Cyberpunks among us

by jim on January 28, 2023 · Science Fiction

We have entered the cyberpunk age. Many of the things that were predicted in cyberpunk literature are here now. The global cyber threat continues to evolve at a rapid pace, with a rising number of data breaches each year. Viruses, trojans, spyware, ransomware, adware, botnets, SQL injections, phishing cyberattacks developed by malicious programmers, threaten individuals, organizations and governments across the globe. Security programs continue to evolve as new defenses against new risks are being developed.

The term cyberpunk first appeared as the title of a short story written by Bruce Bethke in 1980, and published in Amazing Stories in 19831.  The term was subsequently popularized in the editorials of Gardner Dozois, editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Cyberpunk, a science fiction subgenre, was defined by science-fiction author Bruce Sterling as: “the integration of the realm of high tech and modern underground culture.” Technology has advanced through Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IOT), social media, mobile devices, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), brain controlled prosthetics, etc. Today, malicious hackers operating underground for financial or political reasons, launch cyberattacks every 39 seconds, according to Cobalt, a pentesting company.

William Gibson, author of  Neuromancer (1984), is arguably the most famous writer connected with the term cyberpunk. The first edition of this landmark winner of one of science fiction’s “triple crown” (Nebula, Hugo and Philip K. Dick Awards), was first published in paperback by Ace Science Fiction. The copyright page states: Ace Original/July 1984 and ISBN: 0-441-56956-0. Front cover art is by James Warhola. The first UK edition of Neuromancer, and first edition printed in hardcover, was published in late 1984. 2 Prices for both editions have risen sharply in recent years, with the paperback selling for a few hundred dollars while the hardcover sells for a few thousand dollars.

Gibson was partially influenced by the landmark cyberpunk film, Blade Runner, which was released in 1982, during the time Gibson was writing Neuromancer.  Blade Runner was based on Philip K. Dick’s blockbuster novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, first published in 1968, and generally cited as proto-cyberpunk. Literary science fiction critics have labeled as proto-cyberpunk a few major forerunners of the cyberpunk movement. Some of these are short stories and others are early sci-fi novels with dystopian future stories, exploring ethical and moral problems with cybernetics and artificial intelligence.

The genre, with its roots in the technical fiction of the 1940s and ’50s, and the dystopian science fiction of the ‘60s and 70’s, matured in the 80’s. American literary critic, Larry McCaffery, in his 1991 book Storming the Reality Studio : a Casebook of Cyberpunk & Postmodern Science Fiction, suggests that Samuel R. Delany’s 1968 novel Nova, is one of the major forerunners of cyberpunk due to the depiction of human interfacing with computers via implants. John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider, is considered by Bruce Bethke, among others, to be the first cyberpunk novel eight years before the term was popularized by Dozois. It depicts a world immersed in e-communication, topped up with surveillance and control of people and societies through information and data. William Gibson’s 1981 short story, Johnny Mnemonic which also became a film in 1995, involves another dystopian future, where human couriers deliver computer data, stored cybernetically in their own minds.

The cyberworld often overlaps with the real world. Computers do not commit crimes but they can be misused. Cyberpunk science fiction writers accurately predicted that there could never be such a thing as total security and created imaginative, malicious hackers resembling those in existence today. The literature of Cyberpunk proved to be a not so distant sci-fi genre. Sci-fi also describes interstellar wars, intergalactic wars or even interplanetary wars which up to this day and age are quite far-fetched. In Cyberpunk, we’ve managed to keep the war on the local battlefield, here on planet Earth.


1 “cyberpunk”.  Retrieved 2023-01-10.


About the author

Data scientist, book collector – Jim Sekkes

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