Cyberpunk is a term used to describe a certain type of futuristic literature and media. Cyberpunk is often associated with the cyberpunk movement, which began in the 1980s and 1990s. Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction focused on themes such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and posthumanism.

Cyberpunk - its dark and it's raining - with pink and turquiose neon signage in a dark city street on a hill

In general, cyberpunk stories focus on the clash between high-tech corporations and underground criminal organizations. They are usually set in a near-future setting where society has been transformed by technological advancements. Cyberpunks tend to believe that human beings are becoming obsolete, and that our bodies will soon become irrelevant. As a consequence, humans will live in cyberspace, and their identities will be defined by their access to information rather than physical attributes like gender and ethnicity.

The term cyberpunk was popularized by William Gibson in his novel Neuromancer (1984). He coined it to refer to a style of writing he developed while working as a computer programmer. Other authors who wrote works considered part of the cyberpunk canon include Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, Pat Cadigan, John Shirley, Neal Stephenson, William S. Burroughs, Samuel Delany, and Iain M. Banks.

The naming of a genre

In the late 1970s, there were no books called Cyberpunk. There were no magazines called Cyberpunk. But there were people who felt that something was missing. They wanted to write stories about the future, where technology had taken over everything. They wanted to imagine how our lives might change when computers became ubiquitous. These writers weren't inventing a genre; they were describing a world.

They didn't call themselves "cyberspace cowboys," or "cyberpunks." Instead, they used the word "cyberpunk."

Bruce Bethke wasn't even thinking about writing a novel when he named his short story collection Cyberpunk. He was looking for a catchy phrase to describe a group of young men who lived in a postindustrial wasteland, scavenging for parts on a computerized highway.

But Bethke's title stuck. Over the next decade, it grew into a label for a whole generation of authors, filmmakers, musicians and artists.

Cyberpunk Origins

The roots of the cyberpunk movement go back to the early 1980s. In the wake of the publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the genre exploded into popular culture. However, it wasn’t until 1989 that the term “cyberpunks” was coined by Mike Davis in his book City of Quartz. This book described the emergence of a counter-culture of hackers and technologists in San Francisco. The 1990s saw the rise of cyberpunk literature including Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, and John Shirley’s GhostWalker. These books explored themes such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. They also introduced the idea of cyberspace as a place where individuals could escape the constraints of society.

The term "cyberpunk" was coined in 1983 by Bruce Bethke, editor of New Worlds magazine, in his introduction to a special issue devoted to the genre. He wrote:

Cyberspace is the common property of everyone on the planet.... I propose to use it as a metaphor for describing our present situation. Cyberpunk explores the possibilities of life in such a world.

In the same article, Bethke noted that "the term 'cyberpunk' was originally applied to the group of writers associated with, and particularly to myself."

Soon thereafter, the term began to be used outside of the science fiction community. For example, John Shirley, writing in Wired Magazine, described the film Blade Runner as "a darkly futuristic noir set among the neon glitz of Los Angeles."

However, the term did not catch on widely until William Gibson published Neuromancer in 1984. His novel was one of the most influential works of science fiction since Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. It introduced many readers to the concept of cyberspace and the idea that virtual reality could become indistinguishable from physical reality.

Gibson himself took great pains to distance himself from the label. In interviews, he often referred to himself as a "writer", rather than a "science fiction writer". However, he acknowledged the importance of the label, saying:

"I think there's something about the word 'cyberpunk' that people like to say. I don't know why. They like to put it around themselves. But I'm just a writer, really. I've been called a lot of things, but I haven't found anything else that fits me better."

The Essence of Cyberpunk

Post-cyberpunk is a modern response to the now antiquated visuals of 80s inspired cyberpunk. This style of sci-fi often focuses on technology and transhumanist themes like immortality, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering. In contrast to the gritty realism of early cyberpunk, post-cyberpunk takes place in a future where humanity has transcended biological limitations, resulting in a near utopian society.

A Gritty Future

Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of sci-fi that combines elements of hard science fiction, dystopian literature, and cyberpunk. Cyberpunk authors tend to focus on issues such as corporate control over governments and the environment, privacy, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the dangers of technology.

The genre typically takes place in a futuristic setting where corporations and government agencies wield great powers over individuals. In contrast to traditional dystopias, however, cyberpunks often depict a grim future where humans live in a post-scarcity economy where there is no longer scarcity of resources.

In addition, cyberpunk stories often feature a gritty, realistic tone, often depicting a dark, violent, and sometimes cynical view of humanity. Many cyberpunk novels take place in a near-future setting, while others set it far away in the distant future.

Cyberpunk Gaming

Role play gaming had already taken off with Dungeons and Dragons being the most popular but there were a few Science Fiction games too. The Cyberpunk novels were screaming out for their own dystopian Role Playing game based on the worlds these authors had imagined!

Cyberpunk 2020

Mike Pondsmith, creator of the original Cyberpunk game, has been working on a sequel called Cyberpunk 2077 since he left Interplay Entertainment in 1997. He was named one of PC Gamer magazine’s 25 greatest living video game designers in 2011. In 2012, he won the Game Developers Choice Award for Best Role Playing Game. And in 2013, he received the Lifetime Achievement award at the Independent Games Festival Awards.

In 2016, he announced that he had signed a deal with CD Projekt Red, a Polish developer best known for creating the popular Witcher series of RPGs. Cyberpunk 2077 is set in Night City, a sprawling metropolis where neon lights shine 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The city is divided into five boroughs, each governed by a powerful corporation. These megacorporations are run by CEOs who use corporate mercenaries known as Enforcers to maintain order.

Night City is an American megapolis in the Free State of Northern California, controlled by corporations, and unassailed by either the laws of the United States or the laws of the State of California. It sees conflict from rampant street gangs and their ruling entities vying for control over the city. Night City is reliant on robots for every day aspects such as waste collection, maintenance, public transport, and policing. Its visual identity is based upon the four eras it went through—Austeric Entropism, colourful Neo-Futurism, Cybernetic Neoclassicism, and Techno-Eclecticism.