script can be found in part 3 of the Alien Movies FAQ list or the whole script via ftp at cathouse.org:/pub/cathouse/movies/scripts/alien.iii. Alternatively, try the Internet Movies Database .
An excellent resource for any fan is Paul Sammon's in-depth book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, which goes over the differences between the various version in minute detail.
K.W. Jeter has written two novels which are sequels to the movie: Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human and Blade Runner: Replicant Night. One's judgement of the "appropriateness" of this may be influenced by the fact that Jeter was a good friend of Philip K. Dick's. The first sequel deals very directly with the "extra replicant" and "Deckard a replicant?" issues. The second sequel involves Deckard's participation in making a movie about his experiences hunting Roy Batty et. al. (as seen by us in the movie). More sequels by Jeter are apparently to come.
There are a lot of posts to alt.cyberpunk asking what Cyberpunk's like, do, wear etc. These posts are seen as inane due to the reason they are asked, ie, "Cyberpunk sounds cool, how can I become one". Cyberpunk is not a fashion statement, therefore little of this FAQ is taken up with such matters.
In late 1993 Billy Idol released an album called "Cyberpunk", which garnered some media attention; it seems to have been a commercial and critical flop. Billy made some token appearances on the net in alt.cyberpunk and on the WELL, but his public interest in the area seems to have waned. No matter how sincere his intentions might have been, scorn and charges of commercialization have been heaped upon him in this and other forums.
This FAQ used to list the email addresses of some cyberpunk authors. This may have been appropriate in the days when the number of Internet users was much smaller. However, the potential for authors to be flooded with fan mail (or commercial advertisements sent to addresses extracted by WWW search engines) has increased to the point where the need to respect authors' privacy and working time, outweighs the desire to give fans addresses in one convenient location. You may instead want to consult public email directories for the email addresses for authors of interest.
However, before you ask for William Gibson's, you should know that at the time of writing this FAQ, he had no public email address. In fact, he doesn't really care about computers all that much; he didn't use one until he wrote Mona Lisa Overdrive, and was thinking of kids playing videogames when he developed his "cyberspace".
"PGP" is short for "Pretty Good Privacy", a public-key cryptosystem that is the mainstay of the Cypherpunk movement. However, before you rush off and obtain a copy of PGP, I think it may be of useful to explain why it should be used, and the best reason I've heard comes from the guy who developed it, Phil Zimmerman.
Why Use PGP ?
"It's personal. It's private. And it's no one's business but yours. You may be planning a political campaign, discussing your taxes, or having an illicit affair. Or you may be doing something that you feel shouldn't be illegal, but is. Whatever it is, you don't want your private electronic mail (E-mail) or confidential documents read by anyone else. There's nothing wrong with asserting your privacy. Privacy is as apple-pie as the Constitution.
Perhaps you think your E-mail is legitimate enough that encryption is unwarranted. If you really are a law-abiding citizen with nothing to hide, then why don't you always send your paper mail on postcards? Why not submit to drug testing on demand? Why require a warrant for police searches of your house? Are you trying to hide something? You must be a subversive or a drug dealer if you hide your mail inside envelopes. Or maybe a paranoid nut. Do law-abiding citizens have any need to encrypt their E-mail?
What if everyone believed that law-abiding citizens should use postcards for their mail? If some brave soul tried to assert his privacy by using an envelope for his mail, it would draw suspicion. Perhaps the authorities would open his mail to see what he's hiding. Fortunately, we don't live in that kind of world, because everyone protects most of their mail with envelopes. So no one draws suspicion by asserting their privacy with an envelope. There's safety in numbers. Analogously, it would be nice if everyone routinely used encryption for all their E-mail, innocent or not, so that no one drew suspicion by asserting their E-mail privacy with encryption. Think of it as a form of solidarity."
PGP Sites can be found at: http://www.pgp.net/pgpnet/, or http://www.csua.berkeley.edu/cypherpunks/home.html. There's also an excellent resource on anonymous remailers at http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~raph/remailer-list.html. Alternatively, there are two newsgroups dealing with PGP and encryption, namely alt.cypherpunk and comp.security.pgp.
"Agrippa: A Book of the Dead", the textual component of an art project, was written by William Gibson in 1992. Gibson wrote a semi-autobiographical poem, which was placed onto a computer disk. This disk was part of a limited release of special "reader" screens; the reader units themselves had etchings by Dennis Ashbaugh which were light-sensitive, and slowly changed from one form to another, final, form, when exposed to light. Also, the text of the poem, when read, was erased from the disk - it could only be read once.
On the net, opinion on the Agrippa project ranged from "what an interesting concept; it challenges what we think 'art' should be" to "Gibson has sold out to the artsy-fartsy crowd" to "Gibson is right to make a quick buck off these art people".
Naturally (some would say according to Gibson's plan), someone got hold of the text of "Agrippa" and posted it to Usenet. A public copy can be found in the file "gopher://english-server.hss.cmu.edu:/English.Server/Fiction/Gibson-Agrippa". The previous author of this FAQ, Erich Schneider, has a copy as well as a copy of a parody.
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