Virtual Geographies: Cyberpunk At The Intersection Of The Postmodern And Science Fiction [34, 1 ed.] 9042009861, 9789042009868, 9004334378, 9789004334373

Virtual Geographies is the first detailed study to offer a working definition of cyberpunk within the postmodern force f

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Virtual Geographies: Cyberpunk At The Intersection Of The Postmodern And Science Fiction [34, 1 ed.]
 9042009861, 9789042009868, 9004334378, 9789004334373

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Table of contents :
Cover
Contents
Introduction
New Final Frontiers: Problems and Aims
The Story So Far
Methodology: Metaphoric Networking
PART I: CONSTRUCTION SITES
1 Introducing Cyberpunk
The History of Cyberpunk
The ‘Cyber’ in Cyberpunk
Style and Attitude: The ‘Punk’ in Cyberpunk
2 Learning from Architecture
The Failure of the International Style
Double Coding: Complexity and Contradiction
Liquid Architecture: A Poetics of Cyberspace
3 Culture Wars: The Postmodern and Popular Culture
PART II: CYBERSPACE: THE NEW FRONTIER
4 William Gibson’s Construction of Cyberspace
The Prefiguration of Cyberspace
In Cyberspace
Gibson’s Cyberspace as a Point of Departure
5 Pat Cadigan’s Virtual Mindscapes
Words into Worlds: “Change for the Machines”
Cadigan’s Mindscapes: “Coming Soon to a Brain near You”
Cadigan’s Images of the Imagination
6 Neal Stephenson’s Metaspace
Stephenson’s Rhetorical Strategy: The Babble in Babel
The Metaverse
Stephenson’s Postmodern Strengths
Conclusions:Postmodern Intersections
Consanguinities of Cyberspace
Virtual Reality as Plot Device: Cyberspace to Metaverse
The Virtual Sublime
Posthuman Encounters
Dominant Networks: Postmodern Science
Appendix: A Cyberpunk Time Line
Works Cited

Citation preview

Contents

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Introduction New Final Frontiers: Problems and Aims The Story So Far Methodology: Metaphoric Networking

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P ART I: C ONSTRUCTION S ITES 1

Introducing Cyberpunk

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The History of Cyberpunk 5 The ‘Cyber’ in Cyberpunk 20 Style and Attitude: The ‘Punk’ in Cyberpunk 29

2

Learning from Architecture

43

The Failure of the International Style 50 Double Coding: Complexity and Contradiction 59 Liquid Architecture: A Poetics of Cyberspace 66

3

Culture Wars: The Postmodern and Popular Culture

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P ART II: C YBERSPACE : T HE N EW F RONTIER 4

William Gibson’s Construction of Cyberspace The Prefiguration of Cyberspace 103 In Cyberspace 112 Gibson’s Cyberspace as a Point of Departure 123

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Pat Cadigan’s Virtual Mindscapes

127

Words into Worlds: “Change for the Machines” 132 Cadigan’s Mindscapes: “Coming Soon to a Brain near You” 146 Cadigan’s Images of the Imagination 165

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Neal Stephenson’s Metaspace Stephenson’s Rhetorical Strategy: The Babble in Babel The Metaverse 179 Stephenson’s Postmodern Strengths 185

171 173

Conclusions:Postmodern Intersections Consanguinities of Cyberspace

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Virtual Reality as Plot Device: Cyberspace to Metaverse

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The Virtual Sublime

202

Posthuman Encounters

213

Dominant Networks: Postmodern Science

222

Appendix: A Cyberpunk Time Line Works Cited

231 235

Introduction

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The postmodern understood correctly would be a project. Postmodernism, on the other hand, insofar as it is really more than simply a fashion, a sign of regression or a new ideology, can most likely be comprehended as a process of searching, an attempt to register traces of change and to highlight the contours of this project more sharply. (Wellmer 109, my tr.) It is not the world that is postmodern, here, it is the perspective from which that world is seen that is postmodern. (Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern 9)

New Final Frontiers: Problems and Aims

T

is a vague and vexing concept employed by a wide variety of disciplines including architecture, the visual arts, literature, geography, sociology, and philosophy.1 Attempts to generalize about its characteristic features and discourses are consistently thwarted by a splintering specificity: all things postmodern are informed by distinct disciplinary histories and complex esthetic and HE POSTMODERN

The best summary of the emergence of the term postmodernism can be found in Michael Köhler, “‘Postmodernismus’: Ein begriffsgeschichtlicher Überblick,” and Gerhard Hoffmann, Alfred Hornung and Rüdiger Kunow, “‘Modern’, ‘Postmodern’ and ‘Contemporary’ as Criteria for the Analysis of 20th Century Literature.” 1

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temporal relations to a whole array of modernisms and various stages of modernity.2 Jean–François Lyotard’s writings on The Postmodern Condition (1979) and The Postmodern Explained (1993) provide a philosophical framework for the idea of the postmodern, by claiming that the postmodern is not to be understood as an epochal delimitation which simply follows from or breaks with modernism. More specifically, Lyotard’s concept of the postmodern overrides the linear notion of history, according to which one movement follows and replaces another (as in the extreme case of avant-gardism). However, Lyotard only seemingly rejects the notion of the avant-garde, because he ultimately retains and re-inscribes the esthetic aspects and utopian aspirations associated with it, especially when he considers the sublime and the unpresentable in presentation (The Inhuman 89–107; The Postmodern Explained 67–74). If Lyotard retains a notion of the avant-garde, it is a postmodern version of the concept, since he divorces the avant-garde from all drives toward innovation or novelty for their own sake. When he speaks of the postmodern, he refers to the “modern in its nascent state,” which has a more complex temporal relation to the modern than that of succession, transcendence, or replacement. In fact, the model of historical change that many critics following Lyotard have employed is neither one of a radical rupture with modernism and the modern, nor a merely reactionary moment in response to it, but a critical revisiting in the sense of working through what came before.3 Andreas Huyssen illustrates “postmodernism’s relational nature” quite instructively in After the Great Divide, using examples from architecture and literature (183). 3 Lyotard calls this process “Durcharbeitung, i.e., a working attached to a thought of what is constitutively hidden from us in the event and the meaning of the event, hidden not merely by past prejudice, bus also by those dimensions of the future marked by the project” (Inhuman 26). Elsewhere, Lyotard writes in a letter entitled “Answer to the Question, What is the Postmodern?” appended to The Postmodern Condition and later published in The Postmodern Explained : “A work can become modern only if it is first postmodern. Thus understood, postmodernism is not modernism at its end, but in a nascent state, and this state is recurrent” (13). The postmodern and the modern become “modes” that can coexist in the same 2

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Consequently, the postmodern is a mode or a way of thinking, and not a unified phenomenon or age. It theorizes its inherent contradictions and inconsistencies, embodied in a multitude of postmodernisms. Postmodernity is thus not the heralding of a new age so much as the rewriting of some of the features claimed by modernity – particularly modernity’s claim to ground its legitimacy on the project of liberating humanity as a whole through science and technology. But that rewriting has already been in progress since the inception of modernity itself (Lyotard, “Rewriting Modernity” Inhuman 34). Unlike Lyotard, Marxist critics tend to embrace a view of postmodernity as proof or precursor of a new age or era (Bertens Idea; Jameson Postmodernism; Harvey Condition). For Fredric Jameson and David Harvey, postmodernity is linked to a social analysis of “latecapitalism” or of post-Taylorism.4 Andreas Huyssen follows work, a phenomenon which has prompted Fredric Jameson (most notably) to condemn the postmodern as ahistorical and eclectic. Lyotard’s remark indirectly refutes all accusations of “exhaustion” and the proliferation of “crises” reported from several disciplines. In the article “Rewriting Modernity,” first published in Sub-Stance in 1982 and later collected in The Inhuman (1991), Lyotard confirms this position by saying that “[p]ostmodernity is not a new age, it is the re-writing of some features modernity had tried or pretended to gain” (8). 4 Fredric Jameson in Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1992) and David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (1989) ultimately use postmodernity as the signification of a new epoch that breaks with modernity because of changed social conditions. A prime example they cite is postmodern architecture, because of its complicity “in the patronage of multinational business,” as Jameson argues (4). The characteristic features that he derives from this analysis for postmodern artifacts are: a “new depthlessness” leading to “simulacra” and “superficiality” in an uncritical move from description to evaluation; and the “weakening of historicity” and the “waning of affect” as the “new emotional ground tone,” which are projected onto the era of postmodernity (9). Similarly, Harvey calls for a “meta-theory” (117) to counteract the disempowerment resulting from the “fetishisms of locality, place, or social grouping” where the focus on fragmentization mimics the dominant mode of flexible capital accumulation perpetuated by Western governments since Taylorism. Lyotard’s analysis of

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Raymond Williams’s vein of Marxist analysis when he observes in postmodernism a “change in sensibility” and warns that “the problem with such historical macro-schemes, in relation to postmodernism, is that they prevent the phenomenon from even coming into focus” (Divide 181; 183). When attempting to show which esthetic strategies, no matter how unstable, render a particular grouping of science fiction works postmodern, it is necessary to confine oneself to a particular postmodernism emerging from a resonance with ideas of modernization and literary modernism within the field of science fiction. The problem of how postmodernism in science fiction might present itself and what esthetic, rhetorical, and narrative strategies it might employ is only one facet of the postmodern “force field.” The problem regarding postmodernism in science fiction stems primarily from the lack of a clearly formulated concept of modernism, which is entangled in ideas of modernization and its concomitant narratives imagining brave new worlds of technology. Modernism in science fiction can be postulated as the adoption of a mode of experimentation, derived from literary High Modernism, which first crystallized among a group of writers rallying around the New Wave label in the 1960s. It was science fiction’s attempt to “break down the barriers between science fiction and mainstream fiction” that finally proved decisive (Nicholls, “New Wave” 866).5 These The Postmodern Condition, on the other hand, focusses on the status of knowledge in postindustrial societies and its forms of commodification as data. He thus undermines any reliance on the metanarratives of humanism, justice, and truth, which can no longer presuppose a consensus, and which, when forcibly imposed, become associated with terror. This has served as his main point of divergence from the view of another Marxist scholar, Jürgen Habermas. 5 Peter Nicholls draws attention to the fact that ‘New Wave’ was a term coined in deliberate analogy to the nouvelle vague in French cinema. It also evokes the new wave music scene of the 1970s punk bands. Though introduced by American writer–critic Judith Merrill, the term was first applied to a group of British writers associated with the New Worlds journal of science fiction later edited by Michael Moorcock. Highlighting science fiction’s speculative element, it represented an attempt to treat the genre

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literary experiments were never performed for their own sake but were closely related to the 1960s counterculture, which explored the limits of mind-altering drugs and sexual taboos, as well as the pervasiveness of the media and advertising. These writers translated some of their stylistic experiments into the language of the science fiction genre, thereby significantly extending its repertoire; most significantly, they turned their attention to the portrayal of inner space, an idea taken up by J.G. Ballard in particular. Peter Nicholls calls cyberpunk a new New Wave, but I submit that it is significantly different from any notions of the New Wave in its synthesizing effort to integrate hard and soft science fiction elements. It does not take itself so seriously and it displays an ambiguous attitude toward the future, neither purely optimistic nor entirely pessimistic. It highlights science fiction’s entertainment function while also claiming stylistic innovation and the addition of new elements to the repertoire of science fiction. It is important to retain the term New Wave as a constructed counterpoint in order to highlight the postmodern in cyberpunk, which includes cinematic narrative techniques and a ‘punk’ or anarchic attitude toward society. The very history of science fiction bears an important relation to modernity, especially in regard to its American origins in pulp fiction, when it became a specialized genre in its own right by the late 1920s. From Gernsback’s notion of “scientifiction” to John Campbell’s ideas of scientific speculation and extrapolation during the socalled “Golden Age” of science fiction in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as some of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books from the 1940s, an optimistic attitude toward technology and the machine prevailed, which was closely tied to a faith in social improvement and social engineering, and ultimately produced the “streamlined modern.”6 seriously as literature by adding new protocols to the repertoire of science fiction that were in stark contrast to “hard” science fiction, which relied mostly on scientific gadgets or scientific method. 6 This trajectory is traced by Thomas D. Clareson in Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction (1990), Dick Hebdige in Hiding in the Light (1988), and Andreas Huyssen in After the Great Divide (1986). Huyssen

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When dealing with science fiction, an impure genre most closely related to the novel and situated on the margins of the literary and academic establishment, one cannot avoid dealing with issues of value – issues often articulated as an opposition between high and low culture or as a tension between the literary mainstream and popular fiction or paraliterature.7 These are by no means absolute oppositions or categories but fields of tensions which define the very rise of science fiction as a genre. For science fiction takes place in a double field of tension: between high and low culture, as well as between the ‘two cultures’ of the natural sciences and the humanities.8 No consensus regarding the definition of science fiction as a genre or a mode has yet been reached. Peter Nicholls provides a brief overview of these arguments which concludes that science fiction is, strictly speaking, not a genre at all. Instead, it is seen as a subculture which had evolved composed of writers, magazine editors (and, later, book editors), reviewers and fans; stories and novels written within this subculture shared certain assumptions, linguistic and establishes close links between architecture and its use of the machine or factory as a metaphor for society and science fiction, which also borrows architectural symbols and thereby imports its social models, too. According to Nicholls, the “Golden Age” of science fiction generally designates the period during which Campbell edited the science fiction magazine Astounding Stories, between 1937 and the early 1950s, a publication which promoted writers contributing a huge stock of themes and ideas to the genre, such as Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Alfred Bester. 7 Science fiction is not necessarily restricted to prose forms. Science fiction poetry (Rob Hardin being the closest to cyberpunk fiction) and “filk” music (a form of folk music with science fiction lyrics) represent two cases in point, not to mention the huge industry of science fiction film, in contrast to the infrequent instance of science fiction drama (for example, David Porush’s play in three acts, “R. Boots”). These, along with romance, the imaginary voyage, travelogue, and Christian pilgrimage, have all contributed to the genre’s history. 8 Most arguments regarding the tension between the sciences and the humanities derive from C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.

