The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture presents Friday’s roundtable discussion:

Living in Cyberpunk Times

In his book The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. argues that today’s social, political, and cultural realities have become science-fictional, that estrangement and dislocation constitute our habitual normalcy in the 21st century. In order to therefore understand the events in and process the “incongruous moments of technology’s intersection with everyday life” (2), Csicsery-Ronay claims we need to draw upon the imaginaries of science fiction (SF) to make sense of our quotidian realities that are saturated with such SF concepts as cloud computing, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, wearable technologies, and the increased proliferation of cyborgs in all shapes and sizes, to name only a few science-fictional tropes. But as writer and game designer Kyle Marquis reminded us in a much circulated tweet in 2013, “unless you’re over 60, you weren’t promised flying cars. You were promised an oppressive cyberpunk dystopia. Here you go.” At the heart of Marquis’ claim is the realization that today’s reality is not SF in the “Golden Age” sense of the 1940s and 50s but rather as depicted by cyberpunk, that immensely popular form of 1980s SF which continues to speak to our contemporary moment. Cyberpunk, as Thomas Foster puts it, “didn’t so much die,” as has been lamented by many of its authors and critics, “as experience a sea change into a more generalized cultural formation” (xiv), a cultural formation that dominates our 21st century techno-digital landscapes. To put it directly: we are living in inescapable cyberpunk futures bleeding into the interstices of our present, and these cyberpunk realities intersect with our mainstream culture at every possible angle.

Published just this year, The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture engages the history of cyberpunk from its earliest literary and cinematic origins and expands the focus to include the social and cultural changes that define our cyberpunk reality, all the while delving into how cyberpunk works as a cultural formation relevant to the 21st century. The entries in the collection address not only literary and cinematic cyberpunk, but other cultural manifestations, including video games, music, fashion, and online culture. In addition, the volume does not limit its analytical apparatus to overview discussions of singular media forms, but also engages in critical analysis refracted through contemporary theoretical approaches (posthumanism, human-animal relations, utopianism, postmodernism etc.) and thus engages with the cultural formation of cyberpunk from micro-level analyses of example texts to macro-level analyses of movements and the extant sea-changes of not only cyberpunk culture but cyberpunk as culture, specifically as our contemporary culture now in the 21st century.

The roundtable gathers all three editors of the volume, together with two scholars that contributed chapters to the collection and opens up to a wide discussion within science fiction studies on how cyberpunk has become one of the most important science-fictional modes to explore our contemporary world, how the cultural formation describes realities such as the transnational reign of global finance capitalism, the technologically-induced surveillance through social credit, or the growing separation into urban sprawls and elite “zaibatsu” enclaves.

Panel / Participants

  • Anna McFarlane (University of Glasgow)
  • Graham J. Murphy (Seneca College, Toronto)
  • Hugh O’Connell (University of Massachusetts Boston)
  • Lars Schmeink (HafenCity University, Hamburg)
  • Sherryl Vint (University of California, Riverside)

Discord Discussion

This discussion has been copied from the Discord server, names have been reduced to first name, discussion threads have been grouped and edited for better readability.