Here’s another one of my unexpectedly nifty hand-held nighttime rain-shots. This one took a bit of doing too – walked back and forth for about a block, to get the right sort of mix of odd little businesses set up in front of that futuristic tower.

I mentioned John Brunner the other day, but forgot to give you titles to hunt – “Shockwave Rider” is my absolute favourite – and stands as the first true (and truly great) cyberpunk novel. “Stand on Zanzibar” “The sheep look up” and “A jagged orbit” are also all extremely brilliant works. He even did a book we all wish we’d written, about what might happen if genuine intelligence started to break-out around the world, and the idiots realized they were suddenly in a fast-vanishing minority “The stone that never came down.” Clever and hilarious.

But – Brunner’s age (in terms of market, and publishing profile) was the 60s and 70s – and while his work won many awards, it is mostly out of print now, so most of the evidence we see of it shows up in the works of younger writers who read him, back when they were still forming their own idea-scapes.

Many of the earlier Sci-fi writers who came up in the 50s were surprisingly broad in terms of exploring alternate forms of social relations (check out “The moon is a harsh mistress” by Heinlein, or “Venus plus X” by Sturgeon) but they tended to assume a blending homogeneity for our future – an increasingly standard model of human living (and in the age of dehumanizing psychological ideas, like BF Skinner’s operant conditioning, that’s a very understandable projection).

Of course, most artists produce a whole arc of work over many years – and some of them followed the steady opening-up of psychological/sociological ideas and technological applications so brilliantly that they managed to anticipate a shocking number of features of where we have now found ourselves (Norman Spinrad’s “Little heroes” is somewhere between prophetic and devastating).

But the geniuses who brought the genre to the heights, with fine-novel depth of characters, insights and blazing modern relevance, understood that despite the pressure, the world does not standardize, but stays diverse – nature of the beast.

Kim Stanley Robinson will forever be special to me, not only for writing a hard sci-fi series on the opening up of Mars that only revealed itself in the final book as a profoundly loving tribute to “The martian chronicles” (Bradbury’s still unassailable masterpiece), but also for putting Sufi trading caravans into his vision of the new Martian landscape (On the rim of Olympus Mons, no less!)

William Gibson, the charmingly self-deprecating Vancouverite who is most commonly credited with creating the cyberpunk genre (and reveals a very Canadian quality of political cynicism and insight, when Canadians read him) draws his surprisingly plausible worlds out of the strangest materials – high-rise office towers turned into hydroponic farms for crops – seedy underground scenes for software trading, every bit as dangerous as those for narcotics – and even questions like what sort of art a machine might make, to amuse itself.

The point is, the juxtapositions – the rich and the poor, the dedicated and corrupt, talented and slack-headed, fancy and the struggling really do all coexist – and the potential outcomes from their interaction really aren’t so easy to anticipate, and do not ever blend-into one even texture, but stay lively and wildly diverse.

“Count zero interrupt” His most compact and breathless confection. Trust me!

I can’t mention cyberpunk without also pointing you all toward the incredible and unique work of Neal Stephenson. “Snowcrash” is as good as the genre gets, “The diamond age” examines how much anarchy is too little, and considers Jaynes theory of bicamerality as a subplot – “Cryptonomicon” gets into math ciphers and lying about history like nothing I’ve read (WWII like you’ve never read it before in your life) and “the quicksilver cycle” literally reconstructs the birth of modern science politics and capitalism – making Isaac Newton a main character (amongst many others) and pulling-it-off – Pirates too – soo delicious!
He will (in case you hadn’t already gathered) get his own more fulsome post, one of these finger-rambling days…. ;o)

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