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thematic codes which were embedded in the growing literature, and a sense of isolation from the external “mundane” world for which those codes remained cryptic. This whole living matrix, not just the fictional texts that had initially occasioned it, came to be called “science fiction.” (“Definitions of Science Fiction” 312)

Cyberpunk fiction has certainly produced its own subculture. It has extended its reach into music (Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk), internet communities (e.g. newsgroups, e-zines, websites), computer games (Neuromancer, based on the novel by William Gibson, and Circuit’s Edge, based on George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Fails) and even the fashion industry.9 Nicholls also shows that the rise of science fiction as a field of academic study called for “more precise boundaries,” which were most elegantly provided by Darko Suvin. He combines the analysis of literary strategies with an analysis of ideational content, in the concepts of cognitive estrangement, the chronotope, and the cognitive novum.10 But no closed, synchronic definition of science fiction can ever appear to be reached, since it incorporates

The transition from literary movement to subculture can best be illustrated by looking at the evolution of several San Francisco Bay Area magazines, Mondo 2000, boing-boing, and Wired. These featured interviews and reviews by cyberpunk writers in a glossy, state-of-the-art, computergraphics-enhanced layout. A collection of vintage articles can be found in Mondo 2000: A User’s Guide to the New Edge. The cyberpunk fashion was hyped as “a challenging postmodern lifestyle” and parodied in the Cyberpunk Handbook (subtitled The Real Cyberpunk Fakebook) by Ken Goffman and Jude Milhon. 10 See the first chapter of Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, which outlines these concepts closely reminiscent of Russian Formalist thinking. However, Suvin borrows the notion of estrangement and the proposed function of art from Brecht. Robert Scholes confirms the view of science fiction as a “cognitive art” in Structural Fabulation but he also criticizes Suvin by saying that this as the sole criterion is not enough to distinguish science fiction, because it applies to all fiction (46). He asserts that in science fiction “this estrangement is more conceptual and less verbal. It is the new idea that shocks us into perception, rather than the new language of the poetic text” (47). I prefer to argue that it is impossible to separate the idea from the language of its representation, as the analysis of concretized metaphors creating cyberspace in the following pages will show. 9

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change as its very principle of identity and, depending on which grouping is dominant (be it hard science fiction or New Wave), the definitions vary, fluctuating between a narrow conception of genre science fiction and a broad definition based on speculation. This spiral process of movement – between the analysis of cyberpunk works and the criticism about it – accounts for the construction of cyberpunk as a distinct current within the genre of science fiction.11 All genres are partially constructed through their readers’ familiarity with them, as well as through their competence in using a given fiction’s protocols for reading. We need to develop or revise a science fiction-specific model of genre, in order to situate cyberpunk in a historical context, and in order to account for the element of novelty that it contributes to the genre as a whole. Above all, the new chronotope of cyberspace can accommodate a great number of plot devices and can be used to incorporate other genres such as fantasy, detective fiction, the gothic, romance, and mystery. Through the figure of the computer and its associated domains of cyberspace and virtual reality, diverse elements from different periods of science fiction history can be incorporated to an unprecedented degree. Cyberspace thus becomes a staging device for the psyche and the representation of personalities and roles, as well as a typical mise-en-scène which can function in turn as a structural mise-enabyme, an inset narrative universe reflecting back on the primary narrative frame.12 Claudio Guillén uses the notion of literary currents as a more dynamic model for the concept of genre: “The notion of literary currents is […] diachronic, dynamic, open-ended, and suggestive of relations with historical and social developments” (453). He insists on the plural “currents” and “the image of their simultaneous process, their coexistence in time, within a single section of history” (454). 12 Lucien Dällenbach has analyzed the function of the mise-en-abyme, examining its development from André Gide to the nouveau roman. He distinguishes “the particularizing (miniature models), which concentrate and limit the meaning of the fiction; and the generalizing (transpositions), which give the context a semantic expansion beyond that which the context alone could provide. […] they are microcosms of the fiction, they superimpose themselves semantically on the macrocosm that contains 11

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Science fiction has already played an important role in the relatively short history of the postmodern, and its themes and plots have been appropriated by a number of high-literary postmodern texts. These include Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Don DeLillo’s White Noise, and a number of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels which employ a time travel trope, the best-known being Slaughterhouse 5. Robert Scholes considers all of these works as structural ‘fabulations’ which highlight the construction of fictional universes rather than the mirroring of reality, among which science fiction claims to constitute a special case because of the way it pretends to ‘reflect’ an invented, fictional reality. This thesis addresses the relationship of tension which exists between the postmodern mainstream and popular-culture texts, such as those belonging to genre science fiction. The present work also calls for a more productive reading of both postmodern and science fiction texts, since each can be regarded as equally distinct in terms of institutionalization, readerships and reading protocols, marketing, and function. Postmodern fiction which appropriates elements and devices from science fiction can only play productively within these conventions if the ‘model’ parodied or subverted is still recognizable as a distinct template. Similarly, a lot of the irony and humor in science fiction results from challenging and attacking the seriousness of high culture. Science fiction’s cultural attitudes bear closer affinities to television and cinema as media cultures, as well as the most recent technical issues of computer and multi-media, since all of these media cultures revel in subverting the high-brow ‘monopoly’ of good taste. Bruce Sterling, the main promoter of cyberpunk, proposes a third category between high and low, which he terms the “slipstream.”13 This twilight zone represents a buffer between high literathem, overflow it and end up by engulfing it, in a way, within themselves” (59). He states that the mise-en-abyme “suspends narrative time” and works against the “separation of genres” (72). 13 Sterling defines slipstream as follows: “This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We

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ture and pulp science fiction. However, this does not abolish the distinction or tension in principle but merely adds another intermediary: a difference in degree but not in kind. I intend to position cyberpunk within the context of genre science fiction, which requires a skilled reader who is familiar with the variety of conventions, tropes and “icons”14 peculiar to the

could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books ‘slipstream’. ‘Slipstream’ is not all that catchy a term, and if this young genre ever becomes an actual category I doubt it will use that name, which I just coined along with my friend Richard Dorsett. ‘Slipstream’ is a parody of ‘mainstream,’ and nobody calls mainstream ‘mainstream’ except for us skiffy trolls” (“Catscan 5: Slipstream”). 14 Gary K. Wolfe in The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction organizes his analysis of science fiction around ‘icons’, a term which he uses synonymously to describe images, not in the semiotic sense. He distinguishes two groups: images of environment, such as cities and wastelands, and images of humanity, such as robots or monsters. Between these two sets of images, “transformations and combinations [...] become like variations on a theme, with writers working from a relatively limited number of consensual images to create a vast and complex body of fiction that nevertheless rests upon the assumption of reader familiarity with the fundamental icons of the genre” (xiv). At no point does he clearly define the notion of icon, nor do these icons bear any relation to Peircean semiotics. The distinction between known and unknown is perhaps too easily assumed as clear-cut. These conventional images and devices then form a basis of comparison for a body of works which he designates as science fiction, although the concept accounts for the imagery of cinema and T V science fiction equally well. Furthermore, they exist in a subtle feedback relationship to fans based in a subculture, which explains their consensual nature. The icon of cyberspace emerged from the more conventional icon of the computer before it solidified into a convention recognizable across genre boundaries, resurfacing in thrillers and detective fiction. “Like a stereotype or a convention, an icon is something we are willing to accept because of our familiarity with the genre, but unlike ordinary conventions, an icon often retains its power even when isolated from the context of conventional narrative structures” such as the image of the spaceship in the popular understanding of the space program (16).

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indigenous intertexts or mega-text15 of science fiction in order to appreciate its historical dimension. One can regard cyberspace as a new convention and icon within the science fiction repertoire. An icon in Gary K. Wolfe’s sense relies on the “opposition between the known and the unknown” which is typical also of the metaphoric process in general (17). Science fiction specifically embodies “not a mimetic, but what has been called a ‘subjunctive’ reality, portraying hypothetical environments,” the meaning of which “involves psychological and cultural levels as well as fictive and aesthetic ones” (17). These various levels are sustained through an evocation of the virtual sublime, whose narrative possibilities serve simultaneously as plot device and meta-world. One problem with science fiction criticism has been the lack of attention paid to genre science fiction, which accounts for the vast majority of works published in the field. Even Suvin, science fiction’s most influential contemporary critic, has chosen to focus on only the top ten percent of titles closest to High Literature, because these more easily meet his criteria for cognitive estrangement. We need to refine our tools of analysis when we examine science fiction, in order to avoid equating genre texts with repetitive, fixed formulas and consigning them to the trivial, as John Cawelti and Frank Cioffi have tended to do.16 Science fiction’s survival as a genre depends on Damien Broderick derives the concept of mega-text, a kind of catchall for science fiction themes, motifs, or what Fowler calls a generic repertoire, from Christine Brooke–Rose’s “historico-geographico-sociological megatext” (Starlight 57–60; “Reading SF as a Mega-text” 8–11). “When novelties like hyperspace and cyberspace, memex and AI (Artificial Intelligence), nanotech and plug-in personality agents are very quickly taken up as the common property of a number of independent stories and authors, we have the beginning of a new mega-text [...] , the sf mega-text works by embedding each new work, seen by Delany as a self-structuring web of non-mundane signifiers and syntagms, in an even vaster web of interpenetrating semantic and tropic givens or vectors” (Starlight 59). 16 Both Frank Cioffi’s Formula Fiction? and John Cawelti’s Adventure, Mystery, and Romance place excessive emphasis on formula and genre stability, thus devaluing the genre of science fiction and denying its critical potential. They fail to explain the emergence of new formulas and are too quick to 15

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innovation and change. New settings, gadgets, and ideas may well be copied and parodied, eventually falling into decline from overexposure, in exactly the same way that metaphors become ‘dead’ or clichéd from overuse. A constantly replenished store of images thus allows us to theorize new currents within science fiction as they arise synchronically as well as diachronically.17 We can begin by analyzing instances of such currents in individual cyberpunk texts, with careful attention to the semantic networks constructed through the interaction of several extended metaphors that form larger clusters around the new chronotope of cyberspace. We can thus account for a cognitive element in science fiction, which requires active input from the reader in order for him or her to be able to make sense of the clash between known semantic units. The setting or fictional world is by definition one of the most important elements of this kind of narrative, taking precedence over character – science fiction surroundings cannot be confined to mere background or local color. We must remember that character-driven analyses are quite out of place here, since the majority of genre science fiction texts are peopled with predominantly ‘flat’ or one-dimensional characters who undergo very little change, much like the typically male adolescents who are cyberpunk’s protagonists. Cyberpunk as a current within genre science fiction has come to mean the tension or ‘shock value’ between ‘high tech’ and ‘low life’, represented by a version of cyberspace or virtual reality and a draw facile parallels between literature and society, which are never perceived as even remotely disruptive. 17 Damien Broderick, in Reading by Starlight, observes that “Sf’s modality uses characteristic narrative tropes, conventions and enabling devices. These usually preserve within each text a stabilised though variant world worked out in some detail. There is a premium on consistency and the experience of normality within the postulated frame. Individual actors are often backgrounded, while in the foreground loom striking features of environment or novel subject-position/s” (44). However, Broderick’s categorization of science fiction as a mode does not assist us in defining the characteristic features of cyberpunk, because a “mode” is a vague and abstract concept with little or no history of narrative forms (Fowler 107–11).

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romanticized, usually male, hacker or cowboy who fights against the conspiracy of multinational capital and their corporations, perceived as life-forms in their own right. Their density, narrative texture, and descriptive detail as ‘concrete fiction’ are inextricably linked with the genre’s pseudo-realist mode of narration, which relies heavily on strategies of verisimilitude in order to make the unknown known. Paradoxically, though, the technique of verisimilitude is an illusionistic device, because it describes and refers to an imagined world which is to be treated ‘as if’ it is real and belongs to the realm of fiction and imagination. This recalls the exposure of the myth of verisimilitude in postmodern fiction, which seeks a break with realism and naturalism, the better to convey a sense of constructed or artificially generated space (in contradistinction to modern narratives, which retain the stream of consciousness as an analogy of thought). By means of its characteristic trope, space or icon of cyberspace, cyberpunk draws on a rich history of images associated with the computer, architecture, and robots in order to create a version of virtual reality in which anything can happen. It is the suspension of belief as a plot device, a figure of the genre on an abstract meta-level. We need to ask ourselves how characters are created from this matrix in the reader’s imagination, how they interact and interface with that space, and how they are affected by it. What new possibilities are opened up? Are old motifs simply revived in a new context? Can the matrix re-introduce older, stock tropes and devices from the genre’s repertoire while simultaneously reviving them in a new context? Cyberpunk texts frequently contain key metaphoric expressions which are increasingly concretized or literalized in the course of the text: Cyberpunk, one might say, translates or transcodes postmodernist motifs from the level of form (the verbal continuum, narrative strategies) to the level of content or “world.” To put it differently, cyberpunk tends to “literalize” or “actualize” what in postmodernist fiction occurs as metaphor – metaphor not so much in the narrow sense of a verbal trope (though that is also a possibility), but in the extended sense in which a narrative strategy or a particular pattern of language use may be understood as a

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figurative reflection of an “idea” or theme. In this respect, too, cyberpunk practice is clearly a continuation or extension of SF practice generally, for SF often generates elements of its worlds by literalizing metaphors from everyday discourse or mainstream fiction and poetry. (McHale Constructing Postmodernism 246)

