What is Cyberpunk?

Synonomous with the 80’s punk scene, futurism, human enhancement, and the net, Cyberpunk combines elements of Science Fiction, Detective Noir, Urban Sprawl and Anthropocene Dystopia. Heroes are often portrayed as down on their luck mavericks caught between the machinations of shady corporations, secret societies, overzealous governments and advanced AI’s.

Regardless of the timeline, Cyberpunk often depicts a future that is potentially just around the corner, yet paradoxically already here, using contemporary paranoia and anxiety over technology and power to challenge notions of human good, with settings ranging from rain soaked city streets to decadent corporate palatial estates and the virtual landscapes of the web.

Neuromancer William Gibson

History of Cyberpunk

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is widely considered to be the definitive novel, with a clipped pace and exhaustive barrage of off the wall characters and sprawling urban landscapes that in many cases (wink -Ed) have become genre tropes.

First published in 1984 and preceded in 1982 by the short story ‘Burning Chrome’ (where Gibson coined the term ‘cyberspace’ as a ‘mass consensual hallucination in computer networks) the genre’s breakout film is Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner.

Both Bladerunner and Neuromancer share a common root in noir and hard-boiled detective fiction, and while Gibson’s Henry Dorsett Case and Scott’s Rick Deckard are decidedly different characters, both are pawns in plots where they have little control, despite being ‘The best at what they do’.

The ‘punk’ in Cyberpunk creates a niche barrier of entry, denoting a certain aesthetic that recalls a specific time and place in human history, Post-Regan Western cultures on the brink of globalisation. Even the the novel Altered Carbon, a more recent foray into the genre, lacks the punk aesthetic of earlier works, despite employing tropes of human transcendence, urban decay and decadence, and a hard boiled detective main character.

For this reason, Cyberpunk can often be looked at as a niche genre that appears as a motif within other works, and companioned by other niche genres like Cyberhippy (Rudy Rucker) and Cybergoth (The Matrix).

If Cyber is the virtual landscape made manifest, singularly real and unreal, and Punk is the rebellion against authority as dictated by authority (try the history of the Sex Pistols) then Cyberpunk is the genre of double blind, where one’s suspicions of being nothing more than a cog in an invisible and intangible machine are both confirmed and confirmed paranoid, where the consensual hallucination of the net is both the last frontier of freedom and the ultimate form of control.

John Carpenter’s Escape From New York was a big influence for Neuromancer.

Our Favourite Cyberpunk Games

Unsurprisingly, games are a natural home for the genre, both pen and paper / board games and their video counterparts, the latter being the perfect space to explore some of more digital and paranoid aspects of the genre.

5 Cyberpunk Books You Should Read Before You Disconnect

Neuromancer and Altered Carbon might be the heralds of the genre, but have you read these

NiTH’s Best Cyberpunk Short Stories

A collection of our best short stories in the Cyberpunk genre. Dystopian visions, towering technocracy, paranoia and plugs in the skull.

Texhnolyze is a fantastic cyberpunk anime
Texhnolyze is a fantastic cyberpunk anime

Cyberpunk Writing Prompts

A collection of NiTH’s favourite writing prompts in the Cyberpunk Science Fiction genre.

The Best Cyberpunk Anime

A list of some of our favourite anime in the Cyberpunk Genre