Back in the glory days of the Internet -- back when you didn't need to
EARN money to HAVE money -- Zealot.com ran a series of "Up Yours"
articles highlighting what we felt was most gripe-worthy in science fiction.
It was a little like Festivus on that episode of Seinfeld, actually
-- "Now comes the time when I tell you all how much you've DISAPPOINTED
me over the past year!" -- but without the feats of strength.
And, of course, any time of year is good for an "Up Yours."
Up Yours, Cyberpunk!
By Kevin Pezzano
The last good cyberpunk novel was 1992's "Snow Crash," by Neal Stephenson.
Everything since then... and I mean EVERYTHING... has sucked.
Actually, everything BEFORE then sucked, too. Well, everything except William
Gibson's original Sprawl Trilogy: "Neuromancer," "Count Zero," and "Mona Lisa
Aside from those four works, that leaves an entire sci-fi subgenre of crappy-ass
novels out there, clogging bookstore shelves and slaughtering the brain cells
of the unwary reader.
I have the misfortune of being a cyberpunk fan, and so I submitted myself to
torture after torture as I read these printed sheaves of wood-pulp inanity.
Never have I managed to find even a single book worthy to sit alongside those
four on my mantelpiece.
Bruce Sterling should stick to dead media and nonfiction hacker books, since
his cyberpunk novels are filled with goofy plotlines and even goofier characters.
Killer genetically-altered raccoons ("Globalhed")? A 90-year-old fantastically
rich woman who undergoes a procedure to look 20 again, and is written for the
rest of the book as just another ditzy young coed ("Holy Fire")? Please...
Wilhelmina Baird tried to combine the low-life, high-tech tone of cyberpunk
(in "Crashcourse" and "Clipjoint") with that old sci-fi chestnut, colonized
planets. Unfortunately, she never bothered to explain why her chosen world was
so similar to the cramped, crowded, barely-high-tech Earth of near-future cyberpunk.
And, of course, it helps if you don't kill off the only likable characters in
Richard Kadrey's "Metrophage" is a mishmash of pointless conspiracies and militia-wet-dream
fascist youth organizations. If the main character wasn't such a yutz, if the
only female characters weren't lesbian boytoys, and if the Alpha Rats alien
invaders were handled better (and not ripped off so blatantly from John Varley),
this might have been an acceptable read. Maybe.
Walter Jon Williams had the most interesting concept of all recent cyberpunk
books, with his novel "Hardwired," where he postulated a Balkanized earth ruled
by orbital colonies. Unfortunately, his writing style made this book a chore
to slog through. Present tense? I haven't seen that since 9th grade English,
when I got an F on my creative writing assignment for using it. Stephenson only
got away with it in "Snow Crash" by having a story so fun and energetic you
didn't care what the tense was. In "Hardwired" we're not so lucky. Plus, the
happy ending is totally unbelievable, and completely out of place.
Greg Bear's "Queen of Angels" is also filled with "cool" concepts, like a can
full of nanobots that can be smuggled into a restricted area and then used to
manufacture a gun. Unfortunately, these nifty sci-fi ideas are diluted with
pointless plot elements like a seal-skinned female cop or a "journey through
the mind" sequence straight out of someone's Psych 101 homework. Pick a subplot
and stick with it!
Still, it's better than the unwieldy and episodic "Blood Music," which is ostensibly
one of the masterpieces of the genre. Maybe Bear ought to go back to telling
easy-to-comprehend stories, like his books about a giant hollow asteroid called
Thistledown that contains multiple alternate dimensions.
All of these so-called cyberpunk books had major flaws, making me more likely
to gnash my teeth in anguish every time I thought about the money I wasted on
them than to think about the effect of technology on future society. Stephenson's
and Gibson's books were thought provoking -- these other books aren't.
These modern books also seem to share the major misconception that because Gibson
used strange, almost hallucinatory passages to describe his twisted future world,
EVERY so-called "cyberpunk" novel must be confusing, pretentious, and "artistic".
Just tell a story! Save the poetic-images-in-prose-format style for writers
who can actually pull it off!
So, because I will never get back the time or sanity I wasted reading all these
books, up yours, cyberpunk!