A case in point is Pat Cadigan’s literalization of “change for the machines” in Synners, which shifts from meaning coins to buy chocolate from a vending machine to the overarching transmutations of humans into machines through genetic alteration. In fact, the fleshing-out and making sense of these metaphors is part of the imaginative process of creating the alternative or parallel world of cyberspace that is inset into the primary framework of these stories. In postmodern fiction, such as Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or The Crying of Lot 49, the process works the other way around. The fictional universes become semantically overdetermined, so that the reader is forced to move to a higher plane of abstraction in order to discover the principle of organization in the text. Analysis of concretized metaphors in cyberpunk texts will show how the emergent clusters of meaning help to create the new chronotope of cyberspace. The dominant metaphor of networking and non-linear dynamics coincides with the metaphors pervading Lyotard’s philosophical discourse in The Postmodern Condition, which converge on the notion of a perceived paradigm shift from a model of society based on cybernetics to a different model grounded in the dynamic model of non-linear geometry, with its interdependence of scale and complexity serving as the basis of life.18 Cyberpunk thus partakes of the postmodern condition as outlined by Lyotard and, at the same time, helps to focus these elements as they are employed in his philosophical discourse. “Virtual geographies” are heuristic tools in a post-Euclidean space of multidimensions and infinite variables: they are descriptive tools used to construct parallels, similarities, and This new metaphor is also detectable in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome as a mapping metaphor for decentered structures and power relations within society. Both the rhizome and the network serve as models for the textual universe of hypertext, as David Pringle succinctly illustrates in Breaking the Sentence (10–13). 18

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differences. Cyberpunk texts and their dominant metaphors hint at the inscription of a new rhetorical model that can be employed toward modeling the process of understanding metaphors through the organization of hypertexts. The philosopher Max Black illuminates the connection between metaphors and the use of models in philosophy, while Mary Hesse focusses on their use for the formulation of scientific theories. They both emphasize the imaginative function that metaphors possess in literature as well as in the natural sciences. Through the model of non-linear dynamics, a higher plane of abstraction or meta-narrative can be perceived in Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (despite the author’s elaborate efforts to avoid such a meta-narrative). It is not a meta-narrative of progress, reason or enlightenment, but a scientific meta-narrative, a new model of life, applicable to both humans and machines alike. The experience of the character traveling through cyberspace approximates the virtual sublime, a purely esthetic experience according to Lyotard, but more of a communal event within the context of American culture according to David Nye. The esthetic emotion of the sublime describes the experience of the protagonist and to some extent the reader when both are immersed in the fictional simulation of cyberspace.19 Full-scale immersion in this artificial fictional environment, projecting the illusion of infinity in a computer-generated and simulated space, is achieved through the vertigo of speed produced by the interwoven strands of action and the rapid sequence of events. The prevailing mood is not one of nostalgia or naïve ‘technolatry’ with its implied politics of jingoism, but of uncertainty and ambivalence about the use of technology. Nye’s electrical and dynamic sublime contributes to the formation of a new type known as the virtual sublime, particularly in terms of a consensual crowd experience. William Gibson, cyberpunk’s most prominent author, similarly describes the experience of cyberspace as “consensual hallucination” (Neuromancer 5).

By placing the character’s experience in cyberspace within the context of the virtual sublime, an aesthetic emotion, the goal is to refute the accusation, leveled by Jameson, of a loss of affect in postmodern culture. 19

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Cyberspace represents a kind of meta-device that can subsume other genres, older tropes, settings, or figures within the science fiction genre without losing its identity as a genre. This mise-en-abyme tendency is employed with different fictional effects by a loose grouping of writers known as ‘cyberpunk’. Gibson’s cyberspace is a playground for artificial intelligences, holograms, and computer constructs: it constitutes the field of action for the cyber cowboy or hacker who challenges the centers of multinational power and money from within. Pat Cadigan’s version of virtual reality in Mindplayers (1987) is created by the mind-to-mind contact of two or more characters in a therapeutic context, which evokes Jungian psychoanalysis and its manipulation of concrete symbols. Her next novel, Synners (1991), plays with virtual reality as a creative medium for a video artist who can project holograms to the audience. The last part of Cadigan’s loose trilogy, Fools (1992), deals with virtual reality as a theatrical staging device involving issues of impersonation and exchanges of personality to the point of no return. Walter Jon Williams’s Hardwired (1986) contributes the perspective of a machine– human interface by imagining the possibility of mind-controlled steering of a computerized “panzer” (a mix between a racing car, a tank, and a vehicle for smuggling contraband). It plays with notions of speed, masculinity, conspiracy, and surveillance. Finally, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992) posits a complex and detailed multiuser, interactive, virtual-reality space, called Metaverse, which serves as the stage for a thriller/conspiracy plot. The analysis of the construction of these distinct virtual realities, whether they are actually named cyberspace, Metaverse, net or matrix, shows that they highlight entirely different issues. They are distinctly different from the real-world phenomenon of virtual reality and the artificial realities created therein, where the threat of becoming ‘flatlined’ does not exist. Nor is the speed of movement and detail presented in real-life computer environments matched by those suggested in the fictional realm. The illusion of complete immersion is envisioned more successfully and is posited as an underlying paradigm, which real-world technology cannot (yet) provide.

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In its use of hybrid genre topoi, cyberpunk can truly be considered a unique moment in science fiction history, bringing together the ‘soft’ and the ‘hard’ traditions of science fiction for the first time. Just as time travel allows the playing-off of alternative histories and realities in an imaginative re-writing of history, cyberspace or virtual reality as a plot device can potentially enclose any other fictional theme from the catalog of science fiction themes, as well as from neighboring genres such as fantasy, the detective novel, gothic romance, and the western, without violating the primary narrative frame of science fiction. A similar flexibility in this plot device can be observed in the use of the holodeck, a feature of the television space opera Star Trek: The Next Generation.20 Some of these simulated environments resemble the alternate universes explored through time-travel plots, but the focus here is on the new setting rather than on temporal paradoxes. These virtual worlds occur in parallel with the primary framing narrative and do not suggest such a tight causal relationship between past and future as do plots resulting from time-travel displacement. Long-term linear evolution is thus undermined, along with the projection and extrapolation of future possibilities. The near future is uncertain enough as it is, thus discouraging speculation about the distant future. This reinforces the increasing dissolution of the utopian/dystopian opposition, which is replaced by a general sense of ambiguity. The fictional The holodeck simulates virtual environments from history, fiction, and the Star Trek story universe. The programs that run the simulations can be edited and changed by their participants, except when the system malfunctions and the holographic characters assume the status of living people; there have been episodes where holographic characters have shot at the user of the system. They are distinguishable from real people only by the degree of typicality in their behavior. Through this device, the following settings have appeared within the framework of the space opera which would normally not be able to fit in within the limit of plausibility associated with it: the episode “A Fistful of Datas” inserts the genre of the spaghetti western, “The Defector” includes a dramatization of Shakespeare’s Henry V, “Devil’s Due” stages Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and “Descent Part I” features a poker game among famous scientists, such as Stephen Hawking and Isaac Newton. 20

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worlds set in the holodeck serve to incorporate intertextual references to other genres rather than to distance the primary from the secondary fictional universe. Science fiction as represented in cyberpunk narratives presents its own logic of invention, founded on the ‘shock of the old’. It combines different moments from its own history as a genre, moments which are rarely self-consciously foregrounded to the degree characteristic of mainstream postmodern writers, particularly those of the early phase of postmodernism. However, these references are implicit, and the skilled reader of science fiction will notice the changing value attached to the use of such figures as the robot, the android, and the cyborg. The reader of a postmodern detective novel like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose likewise requires an acquaintance with genre conventions in order for him or her to be able to unearth the multiple layers of meaning, among which the genre reading is only one layer. Thus the intertextual and metanarrative dimensions can be observed on a concrete/ literal level in the evocation of icons and their subversion, which frequently challenge the once-assumed belief in human ‘progress’ through technology. Such ironic effects are illustrated in the strategic use of decayed modern architectural sites, both real and imagined, which now display rooms of the once powerful and almighty as cluttered with modern artifacts. Another ironic dimension is opened up through references to other, older forms of media, such as photography and cinematic techniques. These may be represented as old-fashioned, but they have also contributed to the creation of the new cyberspace, which now compresses and contains all information via invisible, immaterial bits and bytes within the memory chip of the computer. The figure of the cyborg emerges from the cyberspace setting, which dissolves the implicit semantic boundary between the natural and the artificial. Cyborgs are not fully fleshed-out or rounded characters; they cannot afford the time to stop and reflect on their actions, in a narrative which depends on speed and action to sustain the thrill of adventure. They embody more potential as visionary figures for postmodern living than as post-capitalist fighting

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machines or sex objects. However, they are always implicated in the techno-military complex which is part of their “nature.” According to Donna Haraway, “science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms [because it embodies hybridity, is non-essentialist and nonorganicist]” (“A Cyborg Manifesto” 181). Cyborgs can also be regarded as phenomena exemplifying Hutcheon’s notion of the postmodern, since they assume a subject position based on “complicitous critique” (Poetics 73). Cyberpunk may not represent the sole instance of postmodern science fiction, but it “can be read as one symptom of the postmodern condition of genre SF” (Hollinger 30). What is more, tentative allegiances between postmodern and science fiction are beginning to emerge, allegiances which will have repercussions on the theorizing of the postmodern as well as on postmodern fiction and science. Close analysis of cyberpunk texts offers models for approaching the postmodern from a different perspective. But the levels of analysis do not neatly and symmetrically overlap; their points of connection have to be constructed in order to become visible. Cyberpunk is best understood as an envisioning of cyberspace, analyzable in terms of interacting semantic fields created through the tension between extended metaphoric fields. These clusters of meaning exert a significant impact on the dislocation of such traditional oppositions as nature/culture, human/machine, and mind/ body.

The Story So Far Science fiction remains a comparatively new genre, tracing its roots only as far back as the scientific romance of the nineteenth century. Little agreement has been reached so far regarding its definition.21 Scholes (“The Roots of Science Fiction”) and Suvin (Metamorphoses) both emphasize the powers of cognition required by readers in order for them to distinguish successfully between fictional worlds and the ‘real’ 21

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As an academic object of study and as a subject worthy of ‘serious’ criticism, science fiction has been accepted into the university curriculum only since the 1960s.22 Among the chief academic propagators and critics, Eric Rabkin and George Slusser join Suvin and Scholes as the most significant and incisive observers of the North American scene.23 Science fiction is increasingly analyzed as literature instead of as a phenomenon tied to paraliterature or mass

world. Suvin further states that the “minimal generic difference of SF” is that it has “either radically different figures (dramatis personae) or a radically different context of the story, [... a] different approach and social function from other genres” (“On the Poetics of the SF Genre,” 57). Eric Rabkin concurs: “A work belongs in the genre of science fiction if its narrative world is at least somewhat different from our own, and if that difference is apparent against the background of an organized body of knowledge [...]. Difference then, in defining science fiction, refers to a microcontextual variation” whereas a “180–degree reversal of a ground rule” is typical of the fantastic (“Genre Criticism: SF and the Fantastic,” 91). Thomas Clareson in Understanding American Science Fiction outlines two branches of historical development. One branch begins with Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Amazing Stories in 1926, in which he coined the term “scientifiction”; this later developed into science fiction. The other branch can be traced to John Campbell’s editorship of Astounding Science-Fiction in 1937. Both editors are stellar figures associated with the American pulp tradition of science fiction, which is traditionally concerned more with ‘hard’ science fiction. A broader definition of science fiction takes into account the equally viable strain known as the romance tradition. 22 Clareson, in his “Introduction” to Science Fiction: The Other Side of Realism, reports that the first M L A seminar on science fiction took place in 1958, the papers being published in the journal Extrapolation from the following year onwards. This first academic journal of science fiction in the U S A was followed by Science-Fiction Studies in 1973. 23 Marxist criticism enjoys a long history, starting with Raymond Williams’s “Utopia and Science Fiction” and a number of Jameson’s publications for Science-Fiction Studies. But they frequently focus on issues of utopia/dystopia, which can by no means be conflated with the concept of science fiction: in fact, cyberpunk plays with the deconstruction of utopia and dystopia, since it assumes a position of radical ambivalence. Suvin also writes from the Marxist tradition, as is particularly noticeable in his Brechtian notion of estrangement.

