An anthology of cyberpunk short fiction takes readers to a malleable world where advanced data technology and human interfaces create shifting realities, altered perceptions, and para-human intelligence.
There used to be a defiant rock-music catchphrase, “Punk’s not dead.” This anthology seeks to prove that cyberpunk’s not dead. The software and silicon-age subgenre of sci-fi, typified by direct interfaces between humans and data technology (be it cyborgs or virtual reality), burst onto the literary scene in the computer-hacktastic 1980s. But the once-buzzworthy trend was declared tiresome and defunct by its own godfather, William Gibson, only about a dozen years later. In his introduction here, Richard Kardrey sagely points out that if vinyl records and paper-making could make a comeback concurrent with tablet PCs and “Second Life,” then why not androids in the age of Android? These 20 compact stories exhibit the genre in its future-shock glory, as though Max Headroom never got canceled or Prodigy never went offline. The theme of body modification—especially the arbitrary, bewildering, and often desperate switching of genders—has particularly aged well (as in “WYSIOMG” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro). The inherent multiculturalism of cyberpunk (telecommunications and powerful multinational corporations turning the world into a scaled-down global village) means many of the stories embrace diverse locales and beliefs. These include tales set piquantly amid the culture of war-distorted, futuristic Islam, where Allah possibly speaks through a veteran’s neural implant (“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed); superpower-exploited Thailand, where nanotech is poised to execute the have-nots’ bitter revenge on the haves (“The Bees of Kiribati” by Warren Hammond); or denuded Nigeria, where biomechanical life forms are replacing humanity (“The Ibex on the Day of Extinction,” by Minister Faust). Many of the tales in this anthology, edited by Viola (Nightmares Unhinged: Twenty Tales of Terror, 2015) and Heller, are told in the first-person. As a result, they show off an argot of rich (if overused) cyberslang: “meatspace,” jokey Lord of the Rings references, and lines from Blade Runner. What may have changed since the 8088-processor days is that hardly anyone relies on “jacking in” to describe entering a virtual reality/online consciousness. “Diving in” seems to be the 2.0 version.
Killer apps outnumber the glitches in 20 short, bracing narratives of cyberpunk sci-fi.