Cyberpunk futures

Tim has discovered Swanwick. My opinions of Swanwick's short stories have been mixed, but I too liked both "The Dog Said Bow-Wow" and (especially) "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O." And I wasn't thrilled with In the Drifts, but I was blown away by the first thing of Swanwick's that I read: Vacuum Flowers.

So here's the short version of my standard spiel about cyberpunk:

What I loved most about Neuromancer was the newness. (A blurb for When Gravity Fails, the first cyberpunk book I read, said "This is what cyberpunk will be like when it grows up," and I agreed with that until I read some more cyberpunk, notably Neuromancer.) Neuromancer went places I'd never seen, and did so with a pyrotechnic prose style (partly borrowed from Chandler and Hammett, but what the hell) that really impressed me. I didn't notice the fact that Gibson didn't know much about computers, or that he didn't know the details of the war that loomed large in his characters' recent history; I was completely convinced by his world.

And then I read a bunch of other cyberpunk and it all seemed to be doing pretty much the same thing. (I later read even more and found stuff that wasn't quite the same—I rather liked Hardwired, for example. But it was certainly a similar general milieu to Neuromancer, even if it was going for some different themes.)

So I was really pleased when I found two books that did different things: Islands in the Net and Vacuum Flowers.

My shorthand way of thinking about these is that they form a loose trilogy, each making a huge jump forward in time, tech level, and social changes. Islands in the Net is relatively near-future, and shows how we get from today's world to the world of Neuromancer; Vacuum Flowers goes as far beyond Neuromancer as Neuromancer goes beyond Islands. I sorta feel like together they give an overview of a sweeping future history. The paradox of most cyberpunk is that technology and change go hand-in-hand, but the tech levels of most cyberpunk books are pretty similar to each other (the sequels to Neuromancer disappointed me in not going far enough); the notion that change keeps going after the world of Neuromancer was an exciting one.

Of course, since then a lot of people have done a lot of grand epic futures, transforming humanity, transforming the solar system with nanotech, writing galactic chase stories that play out over millions of years. It's become practically a subgenre. But those are on too grand a scale for me. What I love is the up-close-and-personal story set against a vast and complex backdrop.

No time to make this any more coherent or provide any conclusions. All I'm saying is, if you like cyberpunk and you haven't read Vacuum Flowers, go dig up a copy.

Join the Conversation