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culture.24 Critical attention is also being paid to the processes of fictional construction and world building (see Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction and Constructing Postmodernism), as well as to semiotic and narratological strategies (see Damien Broderick’s Reading by Starlight and Carl Malmgren’s Worlds Apart). Science fiction’s history as a genre is constantly being re-written, with different currents receiving different emphases, particularly when a new sub-genre or current appears. The advent of cyberpunk constitutes the latest current within the protean genre of science fiction, which already encompasses poetry, music (filk), the short story, and the novel. The fact that science fiction is written across many genres has led to considerable confusion regarding its definition, which has culminated in its being considered as a mode (see Broderick’s Starlight) or its being defined by content (see Wolfe). The debate surrounding the definition of science fiction usually devolves to issues of the canon, as constituted by such early postmodern writers as Thomas Pynchon, John Barth and Donald Barthelme. It was Suvin’s structuralist-Marxist approach that first offered science fiction criticism a path for proceeding beyond the ahistorical confines of structure and motif. Thanks to Bloch’s notion of the chronotope and a value criterion for ‘good’ science fiction ascribed to the concepts of the cognitive novum and cognitive estrangement, Suvin’s analysis contributed tremendously to the refinement of all science fiction criticism – despite its top-down approach, which deemed the vast majority of all science fiction to be ultimately unworthy. Recent critical studies in the area of science fiction are thankfully less exclusive, borrowing freely from narratology (Malmgren’s World Apart), semiotics (Angenot’s “The Absent Paradigm”), and reader-response theory (Tulloch and Jenkins’s Science Fiction Audiences). But a cognitive value remains to be demonstrated for the more popular “genre science fiction” with its history in the American ‘pulp’ magazines. Suvin and McHale have both employed the notion of metaphor as a means of explaining the genre’s cognitive value for the reader, See Horst Schröder’s study Science-fiction Literatur in den U S A : Vorstudien für eine materialistische Paraliteraturwissenschaft for an analysis of science fiction as a paraliterary cultural phenomenon. 24

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because it contains in abbreviated form the paradigms on which the whole science fiction story or novel is constructed. In placing emphasis on chronotopes, on the plotting of new worlds, and on highly detailed textual surfaces, they have helped to illuminate new levels of significance for science fiction. Space is foregrounded rather than being relegated to the background. It is acknowledged as a pattern of semantic fields out of which the ‘characters’ or figures can then emerge. Space is not only a backdrop for the characters’ action – which, within that framework, can only be perceived as ‘flat’, or ‘not complex’ in comparison to mainstream fiction – but it forms the environment with which they can interact and from which the plot can develop. Cyberpunk science fiction first entered academia in the late 1980s under the aegis of numerous articles published in scholarly journals such as the Mississippi Review (which featured a special cyberpunk issue in 1988), and Science Fiction Studies. The journal Critique followed in 1992 with an entire issue devoted to cyberpunk. However, these articles discuss only isolated aspects of the phenomenon, with few scholars attempting to discuss and define this new current of science fiction. There is little agreement on who is entitled to deploy the cyberpunk label, and even less consensus about what the specific features of such an (under)current of science fiction might be. Despite its vague outlines and ill-defined limits, cyberpunk is a term that is here to stay, and an analysis of what characterizes this new current is still needed.25 The question has often been raised, but never answered, of whether cyberpunk is merely a self-proclaimed label with a single representative, William Gibson, or a definable literary current within science fiction. To refute the allegation that it is a one-man genre, one needs to show the similarities and differences on the basis of which this new current of science fiction can be discriminated. Larry McCaffery opens his article on “The Fictions of the Present” for the Columbia Literary History of the United States with a reference to Gibson and cyberpunk, and Fredric Jameson regrets the absence of a chapter on cyberpunk in a footnote to his Postmodern Culture, or, The Logic of Late Capitalism. 25

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To date, the works of William Gibson have certainly received the lion’s share of popular attention and scholarly criticism. Among Gibson’s works, studies of his first novel-length book Neuromancer (1984) dominate the field, both inside the science fiction community and out. Considerably fewer pages have been devoted to Gibson’s second and third novels, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). Lance Olsen’s chiefly biographical and descriptive monograph William Gibson (1992) was published by a small West Coast publisher in the Starmont Reader’s Guide series – a fact which can be interpreted as a sign of Gibson’s induction into the science fiction hall of fame. A significant number of essays deal with cyberpunk and its technological equivalent of virtual-reality environments, building on Gibson’s invention of the term cyberspace. A number of these essays can be found on the internet, where cyberpunk authors and diehard fans exploit new possibilities for distribution, expression, and dialogue. Internet online forums, news lists, e-zines and websites are part of these new means of circulation, enabling faster feedback between authors, readers, fans, and critics, and extending the science fiction subculture into the electronic domain. Tulloch’s and Jenkins’s study Science Fiction Audiences has significantly challenged the general perception of science fiction readers as predominantly passive consumers, by discovering and documenting their “resistant and creative” capacities instead (4). Fans’ detailed knowledge of genre conventions is far from trivial, since it frequently involves making sense of a “complex narrative universe” (16). The internet as a medium also encourages this active and participatory aspect of response. Studies of cyberpunk tend to ignore the crucial role of the internet, unlike a number of fanzines like Cheap Truth or articles submitted to the electronic journal Postmodern Culture, which pay internet credit where it is due. The first anthology devoted to cyberpunk in the context of the postmodern, edited by Larry McCaffery, was Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction (1991). It featured a cyberpunk bibliography as an attempt to provide the first

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outlines of a new canon. The collection included pieces and extracts from recognized cyberpunk authors such as Gibson, Pat Cadigan, Marc Laidlaw, Richard Kadrey, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, Lewis Shiner, Lucius Shepard, and Bruce Sterling, jumbled together with a selection of other science fiction authors (such as J.G. Ballard, Samuel Delany, and William Vollmann), plus the token postmodern writers (William S. Burroughs, Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon), whose themes border on those of the hardcore cyberpunks. The non-fiction section offered essays by Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Brian McHale, Fredric Jameson, and Jean–François Lyotard. These theorists situated cyberpunk in a postmodern context as well as in the field of science fiction criticism represented by Suvin and David Porush. Cyberpunk and postmodern fiction were thus thrown together without any attempt made to distinguish between them. None of the articles explained what was postmodern about cyberpunk, or what elements defined postmodern science fiction (as opposed to postmodern fiction or modern science fiction). The other significant collection of essays published on cyberpunk was Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, edited by George Slusser and Tom Shippey. This volume recorded the proceedings from the “Fiction 2000” conference held in Leeds, England, in 1988. Merely one article by Lance Olsen discusses the relationship between cyberpunk and postmodernism, concluding that they both emphasize a certain “anti-system” stance (“Cyberpunk” 142–52). The first and only attempt to discuss postmodern science fiction in the sustained form of a monograph was Broderick’s Reading by Starlight. Broderick draws extensively and critically on Jameson’s notion of postmodernism and his metaphor of ‘cognitive mapping,’ which he interprets as a displacement of “the purely perceptual substitute of the geographical figure” (106). His prime examples of postmodern science fiction are taken from Philip K. Dick and Samuel Delaney, based on an analysis of each writer’s semantics and science fiction textuality. Broderick borrows from McHale’s Constructing Postmodernism the idea of the concretization of figures, in order to literalize cyberpunk as a postmodern form of narrative.

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According to McHale, “being-in-the-world” is “possible only in an sf text, the concretisation of what elsewhere, even in the postmodern, would almost inevitably have to be read as figurative” (110). But cyberpunk is only marginally discussed by Broderick. Nowhere does he attempt to say which group of writers constitutes this subgenre, or on what basis the common features of their works might be related. A handful of theses on cyberpunk have been published so far, but none of them examines cyberpunk writers or works as a group. They all endow Gibson with solitary star-status, without considering the significant differences that other cyberpunk writers such as Cadigan have contributed – and none of them attempts to provide so much as a working definition of the central term (see Shubert, Angulo, and Landon Aesthetics). References to the postmodern are sketchy, relying predominantly on Jameson’s and Harvey’s theories of postmodernity or Baudrillard’s theory of simulacra. But these theories merely reduce the rich entirety of the postmodern to surface phenomena, with all their attendant superficiality of value judgments. It is precisely the re-evaluation of surface detail as a densely layered and richly textured form of concrete description which seems to be the key to unlocking the stylistic signature of the cyberpunk esthetic, because it forms a part of the same literalization process of underlying metaphors being realized in the fictional construction of a narrative universe. Previous scholars have tended uncritically to appropriate a range of technoscientific metaphors from the science fiction texts into their own academic discourse. Such blurring of disciplinary boundaries through the same metaphors frustrates the possibility of garnering new insights for both fields of application, because the initial spark is lost: metaphors are flattened into critical terms without any regard for their specific narrative function, as if narrative and discourse were simply synonymous. Most of the critical literature appears to be very fashionably ‘engaged’, but it does not adequately analyze the works it purports to discuss. Critics generally fail to distinguish between a postmodern esthetic on the level of the text and a larger, global context of the postmodern world or

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postmodernity. Jameson is especially guilty of granting a priori symbolic value to some works which he denies at the same time to others (such as Andy Warhol’s paintings). Distinctions between the real and simulacra, like those between fiction and reality, are thus not erased but conflated because of the losses suffered in translation between narrative and discourse. Transfers in meaning are inevitably incomplete because narrative images, being context- and genredependent, acquire different connotations for discursive situations. One needs to make explicit precisely which properties are carried over into the new context in order for them to have any use as heuristic devices. The body of cyberpunk texts for the present discussion was selected on the basis of available consensus. Some thirty texts were pooled from consistent counts of authors mentioned in critical reviews as well as by science fiction writers and fans on cyberpunk panels from the mid-1980s, who tended to either regard themselves as part of the cyberpunk phenomenon or else distance themselves from it. The most striking themes common to all these texts included the conceptualization of some variant of cyberspace, an increasing conjunction of man and machine in the figure of the cyborg, and a certain ‘punk’ attitude reminiscent of the hardboiled detective’s streetwise mode of speech.26 From the spiral movement between cyberpunk science fiction and the cyberpunk definitions found first in fanzines and magazines, then in academic journals, at conferences and in books, a body of work has emerged which deals with recurrent themes in a similar Since the writers and the debate about cyberpunk membership continues unabated, it is perhaps best to consider the cyberpunk tendency as an open concept. Publishers began to advertise and group writers together under the cyberpunk label, which proved to be a very powerful agent for increasing their sales. Undoubtedly the focal figure is William Gibson and his first novel, Neuromancer. He frequently collaborated with Bruce Sterling, who remains active in journalism (see his non-fiction book Hacker Crackdown and his articles in Wired magazine). However, the first short story to be entitled “Cyberpunk” (1983) was not written by Gibson but by Bruce Bethke; ironically enough, the latter has been excluded from many discussions of cyberpunk. 26

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style. These core concerns are present in all of the writers with different degrees of emphasis, across different fictional universes. Close links exist with the hardboiled detective genre, as well as with the myth of the western frontier (resurfacing as a new and more interior frontier between man and machine, situated within cyberspace). Cyberpunk has already been imitated and parodied by Marc Laidlaw (“Nutrimancer,” [1990]) but it has also been astutely exposed from a radical feminist perspective by Kathy Acker (Empire of the Senseless [1988]). Cyberpunk as a new current in science fiction quickly solidified into a formula, and has since evolved into other forms (such as Karen Joy Fowler’s Artificial Things [1992]). It has also inspired several films, including The Lawnmower Man (1992), Johnny Mnemonic (1995) (which was based on Gibson’s eponymous short story), The Net (1995), and most recently The Matrix (1999). Cyberpunk’s moment has now passed: it is no longer acknowledged by its original practitioners, having contributed yet another trope to the repertoire of science fiction. Writers have also moved into bordering genres. John Shirley, for instance, is now writing horror and “new noir,” while “steampunk” was briefly hyped as the followup to cyberpunk by Paul di Filippo (see also Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine). Humanist writers placed in opposition to the cyberpunk camp, such as Kim Stanley Robinson and John Kessel, have similarly embraced new concerns. The present work seeks to address a gap in cyberpunk research. No other scholarship has attempted to bridge the critical chasm between the two interrelated domains of science fiction and the postmodern. Science fiction’s peculiar esthetic and poetics, although distinct from mainstream postmodern texts, cannot in themselves illuminate the semiotics of overdetermination or inflationary meaning so typical of the postmodern, or employ metafictional strategies in order to expose the different layers of intricate textual interrelation. Instead, science fiction insists on the primacy of genre conventions, marketing labels and, above all, entertainment value. This is not to say that science fiction texts cannot constitute an important, complex, and imaginative contribution to our perception of the technological world around us. They may indeed include complex

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semiotic networks, and invite imaginative work from the reader. Such concretized metaphoric networks enable the comprehension and organization of new universes within the reader’s imagination, clustering together to form the continuum of cyberspace. Cyberpunk typically marshals a range of devices to create this effect: dense language, fast-paced style, collage-like narrative fragments, an overall impression of speed and action, and a noir atmosphere (reminiscent of cinematic representations such as Blade Runner). Science fiction as one of many themes in mainstream postmodern fiction is merely one narrative device among others, embedded in an abstract, higherlevel esthetic, whereas science fiction as a genre in its own right provides the framework for a more graspable narrative universe in which neighboring genres can be integrated.

Methodology: Metaphoric Networking The phenomenon of metaphor demonstrates in an especially insistent manner the need for linguistic analysis based first and foremost on the text. For a linguistic sign can never be a metaphor on its own. A metaphor consists of at least two linguistic signs (lexeme or morpheme); thus every metaphor falls under the category of (a minimal) text. As a consequence, metaphor can be defined as a surprisingly uneven transition between two linguistic signs. (Weinrich, Tempus 191)27

The concept of metaphor has a long and complex history, appearing under several scholarly guises: first as a rhetorical trope, then as a macro-figure, and finally as the figure of all figures.28 In the late My translation; “Das Phänomen der Metapher demonstriert nun auf besonders eindringliche Art die Notwendigkeit einer linguistischen Analyse, die sich zuerst an Texten orientiert. Denn ein Sprachzeichen kann niemals für sich allein Metapher sein. Zu einer Metapher gehören mindestens zwei Sprachzeichen (Lexeme oder Morpheme); insofern fällt jede Metapher unter den Begriff eines (minimalen) Textes. Sie ist dann definierbar als ein überraschend ungleicher Übergang zwischen zwei Sprachzeichen.” 28 An excellent overview of metaphor scholarship can be found in Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor, ed. Marc Johnson (1979). Anthony Ortony’s 27

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twentieth century, networks, webs, and fabrics have become the predominant metaphors for the concept of most complex states.29 Computer discourse has provided us with countless examples, even if the majority of these have devolved into literalized expressions devoid of poetic power. The very notion of a network seems to serve as a heuristic model for the process of metaphoric construal itself. Recently, the exchange of ideas and models between cognitive psychologists and researchers into artificial intelligence has led to breakthroughs in our understanding of networks, especially as they pertain to the representation of knowledge and learning. The result of this exchange has been a synthesis of models, which seeks to construct new intelligent ‘machines’. Both disciplines depend crucially on the same new modeling tool of the computer, which Norbert Wiener predicted would be central to the new science of cybernetics: … the more complicated machines of this type are nothing but scientific toys for the exploration of the possibilities of the Metaphor and Thought (1979) presents an interdisciplinary study of metaphor across various disciplines (such as sociology, psychology, linguistics, and education) which all converge around a constructivist account of creativity entailed in the metaphoric process, in opposition to the notion of metaphor as mere decoration. A brief historical survey of metaphor in the context of rhetoric from the Classics through the Renaissance and up to the Romantics can be found in Terence Hawkes’ Metaphor (1972). A more detailed historical account and critical interpretation of the tradition of metaphor from the perspective of rhetoric, semantics, and hermeneutics is offered by Paul Ricoeur’s The Rule of Metaphor (1981). 29 See, for instance, Umberto Eco’s “The Semantics of Metaphor,” which refers to the “network of metonymies” involved in the realization of metaphors (68). Eco ultimately places metonymy above metaphor in importance. Another instance is Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome, which is said to surpass binary models because of its capacity for multiplicities: “A rhizome never ceases to connect semiotic chains, organizations of power, and events in the arts, sciences, and social struggles. A semiotic chain is like a tuber gathering up very diverse acts – linguistic, but also perceptual, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive. There is no language in itself, no universality of language, but an encounter of dialects, patois, argots and special languages” (“Rhizome” 12).

