What is Cyberpunk?

According to Wikipedia:

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a dystopian futuristic setting that tends to focus on a “combination of low-life and high tech” featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.

Much of cyberpunk is rooted in the New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when writers like Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, John Brunner, J. G. Ballard, Philip José Farmer, and Harlan Ellison examined the impact of drug culture, technology, and the sexual revolution while avoiding the utopian tendencies of earlier science fiction.

The New Wave is a movement in science fiction produced in the 1960s and 1970s and characterized by a high degree of experimentation in both form and content, a “literary” or artistic sensibility, and a focus on “soft” as opposed to hard science. New Wave writers often saw themselves as part of the modernist tradition in fiction, and the New Wave was conceived as a deliberate break from the traditions of pulp science fiction (SF), which many of the New Wave writers involved considered irrelevant and unambitious.

The New Wave science fiction writers of the 1960s thus emphasized stylistic experimentation and literary merit over the scientific accuracy or prediction of hard science fiction writers.

Comics exploring cyberpunk themes began appearing as early as Judge Dredd, first published in 1977. Released in 1984, William Gibson’s influential debut novel Neuromancer would help solidify cyberpunk as a genre, drawing influence from the punk subculture and early hacker culture. Other influential cyberpunk writers included Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker. The Japanese cyberpunk subgenre began in 1982 with the debut of Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga series Akira, with its 1988 anime film adaptation later popularizing the subgenre.

Early films in the genre include Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner, one of several of Philip K. Dick’s works that have been adapted into films. The films Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and New Rose Hotel (1998), both based upon short stories by William Gibson, flopped commercially and critically. The Matrix trilogy (1999–2003) was some of the most successful cyberpunk films. Newer cyberpunk media includes Blade Runner 2049 (2017), a sequel to the original 1982 film, as well as Upgrade (2018), Alita: Battle Angel (2019) based on the 1990s Japanese manga Battle Angel Alita, the 2018 Netflix TV series Altered Carbon based on Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 novel of the same name, and the video game Cyberpunk 2077 (2020), based on the table-top role-playing game Cyberpunk.

Regarding music, the origin of cyberpunk music lies in the synthesizer-heavy scores of cyberpunk films such as Escape from New York (1981) and Blade Runner (1982). Some musicians and acts have been classified as cyberpunk due to their aesthetic style and musical content. Often dealing with dystopian visions of the future or biomechanical themes, some fit more squarely in the category than others. Bands whose music has been classified as cyberpunk include Psydoll, Front Line Assembly, Clock DVA, Angelspit and Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

Some musicians not normally associated with cyberpunk have at times been inspired to create concept albums exploring such themes. Albums such as Gary Numan’s Replicas, The Pleasure Principle, and Telekon were heavily inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick. Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine and Computer World albums both explored the theme of humanity becoming dependent on technology. Nine Inch Nails’ concept album Year Zero also fits into this category. Fear Factory concept albums are heavily based upon future dystopia, cybernetics, the clash between man and machines, virtual worlds.

Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk drew heavily from cyberpunk literature and the cyberdelic counter-culture in its creation. 1. Outside, a cyberpunk narrative fueled concept album by David Bowie, was warmly met by critics upon its release in 1995. Many musicians have also taken inspiration from specific cyberpunk works or authors, including Sonic Youth, whose albums Sister and Daydream Nation take influence from the works of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson respectively. Madonna’s 2001 Drowned World Tour opened with a cyberpunk section, where costumes, aesthetics, and stage props were used to accentuate the dystopian nature of the theatrical concert.

Vaporwave and synthwave are also influenced by cyberpunk. The former has been inspired by one of the messages of cyberpunk and is interpreted as a dystopian critique of capitalism in the vein of cyberpunk and the latter is more surface-level, inspired only by the aesthetic of cyberpunk as a nostalgic retrofuturistic revival of aspects of cyberpunk’s origins.

A recent exponent of this genre is the Venezuelan-born and Spanish- based Singer: “X-Machine” who has recently re-started his career in Spain and Europe.

As a wider variety of writers began to work with cyberpunk concepts, new subgenres of science fiction emerged, some of which could be considered as playing off the cyberpunk label, others which could be considered as legitimate explorations into newer territory. These focused on technology and its social effects in different ways. One prominent subgenre is “steampunk,” which is set in an alternate history Victorian era that combines anachronistic technology with cyberpunk’s bleak film noir world view. The term was originally coined around 1987 as a joke to describe some of the novels of Tim Powers, James P. Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter, but by the time Gibson and Sterling entered the subgenre with their collaborative novel The Difference Engine the term was being used earnestly as well.

Another subgenre is “biopunk” (cyberpunk themes dominated by biotechnology) from the early 1990s, a derivative style building on biotechnology rather than informational technology. In these stories, people are changed in some way not by mechanical means, but by genetic manipulation. Paul Di Filippo is seen as the most prominent biopunk writer, including his half-serious ribofunk. Bruce Sterling’s Shaper/Mechanist cycle is also seen as a major influence. Also, some people consider works such as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age to be postcyberpunk.

Cyberpunk works have been described as well situated within postmodern literature.

Do you think the times that we live can be considered cyberpunk times?




Entrepreneur and graphic designer. Owner of DeCast Design. MS in Human Rights. World Citizen and freelance writer. Madrid based. www.decastdesign.com

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Manuel Castañeda

Manuel Castañeda

Entrepreneur and graphic designer. Owner of DeCast Design. MS in Human Rights. World Citizen and freelance writer. Madrid based. www.decastdesign.com

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