Cyberpunk is a form of science fiction that is set in the very near future. It portrays a world that may very well come about. Cyberpunk looks at the way the world could turn out if everything that is going on now continues in the same stupid way. Environmental catastrophe, rogue megacorporations, social chaos, and technology out of control, all feature in large scale. Everything is bleak, gritty, garish, noir-ish, but in a world of fast high tech . Cyberpunk is fast, fast, fast.
Cyberpunk is based on inner space, not outer space. Inner space is what is happening here and now. You are accessing this document through a sort of inner space - the Internet. Cyberpunk just looks at this development and takes it further. It asusmes technological development in bionics, cybernetics, and/or will enable the enhanced hacker to "jack" directly into the Net, an actual brain-computer interface that creates a "consensual hallucuination" - cyberspace.
Cyberpunk has it's own unique mythology. Instead of space ships, aliens, and the galactic federation, there is the Net (or Matrix) and virtual reality. Instead of smuggling or gunrunning there is hacking and data-smuggling. Instead of aliens, there are cybernetically, bionically and biotech enhanced humans. Instead of rival empires there are rival megacorps. It makes for a world that is frightening like our present one. And that is the whole idea.
The setting of cyberpunk is essentually urban, (or at the very least suburban), the endless artificial landscape of the city run rampant, the "Sprawl" as William Gibson terms it. It is a world where man's greed and stupidity has destroyed the ecological balance, where the battle for the Earth has already been fought and lost. There is no need to explore hostile alien planets and landscapes; this Earth itself has become an alien and inhuman place.
The bleakness of the Cyberpunk universe is matched only by the kewlness of the protagonists that inhabit that universe. And they have to be kewl to survive in such an environment. The Cyberpunk hero is an anti-hero, a rebel, a person who lives on the edge, outside the safe enclaves of the protected and coccooned middle and upper classes. There are few legal work or job options available outside the enclaves and no welfare net for the unfortunate or disenfranchised. The protagnists have to live by their wits, making do as best they can. He or she more often than not lives a black-market existence outside the law, not through choice but through necessity, as part of an insurgent subculture living in the cracks and crevices between the giant megacorp superpowers. Yet what exists and is traded in those cracks may have the potential to overthrow the status quo.
Two aphorisms define cyberpunk:
high tech and low life
the street finds it own use for things
high tech means that technological advancement has continuyed to progress at an exponential rate. As with Alvin Toffler's thesis of "Future Shock", things are changing so rapidly there is this incredible disorientation. It's like a wave. You can either go with it or be pulled under.
low life means that even the lowest, grottiest, grungiest characters have access to this tech. Cyberpunk stories are often set in a very gritty world of seedy disreputable characters. These often disenfranchised low-lives struggle to make a living by whatever way they can in the bleak noir future. Imagine Raymond Chandler or Irvine Welsh writing about the middle of the 21st century. That's cyberpunk.
the street finds it own use for things refers to the fact that things often don't work out the way the bigwig movers and shakers hope they will. New tech, advertising, social engineering hit the street and are distorted by a sort of social darwinism into mutations more appropriate for the environment outside the ivory towers of the political and corporate offices. The result is not necessarily what the status quo wants. But it works, doesn't it?
here are some comments some-else has written on this same aphorism
is how someone else has defined cyberpunk
is Cyberpunk? - another definition
For more definitions on Cyberpunk, check out the links
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