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machine itself and of its analogue, the nervous system [...] Thus the nervous system and the automatic machine are fundamentally alike in that they are devices which make decisions on the basis of decisions they have made in the past. […] The synapse in the living organism corresponds to the switching device in the machine. (33; 34)

Wiener’s explicit parallel here between living organism and machine demonstrates the similarity which underlies the transfer of properties from one semantic domain to another. This man–machine relationship constitutes one of the hallmarks of cyberpunk fiction, and its popularity as a concept continues to endure well beyond the subgenre and subculture of science fiction readers. Research institutions as renowned as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have taken the ideas of cyberspace and cyberpunk quite seriously, elevating them into the hard stuff of scientific research.30 The exchange of models and metaphors between different cultural and semantic spheres can be seen as a two-way process. Science fiction partakes of science and technology, including the domain of pseudo-science. Since it is subject to various truth claims and conditions, fiction is not subject to rigorous proof or verification by experiment. That a metaphor or system of metaphors comes to be constructed in the form of a science-fictional world is not the inherent result of some semantics of metaphor; it arises as the consequence of a hermeneutic disposition brought by the reader See the early essays collected by Michael Benedikt in Cyberspace: First Steps (1991); or Harry Harrison’s and Marvin Minsky’s seminal novel The Turing Option (1992). See also Katie Haffner’s and John Markoff’s Cyberpunk (1991); a source which uses “cyberpunk” as a synonym for hackers. In Virtual Reality and Virtual Community, Howard Rheingold writes popular histories of virtual reality technology and environments. In Virtual Worlds, Benjamin Woolley outlines the relationship between fictional cyberspace and computer networks in the construction of cyberspace. In Media Virus (1994) and Cyberia (1994), Douglas Rushkoff gives a journalistic account of life in cyberspace. In The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (1993) Michael Heim describes the philosophical aspect of cyberspace as a “tool for examining our very sense of reality” (83). See also Philip Elmer–Dewitt’s two articles: “Battle for the Soul of the Internet” (Time 25 July 1994) or his article “Cyberpunk” (Time 1 March 1993). 30

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to the text. This disposition arises in turn from generic signals and contexts, thematic complexes and publishing labels, as well as previous knowledge and familiarity with the genre of science fiction and its “scripts.”31 Change and innovation are inscribed in the very concept of the science fiction genre. However, one should not lose sight of the fact that the heuristic devices or model of thought that these metaphors can provide are grounded in distinct forms of institutionalization and legitimization, as Lyotard shows in the two incommensurables of narrative and science in The Postmodern Condition. The theory of metaphor was first articulated by Aristotle, who claimed that metaphor can serve both a cognitive function (in the Poetics) and a decorative one (in the Rhetoric). Terence Hawkes interprets Aristotle’s notion of metaphor to mean a figure in the general sense, which involves a transfer of meaning (as connoted by the Greek root phora) and includes companion tropes such as simile, metonymy, and synecdoche. Hawkes points out that in the Rhetoric, metaphor assumes a purely decorative function derived from the notion of ‘decorum’ or fitting use, where language is considered separate from reality (8–9). But in the Poetics, the creative and didactic aspect of metaphor is highlighted: “for the ability to use metaphor well implies a perception of resemblances” (quoted from Poetics, ch. 22, 10). Hawkes then employs the two functions of metaphor perceived by Aristotle as pillars to support his own historical argument, where “Cicero, Quintilian, and others seem to reduce metaphor to one of a group of tropes which themselves form part Conventional, stereotypical science fiction plot devices can be understood as “scripts” in the sense outlined by Schank and Abelson, who apply this notion to programs of Artificial Intelligence. Based on the human process of understanding, “scripts have highly stylized rules of behavior. People engaged in a script accept the rules for play and act accordingly. People who do not have a script available [... ] will have a great deal of trouble when the teller of the story assumes that this knowledge is readily available” (98). Examples of such scripts are such plot devices as time travel, which evoke settings for spaceships and rationalize alien rules of behavior, language, and society. The better these devices are known, the less introduction they require. 31

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of the merely decorative category of Figures of Speech” (14), up until the development of the Romantic writers, who form a definitive departure from their predecessors by recognizing metaphor as an integral part of the “imagination in action” (43). Let us now consider at some length an example of cyberpunk metaphor, in the light of this theory. Gibson’s opening line for Neuromancer reads: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” This sentence confronts the reader with the immediate necessity of deciding whether to interpret it as merely decorative, as part of the background and setting of the story, or as a condensed coming into existence of a new fictional universe. A literal interpretation based on the reader’s phenomenological knowledge of the world is surely too limited, because the sky presented in terms of the technology of television cannot be simply explained as signifying the color gray; being further qualified as “tuned to a dead channel,” it carries the added associative layer of static, or white noise. The process of understanding the metaphor here is best explained by Paul Ricoeur’s more nuanced theory, which differentiates several levels within the cognitive metaphoric process. Ricoeur reunites the rhetorical and poetic functions of metaphor, which Aristotle initially separated. He then limits the identification of metaphors to the semantic level between word and sentence. The process of understanding is thus located on both the textual and the extratextual level. Through the initially perceived clash of meaning on the sentence level (more precisely through “impertinent predication”), Ricoeur observes how the metaphoric instance occurs in the first place: reference is suspended, and a new reference is imputed or attributed through a transfer of properties. Ricoeur grafts a theory of hermeneutics onto a semantics of metaphor, which focusses on the necessity of initiating an active process of interpretation on the part of the reader. This involves a process of imagination that clearly expands outward from any reductive visual connotation. Ricoeur names this process “seeing as” – a process of realizing resemblances and similarities evoked by the metaphor, which culminates in the creation of a new semantic pertinence. It is on the broader level of discourse that Ricoeur re-

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introduces the sense of reference, which casts reality in terms of a heuristic fiction (Rule 6–7; 242–246). Ricoeur redefines mimêsis as a form of redescription, not as a form of ‘copy’ from an original. This possibility of interpretation thus proceeds from a “metaphoric network rather than [...] an isolated metaphorical statement” (242). If we assume that the reader has registered a semantic clash between “sky” and “television,” s/he must then develop a problemsolving strategy which is necessarily related to genre expectations brought to the text. When interpreting the meaning of a sentence, we can apply it to several frames of reference within both the fictional and the real world, depending upon the choice of “interpretive construct” that we find available (Hrushovski, “Fictionality and Fields of Reference” 228). Moving beyond the semantics of the sentence, one can interpret the first line of Neuromancer in narrative terms as an anticipation and prefiguration of cyberspace from which the protagonist, Case, is expelled. In other words, the sentence is a sign, an indicator of things to come later on in the novel. The sky is mediated through technology, with all abstract data ‘made flesh’; the urban city becomes meshed with nature through its “skyscraper canyon” (8); and the city grows into a “playground for technology itself” (11). The oppositional boundaries between natural and artificial are dissolved as properties are transferred between semantic fields whose boundaries are first extended and then redrawn. The use of metaphor is not restricted to literature and everyday language. For metaphors do not merely reveal literal counterpoints to figurative language use, as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have shown in their study Metaphors We Live By – quite the contrary. Metaphors structure and inform the very fiber of our existence: all of our everyday thoughts, actions, and perceptions. The invention of cyberspace (a catachresis by Gibson)32 demonstrates how metaphors from “one highly structured and clearly delineated concept” can be used “to structure another” (Lakoff and Johnson 61). The entire conceptual matrix of cyberspace depends on familiarity with

32

On the actual genesis of the concept, see ch. 3 below, note 1.

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an urban megalopolis as well as with television and cinema; media, which together create [a] consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts [...] A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light arranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.... (Neuromancer 51)

In contrast to Gibson’s vision of cyberspace, which emphasizes speed and performance, or the craft and skill necessary to manipulate complex systems, Pat Cadigan develops other aspects of this space which are more specifically situated within the computer. The characters in, and readers of, Cadigan’s novels actively create their environment through a process of projecting their imagination into the computer-generated space, which is represented in a context of healing or controlling the mind, linked to the artistic practise of the imagination. Theories of metaphor can be divided into three different camps. There is, first, the substitution view, which claims that metaphor is a condensed simile without the word “like”: i.e. “John is a lion” is a metaphor derived from the simile “John is like a lion.” Second, there is the comparison view, which claims that the metaphoric expression can be replaced by a literal one: i.e. the metaphor “John is a lion” can be paraphrased as “John is as brave as a lion.” Finally, there is the interaction view, which claims that there is a feedback process between a literal and figurative term: a metaphor can draw on a pre-existing likeness or lead to the creation or imagination of a resemblance between these two terms. The pros and cons of the first two views have been widely discussed and refuted by such theorists as Max Black (“Metaphor”) and Paul Ricoeur (Rule). As for the third view, I.A. Richards in “The Philosophy of Rhetoric” suggests that the “interaction between co-present thoughts” is designated by two terms which he calls the tenor and the vehicle, corresponding to the principal and secondary subject of the metaphoric sentence (51). Their coexistence “results in a mean-

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ing (to be clearly distinguished from the tenor) which is not attainable without their interaction” (55). Richards thus implies that no literal paraphrase for the meaning of metaphor is truly possible, because metaphors are not merely decorative so much as indispensable to the creation of new meaning. Black also draws on the concept of interaction, but he prefers his own terms “focus” and “frame” to Richards’ “tenor” and “vehicle.” Black regards the entirety of the metaphor as a filter, thereby effecting a re-organization of the implied “system of associated commonplaces” (74). Interestingly, Black slips into the employment of photographic metaphors (filter, focus, and lens) in order to account for the phenomenon of metaphor-making – rather like Aristotle, who similarly relies on metaphors to convey the sense of a leap or “transfer” in metaphoric meaning. But Black’s concept of transfer from tenor to vehicle, or from focus to frame, need not remain locked in a one-way mechanism. Metaphoric transfers can initiate a two-way process; so that both terms can remain open to semantic re-organization as it occurs, firing through the circuit of tension created by the metaphor. Thanks to the interaction-view of metaphor, we can now see how the words “sky” and “television” from the opening line of Neuromancer lend themselves to conceptual or semantic reorganization. “Sky” is restricted through the connotation of a limiting “screen” associated with television, while “television” is extended beyond its frame in order to resemble the limitless expanse of sky. These frames of reference or semantic continua (be they fictional, real, hypothetical, or ideal) all form a network of relations throughout Gibson’s novel, which constitutes its “Field of Reference” – “a larger universe containing a multitude of crisscrossing and interrelated [frames of reference] of various kinds,” such as cyberspace (Hrushovski 231). Hrushovski observes that the peculiarity of literature is that it constructs “its own Internal Field of Reference (I F R ) while referring to it at the same time”; it “constructs its own ‘reality’ while simultaneously describing it” (231; 232). Furthermore, this fictional world or Internal Field of Reference “is modeled upon (a

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selection from) the ‘real,’ physical and social human world,” without the burden of realism in representation (236). In “More about Metaphor,” Black further distinguishes creative potencies between metaphors. He considers strong or “profound metaphors as paradigms” to be the foundation of his grand unified theory of metaphor, later elaborated in Models and Metaphors. “Every implication-complex supported by a metaphor’s secondary subject […] is a model of the ascriptions imputed to the primary subject: Every metaphor is the tip of a submerged model,” and “every metaphor may be said to mediate an analogy or structural correspondence” (“More” 21, 31). Black does not refer to any pre-existing similarity or likeness but alludes to the imaginative input that is required of the reader for the construction or “projection” of these isomorphisms (36), which are “partly created, partly discovered” (41). Since cyberpunk fictional universes consists of increasingly literalized metaphoric networks, integrated into frames of reference and Fields of Reference, metaphors can be broken down and reconstructed in order to reveal the “absent paradigm” upon which the entire science-fictional world is built (see Angenot). Here are the beginnings of a productive transition: from a theory of metaphor restricted to rhetoric and the sentence, to a larger complex of implications linking the metaphoric process to narrative plot as a whole. Suvin’s theory develops this possibility of transition from metaphor through parable to metaphor through science fiction. “A metaphor theme,” he states, referring to Black, is regarded as a global form of metaphor informing a whole, possibly very long, text by providing a series of metaphoric occurrences, all of which relate to the same paradigm or macro-metaphor used as a system of central presuppositions and ultimate frame of reference for that text (cf. Black Models 239–41) [reference provided by Suvin]. In relation to the imaginary “possible world” of the text, the metaphor theme acts as its basic cognitive, explanatory or founding hypothesis. (Suvin “Science-Fiction: Metaphor” Métaphores 166)

Of course, this is also true of all fiction. But science fiction in its relatively brief history has developed a highly refined repertoire of

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chronotopes, settings, and temporal devices, which are instantly recognizable to readers familiar with the genre. Literalized metaphors help to create the distinctive chronotopes which Mikhail Bakhtin defines as “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature” (84). These chronotopes function as “organizing centers for the fundamental narrative events of the novel” and as “the primary means for materializing time in space” (250). Bakhtin also uses particular chronotopes as distinguishing criteria for genres or sub-genres of the novel, such as Greek romance. While certain chronotopes can be dominant in a particular genre, several chronotopes may interact, fuse and mix to form new ones, which is indeed typical of the generic versatility of the novel. … all texts are – by way of their paradigm, model, or macrometaphor – based on a certain kind of metaphoricity, but […] narrative texts add to metaphorical ones a concrete presentation in terms of space and time, the chronotope. (Suvin “Metaphoricity,” 51)

Close analysis of metaphors and their attendant clusters promises to provide us with a means of understanding cyberspace as a distinct chronotope, thus legitimating cyberpunk as a new current of science fiction. Indeed, cyberpunk fiction’s concept of virtual reality may be said to have contributed a meta-trope for all fiction. In an important essay, “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” Ricoeur argues for the importance of the imagination in the interpretation of metaphors. According to Ricoeur, the imagination completes the metaphoric process because it creates new meaning and context for the metaphoric utterance. It is “the concrete milieu in which and through which we see similarities. To imagine, then, is not to have a mental picture of something but to display relations in a depicting mode” (“Metaphorical Process” 236). Imagination for Ricoeur completes the “mediating role of the suspension or epoché – of ordinary descriptive reference” while simultaneously preserving aspects of the literal sense (240). This rather detailed explanation of the metaphoric process can assist us in understanding how science fiction’s (over)reliance on concrete description actually functions as a literalization of an

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underlying network of metaphors or an “absent paradigm” (Angenot 1979): The reader, in the act of cognitively coming to terms with the text, shifts from the unfolding (syntagmatic) sequence of the plot to an “elsewhere” – to the semantic paradigms, and hence to the immanent practical or theoretical models, which are supposed to confer meaning on the discourse. (10)

This literalized absence paradigm underwrites both the entirety of cyberspace and the figure of the cyborg. It also organizes and forms the basis for all groupings and comparisons of individual cyberpunk texts. Cyberpunk’s rich surface texture calls for careful analysis, because these texts are extended literalizations and redescriptions creating new semantic pertinence as well as a new fictional world. The ‘trick’ of virtual reality springs from the tension of underlying metaphors – metaphors which are often in absentia. Reading is thus guided by a radically reverse process of generic presupposition, or induction (as opposed to the more traditional narrative expectation of deduction): The reader of a realistic novel proceeds from the general (the commonplace, the ideological topos) to the particular (the specific plot governed by this ideological structure). The SF reader follows the reverse path: he induces from the particular some imagined, general rules that prolong the author’s fantasies and confer on them plausibility. The reader engages in a conjectural reconstruction which “materializes” the fictional universe. (Angenot 15)

If one adopts Ricoeur’s explanation of metaphoric reference as completed by the active process of imagination, science fiction not only produces an effect of estrangement: it also renders the strange more familiar. Science fiction entails a creative and cognitive process that requires the reader’s participation in the construal and imagining of the new chronotope and fictional world (see Angenot, Suvin, and Malmgren). By adopting the interaction view of metaphor, we can begin to account for the irreducible cognitive value of metaphors and their role in the genre of science fiction. We cannot attempt to ‘translate’ what the metaphor says to us without losing a significant and crucial

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aspect of its meaning, mood, or attitude. Ultimately and fundamentally, metaphors resist all attempts at paraphrase. Science fiction’s relationship to science has been vigorously debated, accepted, or refuted (Parrinder “Science in SF”). Malmgren claims that the science fiction world is grounded in a “scientific episteme,” and that as a genre it needs to provide “plausible scientific rationales for its factors of estrangement” (6). But what are the limits of plausibility, probability, and possibility if these are all dependent on the author’s and reader’s historical context at the time of writing and reading? Metaphoric networks in the generic context of science fiction may serve as “heuristic fictions” for a new chronotope, which bears a close relationship to similar theoretical models employed in scientific discourse. But science fiction and science definitely part company as soon as their dramatically different truth claims and criteria for coherence and consistency are acknowledged (Hesse Models and Analogies 158). A further source of confusion between science and fiction can be found in the fact that a number of science fiction writers are also trained scientists – so that their fiction often develops ‘hard’ theories within a creative narrative discourse. For instance, Rudy Rucker in his trilogy Software, Wetware, and Freeware ties his narratives into his research on artificial life; Marvin Minsky’s collaboration on the novel The Turing Option reflects his research on Artificial Intelligence; and Catherine Asaro’s novel Catch the Lightning (1996) resulted from her teaching theoretical physics. In Asaro’s case, questions in the classroom led to her invention of a model to explain the mathematics of complex speeds and special relativity, which she later turned into a new time travel paradox in her novel. Science fiction truly stands at an exciting moment in the history of the poetic use of metaphor. With the rise and fall of the hybrid narrative form known as cyberpunk a whole new range of figurative powers was set free to lasting and startling effect. Literature, like culture, has never been the same since.

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P ART I ½¾ C ONSTRUCTION S ITES

1

Introducing Cyberpunk

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I would be very upset if people thought that I had invented the concept of cyberpunk, because I didn’t. Labels are death for things like this [...]. As soon as the label is there, it’s gone. (Gibson interviewed by Tatsumi 14–15) “Cyber/punk” [is] the ideal postmodern couple: a machine philosophy that can create the world in its own image and a self-mutilating freedom.... (Csicsery–Ronay, “Cyberpunk and Romanticism” 186)

T

‘ C Y B E R P U N K ’ was one of many names suggested for a particular group of science fiction writers emerging in the 1980s. Some called it a “school of writing” or simply “the Movement” (Nicholls “Cyberpunk” 288). But the term “the Movement” carried an undertone of irony which expressed a certain amount of resistance among cyberpunk writers to the ephemeral dictates of fashion. It was also seldom clear who belonged to this “Movement,” since most writers of cyberpunk refrained from spelling out the criteria of inclusion in the group. Writers, fans, and critics from within the genre often relied on subjective impressions of vague resemblance, and most academic studies of the cyberpunk phenomenon were no better, because they consistently failed to question subculture’s initial criteria of selection. Worse still, most of these studies provide sweepingly erroneous generalizations about the cyberpunk sub-genre as a whole, on the basis of only one or two “representative” texts. HE LABEL

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Cyberpunk’s significance can best be understood when it is placed in the context of science fiction as a genre. One arrives at a very different evaluation depending on whether one looks at cyberpunk from within the genre or from the vantage point of mainstream literary culture. Whether one adopts a view from below or on high, cyberpunk has unquestionably lefts its mark on both realms. In order to avoid previous pitfalls in scholarship, the present study draws on a panoply of writers who have been instrumental in forming the cyberpunk idiom. It then proceeds to examine three distinct practitioners of the form, corresponding to three distinct stages in “the Movement’s” lifespan. William Gibson receives individual attention because of his central prominence to the genre: his novel Neuromancer remains the most widely read cyberpunk work both inside and beyond the SF community. The inclusion of Pat Cadigan in the cyberpunk discussion here lends a crucial and refreshing perspective to the sub-genre that has gone largely unnoticed by most male writers. Finally, Neal Stephenson represents an interesting example of the waning of the genre’s impact and its gradual degeneration into formula. Stephenson’s work is most clearly positioned at the crossroads between genre science fiction and the mainstream – what Bruce Sterling has called the “slipstream.” The present work also seeks to account for the common features which have legitimated the use of the label cyberpunk. Such features are deduced as proofs of innovation within the science fiction genre – otherwise the term may have only represented a marketing gimmick, devoid of literary-historical significance. Cyberpunk’s novelty can be tested by means of Suvin’s theory of the cognitive novum or what Nicholls calls “conceptual breakthrough” (Encyclopedia 255).1 Nicholls draws on the notion of paradigm shifts (borrowed from Kuhn), which he uses to explain an “altered perception of the However, Nicholls does not bring the concept into the context of the genre as a whole. Rather than treating it as a structural and defining element of science fiction, he only uses the concept for the analysis of story content. 1

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world, sometimes in terms of science and sometimes in terms of society” (255). This can entail the overthrow of one perceived world for another or the unveiling of an illusion, where the primary fictional world is uncovered as false and the secondary fictional world emerges as the ‘true’ one. Cyberspace is a fictional world or virtual reality, which cyberpunk writers deploy as a common theme and plot device. But the creation of cyberspace does not constitute the sole novelty of cyberpunk. The construction of some variant of cyberspace – also called the matrix, the grid, the system, or the Metaverse – describes the ‘cyber’ aspect of cyberpunk. It entails implicit assumptions about the nature of human and machine, about the existence of a common code or language, and about the nature of reality. But what does the ‘punk’ in cyberpunk describe? This seems to comprise a more complex and shifting tissue of associations which includes references to rust and chrome, to concrete, and to mirrorshaded sunglasses. Cyberpunk heroes are typically urban adolescents, skilled in the manipulation of data and intent on subverting the multinational corporations’ domination of their daily lives. These protagonists also typically engage in dialog reminiscent of the hardboiled detective novel, of underworld or subculture slang, as further evidence of an underlying punk attitude. It is very much this unusual and unprecedented clash of high-tech with ‘low life’ that accounts for the particular flavor of cyberpunk, easily recognized but rarely defined (Sterling “Preface” Burning Chrome xii).

The History of Cyberpunk Many names have been suggested as a substitute for the label “cyberpunk”: “punk science fiction,” “techno-punk,” “Mirrorshade Writers,” “Neuromantics,” or simply “The Movement.” Sterling proposed “outlaw technologists” and “radical hard SF.”2 But the Swanwick lists “punk science fiction” or “techno-punk” alongside “Mirrorshade Writers,” “Neuromantics” or simply “The Movement” (50– 52). Sterling adds “outlaw technologists” and “radical hard SF.” 2

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name “cyberpunk” has persisted, gradually crossing over from a science fiction context to other cultural manifestations. Many writers affiliated with cyberpunk have actually rejected the label outright, for fear of remaining indelibly marked as a shallow flash-inthe-pan phenomenon. Cyberpunk emerged in the early 1980s and degenerated into a formula, easily parodied by many, by the late 1980s to early 1990s. Where did this short-lived hybrid originate, and why did it disappear so quickly?3 Many commentators on cyberpunk seem to forget that the word first appeared as the title of a short story by Bruce Bethke in 1983.4 The story is about teenage hackers who break into computer systems by using their parents’ phone lines. They manipulate their school records, their parents’ bank accounts, even flight-traffic controls. Cyberpunk’s stereotypical characters are already here in embryo: adolescent computer freaks or “phreakers.” Phreakers are similar to hackers, except that they steal and crack information by means of manipulating telephone systems rather than the internet.5 Bethke’s story has a cultural affinity with Gibson but it does not project a coherent vision of cyberspace. Most cyberpunk writers had

The first chronologies of cyberpunk can be found in Swanwick’s postscript to his article “User’s Guide to the Postmoderns” and Patrick Clark’s “Cyberpunk Timeline,” a collaborative effort on the internet. My own version of the Cyberpunk Timeline in the Appendix represents key moments in the evolution of the genre, as a reader’s guide to the pages of textual analysis to follow. 4 Bethke’s novel Headcrash tried to ride the cyberpunk wave when the genre had already been called dead and formulaic; it added no significantly new perspective. So Bethke was, ironically, both too late and too early to jump on the cyberpunk bandwagon. 5 Sterling in The Hacker Crackdown describes the history of phreaking as a precursor of hacking, because “the phone network predates the computer network” (44). He is correct in stating that with the merging of telecommunications and internet, the “distinction between telephones and computers has blurred” (46). Sterling also draws clear distinctions between the criminal abuse of such systems and an intellectual preoccupation with cracking computer codes devoted to the freedom of information, although the two are sometimes separated by only the narrowest of lines. 3

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never heard of the story, and Bethke was not invited to the panels to which the other writers associated with cyberpunk were invited. A year after the publication of Bethke’s story, formal credit for coining the term “cyberpunk” fell to Gardner Dozois, a science fiction writer and editor of many anthologies. Dozois first used the term in an article published in the Washington Post, 30 December 1984, and his introduction to The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Annual Collection, also in 1984.6 Dozois saw the early 1980s as “assimilating [...] another generational wave of hot new writers,” thereby setting the stage for debate and opposition between two esthetic schools or movements known as cyberpunk vs. humanist: “About the closest thing here to a self-willed aesthetic ‘school’ would be the purveyors of bizarre hard-edged, high-tech stuff, who have on occasion been referred to as ‘cyberpunk’ – Sterling, Gibson, Shiner, Cadigan, Bear” (9).7 He calls them the “80s generation in sf,” whose “similarities in goals and aesthetics [...] are much stronger and more noticeable than the (admittedly real) differences” (9). Dozois does not claim to have invented the word cyberpunk, but suggests that it was already common currency in the science fiction community when he happened to borrow it. The word subsequently spread through science fiction workshops and conventions, becoming impossible to trace and pinpoint to an exact originary moment. It quickly became adopted by a lively fan-culture, growing into the subject of many fan publications in the genre’s so-called ‘fanzines’ (magazines written and produced by fans). Dozois’s identification of the divide between humanists and cyberpunks within the new generation of 1980s science fiction

Swanwick cites Dozois’ term “punk SF” from the Best of the Year anthology in 1981, a term which applied to Shirley and Sterling. In his postscript to the article, Swanwick attempts to chart the first chronology of the term cyberpunk (50–53). 7 Just to illustrate how little agreement there is about who should be included under the new label cyberpunk, even one of its main promoters, Bruce Sterling, insists on including himself among the ranks. He names himself as well as “Shirley and Gibson, Rucker and Shiner” as part of the group (Milhon “Interview” 99). 6

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writers received more attention in Michael Swanwick’s “A User’s Guide to the Postmoderns,” published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1986. Swanwick names Kim Stanley Robinson and John Kessel as exponents of the humanist trend, because their writing concentrates on human character and the exploration of philosophical issues. Cyberpunk writers, on the other hand, give themselves away through their (over)reliance on stereotypical characters and such devices as a “fully-realized high-tech future, ‘crammed’ prose, punk attitudes including antagonism to authority, and bright inventive details” (24). Among them Swanwick includes Gibson, Sterling, Shiner, Greg Bear, Rucker “and sometimes Pat Cadigan” (24). Swanwick also briefly relates how the future cyberpunks first met in Texas at the “Turkey City Writers’ Workshop” (24). He identifies cyberpunk’s heritage as stemming largely from within the genre, along the same lines as Howard Waldrop or Alfred Bester, while the humanists are more closely derived from the New Wave, other literature, and high art (27). The humanist camp largely suffers in Swanwick’s account, however; it remains one-dimensional in comparison with the cyberpunk struggle to define science fiction’s leading edge. Swanwick therefore omits to develop any common traits or features among humanists, in the interests of telling a more cyberpunk-slanted story. Swanwick also tries to elucidate Bear’s connection to cyberpunk, which he regards as marginal at best: “Bear was only an honorary cyberpunk; [...] He was not part of the cabal that had labored late in the dark night of obscurity, shivering in unheated garages to create cyberpunk and make it work” (39). He also excludes Shepard and Rucker. Rucker, in Swanwick’s view, “strays” further from “consensus reality than any of the other Postmoderns,” which makes him “no cyberpunk at all, but rather a one-man sub-genre all by himself” (43). Shiner’s role regarding cyberpunk is equally marginal and ambiguous, since he similarly lacks a developed concept of cyberspace as well as the punk spirit. Ironically, the one writer who is often not listed among cyberpunk’s members possesses definite elements of both cyberspace and punk attitude: Pat Cadigan. Her Pathosfinder cycle of short stories places her firmly on the

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cyberpunk map. Two other stories (“Rock On” and “Pretty Boy Crossover”) prefigure her second novel, Synners, which is one of the most original interpretations of both cyberspace and punk-rock elements. But Swanwick at the time of writing his “User’s Guide to the Postmoderns” could not have known the extent to which Cadigan would fulfill the unique promise of cyberpunk, in the novels that had yet to appear from her pen. With the battle lines now drawn, “cyberpunk-humanist wars” proceeded to proliferate: at award ceremonies, in fanzines, and on science fiction panels. One of the largest conflicts occurred at the 1984 award ceremonies, which found Gibson’s Neuromancer – “the quintessential cyberpunk work,” according to Sterling – competing with Robinson’s Wild Shore (“Interview with Tatsumi” 13). Sterling loudly championed the cyberpunk cause by proclaiming the humanist-associated New Wave as obsolete and irrelevant to the traditional science fiction audience (28). John Kessel responded to the charge in his “Humanist Manifesto” by warning against the “danger of mannerism” inherent in cyberpunk. He criticized cyberpunk’s tendency toward romantic images, contrived effects, tooshort paragraphs, and one-dimensional characters, condemning it as a failed advance over pulp fiction – even though the cyberpunks themselves never claimed to have aspired to such an advance at all. Kessel’s lack of appreciation for the cyberpunk esthetic is typical of a general blindness to the truly innovative aspect of cyberpunk: its style. Style is often dismissed as a merely decorative effect, but in the cyberpunk universe it becomes elevated into an absolute necessity for the tale being told. By attributing such importance to style, humanist critics (perhaps inadvertently) emphasize the perils of “false perception,” which encourage “an irreconcilable dichotomy between hard SF and stylistic experimentation, computer hackers and hippies, science and spirit,” since cyberpunk presents a troubling blend of both (Spinrad, “Neuromantic Cyberpunk” 113). When humanists embrace the dictates of the New Wave that “good SF should be good fiction” (Kessel 56), they are really not that far apart from their cyberpunk colleagues.

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The cyberpunk writers found a forum in Omni magazine, whose fiction editor, Ellen Datlow, was a strong promoter of their writing. She published Gibson’s short stories “Burning Chrome” and “Johnny Mnemonic,” which prefigured both the style and the setting of Neuromancer. Gibson’s exposure and success led him to expand the same ideas into a novel-length book, which also marked the beginning of a new science fiction series (“Ace”) edited by Terry Carr. Gibson’s Neuromancer reaped the most critical acclaim, winning the Nebula award for best novel, the Philip K. Dick award for best paperback original, and the Hugo award from the fans in 1984. 1986 saw the publication of two key works, the anthology Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology and the collection Burning Chrome. Each of these collections consolidated the notion of cyberpunk, as much through their stories as in their manifesto-like prefaces. Burning Chrome gathers all of Gibson’s short stories up to that point. “Johnny Mnemonic” introduces Molly, the “girl with mirrored glasses,” and Johnny, the human data storage device; the latter smuggles information of which he has no conscious knowledge. “New Rose Hotel” features zaibatsus, or multinational corporations as life forms. Finally, “Burning Chrome” ushers in the crucial concept of the matrix, together with the notion of ice as an animated representation of a killer virus. All of these elements converge in Neuromancer and the subsequent volumes of the Sprawl trilogy. As for the Mirrorshades anthology, it played an important role in extending cyberpunk beyond a one-man genre. Certain stories by John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, and Tom Maddox share the same cyberpunk sensibility as well as evincing a similar style of writing (see “Freezone,” “Rock On,” and “Snake-Eyes,” respectively). Emerging from these stories is a typical do-it-yourself attitude when confronted with high technology. There are no owner’s manuals, no respect for the intended function of the technology. Technology is turned against its original design or its intended use, becoming a vehicle for creative (and sometimes crude) invention. Shirley’s and Cadigan’s stories also include a strong rock-music element, as implied by the ‘punk’ suffix of “cyberpunk.” Many of the short stories collected in Mirrorshades resurface in novel-length works by the same authors. Cadi-

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gan’s story “Rock On” is included almost verbatim in her second novel, Synners. Shirley’s “Freezone” is an extract from Eclipse, the first volume of the Eclipse trilogy. The idea of freezone – a colorful, multicultural raft and free-trade haven – is borrowed in turn by Gibson, who uses it as a model for his Rastafarian space station with the same name in Neuromancer. Besides the xeroxed cyberpunk fanzine Cheap Truth, the “semiprozine” Science Fiction Eye placed a strong emphasis on cyberpunk.8 From its inception in 1987, the latter featured articles on cyberpunk, interviews with cyberpunk writers, and other contributions by Gibson, Kadrey, Rucker, Shiner, and Sterling (who contributed a regular column entitled “Catscan”). While undoubtedly promoting cyberpunk, it also printed the notorious “Humanist Manifesto” by Kessel that stirred up heated debates about cyberpunk’s status. Furthermore, the first issue of Science Fiction Eye challenged those who claimed that cyberpunk was dead by providing a forum to a number of writers loosely associated with the label. Rather than forcing these writers into a rigid framework, it served to illuminate the various controversies and individual standpoints among them. Then the shared sense of vision started to recede as contributors began inevitably to drift off in different directions. Gibson’s fame continued to spread, even as far as The New York Review of Books (Swanwick 45). Shadowing his increasingly publicized success story were other writers, who began to realize the potential of the sub-genre for exploring their own ideas. At the same time, cyberpunk rapidly became “bowdlerized and parodied and reduced to a formula, just as all other SF has been” (Sterling quoted by Swanwick 46). Thus “cyberpunk as a movement” was proclaimed A fanzine is a cheaply produced, amateur magazine with contributions by science fiction fans. In the same jargon, a prozine is a professional magazine with higher production values and a circulation of more than 100,000. Semi-prozines are therefore magazines with a circulation less than 100,000 and at least 1000. It may also have paid staff and a more regular print run. These categories are defined by the World Science Fiction Society for the administration of its awards, the Hugos (Nicholls “Semiprozine” Encyclopedia of Science Fiction). 8

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“dead” by 1988 – for the same marketing and publicity reasons with which it had first been announced (47). Yet despite (or because of) so much sustained resistance and controversy against the label, cyberpunk continued to reverberate well beyond its heyday of the mid-1980s. One of the earliest writers to place cyberpunk in the context of postmodernism was Swanwick, although he never defined either concept very clearly. Nonetheless, once the connection between cyberpunk and postmodernism was made it loomed large over the science fiction community until it was addressed by academic critics. In 1988 McCaffery edited two special volumes of Mississippi Review which were devoted to cyberpunk, bringing together cyberpunk short stories and postmodern theory for the first time.9 In 1989 Semiotext(e) also published a special science fiction issue which contained original stories by Sterling, Shirley, Gibson, Rucker, Kadrey, Laidlaw, and Shiner as well as Ballard and Burroughs. The latter are often cited as influences on cyberpunk writers. The best indicator of cyberpunk’s impact beyond its genre limitations is McCaffery’s contribution to the Columbia Literary History of the United States, which mentions cyberpunk in the same breath as many postmodernist writers. McCaffery’s Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction continues in the same direction in 1991 by combining theoretical articles on cyberpunk and postmodernism with short stories by well-known writers of the genre, many of which were previously published in the Mississippi Review special issue. The postmodern theory articles featured in both Mississippi Review and Storming the Reality Studio were contributed by Baudrillard, Jameson, Kroker, and Lyotard. The first three are regularly associated with cyberpunk, thanks to their several well-documented forays into the intersection between simulation and capitalism. But the fourth theorist has yet to be drawn conclusively into cyberpunk’s shadow, which shall be one of the tasks of the present study. The double volume of Mississippi Review has been frequently cited but is rarely stocked by academic libraries and thus remains very difficult to obtain. Fortunately, most of the stories and articles contained therein have also been published elsewhere. 9

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In situating cyberpunk in the context of the postmodern, I am investigating this connection in particular. Gibson himself relates cyberpunk to the postmodern when he refers to the process of “cultural mongrelization,” which he perceives as integral to both (“Interview with McCaffery” Storming 266). This notion of “borrowing” goes beyond literary quotation and includes other media – television, music, film – all of which provide quotable material in the form of images, phrases, and codes. During an interview with Tatsumi, Gibson states that a lot of his influences are derived from film rather than literature – a fact which may have resulted from his academic background in film studies at the University of British Columbia. Gibson also refers to the film critic Manny Ferber and his idea of “termite art” – a strategy of subversion or deconstruction, where the act of destruction creates something strangely beautiful. “Termite art” is a concept which actually refers to B-movies, but Gibson uses it to describe his own fiction as well.10 Another of his creative strategies is a self-described mixing process, merging “surrealism and pop culture imagery with esoteric historical and scientific information,” which he also finds operative in Pynchon (272). This juxtaposition of styles and imagery is a common feature of postmodern art, which accounts for its semantic richness. Sterling’s notion of the “slipstream” refers to works which “play with representational conventions such as the effects of ‘infinite regress’, trompe l’oeil, metalepsis and the violation of viewpoint limits [...] . It does not create new worlds but quotes them – often out of context – or turning them against themselves” (88). Cyberpunk has been assigned an ambiguous level of significance by science fiction criticism to date. While Suvin sees “cyberpunk sf as a meaningful synchronic category [albeit severely limited],” he also doubts its value as a “self-contained diachronic category” (41). Nonetheless, he acknowledges a common structure of feeling which he sees rooted in international pop culture (42). Suvin further recog“Termite art,” is “art that always goes forward eating its own boundaries, [leaving] nothing in its path other than the signs of eager, industrious, unkempt activity” (quoted in Ken Tucker “Playing with File X” Entertainment Weekly June 12, 1998: 28). 10

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nizes the importance of cyberspace as a “central metaphor” for cyberpunk fiction (44). However, in his 1989 article “On Gibson and Cyberpunk SF” he fails to identify this metaphor at work in any writer besides Gibson. Almost a decade later, he finally includes Cadigan with Gibson as one of the best sf writers today (34; 42). Suvin’s general emphasis has gradually shifted from an ideological and formalist criticism organized around the cognitive novum and chronotope to what he now calls the “thick description of concrete space-times” – a reformulation of his concept of the chronotope (37). Rabkin’s introduction to Fiction 2000 heads a collection of contributions to a conference of the same title held in June 1989. It situates cyberpunk within the tradition of both science fiction and contemporary fiction, thereby diluting considerably cyberpunk’s claim to radical novelty. All the same, cyberpunk derived a certain legitimating benefit from Fiction 2000, partly because it formed the subject of an academic conference, and partly because it received the scholarly attention of established science fiction critics such as Rabkin and Slusser. The conference also contemplated cyberpunk’s relationship to the future of literature, particularly “a more general postmodern sensibility” (Slusser “Introduction” 13). Gibson, Cadigan, and (to some extent) Sterling were relatively new and inexperienced writers in their mid-thirties before they burst onto the cyberpunk scene. Sterling had written Involution Ocean (1978) and Artificial Kid (1980), both of which contained only minor cyberpunk elements; only Schismatrix (1985) bears true allegiance to the cyberpunk idiom. Sterling tends to symbolize philosophical ideas and scientific theories on a large scale. For example, the Shapers and Mechanists represent two cultures from separate galaxies who model themselves after bio-engineering or prosthetic enhancement respectively.11 Conflict develops between these two species until several generations of crossbreeding put the original conflict to rest. Sterling’s fiction is a true literature of ideas, engaging several social, economic, and political dimensions at once – but it has very little in

The Shaper and Mechanist short stories about two posthuman species are collected in Crystal Express (1989). 11

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common with the other cyberpunk works, which typically pit the individual against the conspiracy of corporations and capital. Sterling is perhaps closer to Rucker’s and Bear’s spirit of scientific speculation, since none of these writers quite fit into the stylistic and atmospheric framework associated with cyberpunk. Bear’s Blood Music has occasionally been included in the cyberpunk canon because it shares a sub-theme common to cyberpunk, known as nanotechnology. However, Bear’s scientific hypothesis is derived from genetic engineering rather than the technology of computer chips – although the distinction is beginning to blur. Bear neither shares an interest in virtual reality nor adopts a punk esthetic. Rucker is also more scientifically motivated than stylistically inspired. Software, Wetware and Hardware, later continued in Freeware and Realware, revolve around robot dynasties and artificial life forms that have succeeded humankind’s control of the Earth and its planets. In general, cyberpunk is only implicitly motivated by science and the underlying models on which its worlds are built; style, mood, and atmosphere are far more important. Its near futures are rarely transported into outer space, unlike Rucker’s interplanetary saga. In fact, Rucker distances himself from cyberpunk by coining his own movement, which he calls “transrealism” – a kind of mathematically motivated magical realism. Several renowned science fiction writers also tried to jump on the cyberpunk bandwagon. Norman Spinrad, who is better known for his affiliation with the magazine New Worlds, one of the prevalent voices of the New Wave, penned the text Deus X in the supposedly new style. But his teleological focus on a deus ex machina betrays him as surely as it separates him from the cyberpunk universe, which is generally more fragmented and chaotic and, at best, only temporarily controlled by multinational corporations or artificial intelligences. Cyberpunk is the first literary movement or sub-genre to grow up alongside the internet and its community – despite Gibson’s computer illiteracy while writing Neuromancer on a manual type-

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writer.12 Cyberpunk was accompanied and promoted not only by the typical science fiction fanzines but also by new channels of communication unique to the emerging World Wide Web. Sterling’s cyberpunk fanzine Cheap Truth (edited under the pseudonym Vincent Omniaveritas), was one of the xeroxed circulars that survived the transition into electronic form and is still archived on his website today. It mocks copyright laws with a slogan like the one heading the first issue: “Data pirates start your engines.” Like many xeroxed ’zines, it had entered the digital era in a climate liberally conducive to the spreading of ideas. Its polemic had an affinity with Gibson’s poetics, defending cyberpunk as the latest revolution in science fiction. Its first issue still reads as undisguised praise for Gibson’s “Burning Chrome”: This is the shape for science fiction in the 1980s: fast-moving, sharply extrapolated, technologically literate, and as brilliant and coherent as a laser. Gibson’s focused and powerful attack is our best chance yet to awaken a genre that has been half-asleep since the early 1970s. (np)

This was followed by an appeal to “stop recycling the same halfbaked traditions about the nature of the human future. And its most formally gifted authors must escape their servant’s mentality and learn to stop aping their former masters in the literary mainstream” (np). This explicit attack on the ideas characteristic of the New Wave displays a self-consciousness reminiscent of the pulp tradition. Other modes of discussion emerged in online communities, which sped up the exchange of ideas between people in remote corners of the globe and across national boundaries. Automated listserv programs distributed messages to all subscribed readers, newsgroups spread information, gossip, and opinions, and many people started designing their own websites devoted to cyberpunk. Many file Gibson states in an interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio (February 1989): “I knew virtually nothing about computers so I sort of imagined what, not only what computers would be, but I imagined what they are, because I had no hands-on experience and I did that through some strange process of decoding what I took to be the rather poetic language of the hackers.” 12

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archives turned into mini-magazines on the web which were cheap to produce, colorful, and provided a meeting point for an everincreasing number of subcultures based on special-interest groups that were previously impossible because people lived too far apart.13 Many internet pioneers had access to these networks through their link with academic institutions (university and research institutions) before the internet became more widely available to the general public. There is also a correlation between the kinds of people with access to the internet and the kinds of people with a pronounced taste for science fiction. This cyber-culture became firmly entrenched in Californian culture, where it spawned the new glossy magazines combining alternative life-style issues with high-tech gadget reports and their impact on society at large. The best-known examples are boing boing, Mondo 2000, Wired and Whole Earth Review.14 These publications frequently featured articles, stories, and reviews by and about cyberpunk writers; they contributed considerably to the transformation of cyberpunk from a science fiction sub-genre into a full-fledged subculture. Asked, at a net-interview conducted by the French newspaper La Libération before the publication of Idoru, whether cyberpunk was dead, Gibson replied: “Cyberpunk, to me, seems to be a tendency (or perhaps ‘flavor’) of popular culture. It isn’t ‘dead,’ but The internet opened a new forum for the traditionally very active fans of the science fiction community. Many sites were devoted to cyberpunk, where links and interviews were zealously collected. Some still exist today and continue to publicize cyberpunk, such as Patrick Clark’s e-zine Cybernoodle Soop, the corresponding web-publication to his xeroxed fanzine Interference on the Brain Screen. If one was to try and include the wealth of information contained here, the number of official and unofficial Gibson interviews would alone represent a daunting task. 14 Californian hippie-counterculture resurged in the high-tech counterculture. The Bay Area W E L L (Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link) was one of the first conference systems founded by 1960s radical Stewart Brand (Sterling Hacker Crackdown 224). It was one of the first bulletin boards to provide a discussion space for a wide range of topics, from current events to sexuality. Its most famous proponent was John Perry Barlow, formerly known as a member of the Grateful Dead. 13

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part of the mix, the great pop-cultural meta-dub of the late 20th century” (np).15 Hollywood has been consistently less successful in its translation of cyberpunk fiction into film. Johnny Mnemonic, based on Gibson’s short story, represents a disappointing attempt to bring the page to the big screen. The film’s advertising blurb promises “the hottest data on earth in the coolest head in town,” but the film itself ultimately fails to work in visual terms because it adheres too closely to the text. Part of the fascination of reading Gibson’s work lies in imagining the experience of cyberspace, which resists ‘pre-packaged’ representation. The next cinematic Gibson adaptation is the straight-to-video release of New Rose Hotel, which proved to be even less successful. The film rights to Neuromancer have long been sold but a movie has yet to be made. The best visual translation of Gibsonian cyberpunk occurred in a script for the episode “Kill Switch,” part of the sixth season of the X-Files, which first aired on the Fox network, February 15, 1998. It involved an artificial intelligence gone haywire in the net, sabotaging it and enslaving a human toward its goal of gaining independent life. “First Person Shooter,” also written by Gibson, with Tom Maddox, was aired as part of the seventh season of the X-Files, February 27, 2000. Virtual reality as a plot device has increasingly become separated from the generic context of cyberpunk, in fiction as well as in film. It has become a powerful means of generating new plot constellations, explorations of ‘realities’, and their construction or simulation, as well as identity issues.16 The mine of dramatic potential to be found in paranoia and conspiracy has yet to be exhausted. Philip K. Dick’s science fiction story “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale” inspired the film Total Recall (1990), where the use of Elmer–Dewitt in a Time article from March 1, 1993 also called cyberpunk the “new subculture” and the “defining counterculture of the computer age” (49). Dery’s book Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century confirms this impression. 16 Disney’s Tron (1982) is an early example of the use of computer representation which functions as a reality construct. Here the computer provides a game scenario for honing warfare techniques. 15

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memory implants created confusion between true and false memories, as well as reality and simulation.17 A Gibson-derived example of virtual reality which is computer-generated as cyberspace, is Lawnmower Man (dir. Brett Leonard 1992). Despite its rather unconvincing plot, this film presents virtual reality as a learning environment in which a mentally retarded handyman enhances his intelligence. The lawnmower man temporarily obtains superhuman intelligence before he begins to regress again. Next to The Matrix (1999) it is the most successful portrayal of virtual reality in visual terms. Another example of a virtual reality plot in film is Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995). It involves a drug which induces a virtual reality and enables the consumer to relive memories, his own as well as other people’s. It centers on the investigation of a nasty sex murder, thus mixing science fiction with the detective genre. The sketchy history of cyberpunk and its transformation across different media platforms has to be considered against the shifting values of cyberculture at large. While cyberculture is usually considered a neutral term, cyberpunk tends to imply values of resistance and the promotion of freedom of information.18 This libertarian discourse was an important factor throughout the emergence of digital online media, although it has almost been forgotten in the recent flurry over commercial potential (e-commerce, etc.). Unfortunately, cyberpunk has come to be erroneously associated with vicious hacker tactics, predominantly in the popular press but also in more august news media such as Time. In this sense, cyberpunk is deeply embedded in American culture and its public discourse. Cyberpunk was largely born and raised in the U SA , even if Gibson has been a voluntary expatriate living in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) is often mentioned in relation to cyberpunk. However, the comparison is far-fetched. The film literalizes the notion of media consumption and has a character ingest video tapes into a body slot in his stomach which then makes him a slave following orders contained on the tape. 18 The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for instance, is a “pioneering civil liberties group that arose in direct response to the Hacker Crackdown of 1990” (Sterling Hacker Crackdown 202). 17

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Canada for a considerable time. Although it has generated a large fan community, particularly in Germany and Japan, cyberpunk has not stimulated significant contributions to the sub-genre in any other country. It thus remains firmly associated with American science fiction.19 Cyberculture, as the broader context for cyberpunk fiction, has reinvigorated a branch of US -counterculture and has brought to the foreground many vital debates about civil liberties in the quickly evolving digital media.

The ‘Cyber’ in Cyberpunk W G : Yeah, it’s a consensual hallucination that these people have

created. It’s like, with this equipment, you can agree to share the same hallucinations. In effect, they’re creating a world. It’s not really a place, it’s not really space. It’s notional space. (“High Life: William Gibson and Timothy Leary in Conversation” Mondo 2000 61)

The prefix ‘cyber-’ has flourished since the late 1980s and 1990s: cyberpunk, cyberspace, and cyberculture are just three examples of the term passing into the popular domain.20 ‘Cyber’ derives from cybernetics, a relatively new scientific theory which was first developed in the 1940s by Norbert Wiener. In his groundbreaking book The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, Wiener defines cybernetics as a “new theory of messages,” which includes the “means of controlling machinery and society, the development of computing machines and other such automata, certain reflections upon psychology and the nervous system, and a tentative new theory of scientific method” (15). Wiener’s theory is based on a comparison of feedback processes as automatic systems, a comparison that renders the systems under comparison functionally equiAndy Sawyer has suggested that Jeff Noon’s Vurt is a British version of cyberpunk, while the German publication of Myra Çakan’s When the Music’s Over represents another non-American departure. 20 Cybersex has similarly passed into the mass media, while cyberfeminism still remains a lesser-known expression with no clear definition. 19

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valent. A mathematical theory of cybernetics was then developed by Claude Shannon, who introduced a binary distinction between signal and noise. With his bias toward stability or stasis rather than change, Shannon continued Wiener’s similarly conservative leanings (Hayles Posthuman 63). Applications of these early cybernetic models to society tended to raise doubts about the wisdom of transferring control from machine systems to social systems, because of a builtin predilection for regarding all systems as closed, with all forms of change interpreted as deviations in need of correction. As a theory, however, cybernetics enabled new insights into the riddle of human neurological processes through the strength of computing analogies.21 Current research into artificial intelligence and neuronal networking, along with the explosive growth of computing technology, owe their collective existence to Wiener’s groundbreaking study of the “messages between man and machines” and their potential to facilitate an entirely new form of communication (16). Wiener’s reference to artificial languages, to science’s increasing acknowledgement of the role of the observer, to John von Neumann’s game theory and to Mandelbrot’s mathematics of non-linear equations – all pointed toward future developments which were to radically transform the field of cybernetics as he had envisaged it. Katherine Hayles’s 1999 study How We Became Posthuman rewrites the history of cybernetics from a very interesting vantage point. In her quest to understand why the posthuman is often represented as a disembodied entity, she discovers that the assumptions underlying several succeeding theories of cybernetics all encouraged just such a disembodied view, in the interests of sustaining scientific objectivity. Hayles divides her history of cybernetics into three distinct waves. The first wave, with its emphasis on homeostasis, laid the groundwork for what was to follow. But the second wave subsequently reversed this emphasis by introducing the values of reflexivity and autopoiesis. The third wave is still in flux, refining a new “emergWiener states that “in constructing machines, it is often very important for us to extend to them certain human attributes,” which he encourages the reader to “conceive […] as a metaphoric extension of our human personalities” (77). 21

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ence” based on self-organization, or a re-definition of life (11). This last wave includes the ongoing refinements of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Hayles’s analysis ably demonstrates how scientific theory created metaphors and analogies as it went along, thus leading to a progressive disembodiment of information. She specifically dissects the hidden assumption that information will remain the same, regardless of the material that stores and transports it. This is also the main paradigm underlying the universe of cyberpunk fiction, especially the one created by Gibson. As we will see, Cadigan is one of the few cyberpunk writers to challenge this notion. In Mindplayers, Synners, and Fools, personalities are “franchised” (i.e., treated like software or computer programs). But the liberal interchange, overlay, or erasure of memories and personalities is never without problems, because each character’s notion of identity relies not only on the sum of its memories but also on its body. In these critical situations, the body often calls attention to itself. It is then perceived as alien or unfitting for the memories that it carries of itself. Sometimes it is even changed, the better to contain these particular memories. Unlike the body which Case regards as meat in Gibson’s Neuromancer, constantly decaying and hindering the full enjoyment of cyberspace, the bodies of Cadigan’s characters are vital to their sense of identity, the lack of which is perceived as a loss. Alison Landsberg in “Prosthetic Memory” sees memories as extensions of the human body, a description which is equally applicable to the three female characters in Cadigan’s Fools (175). They likewise cannot distinguish between real and false memories, because the very opposition is rendered invalid: all memories are real because they are experienced as such. The question of which body they acknowledge as their own or as other puts an extra spin on the ‘whodunit’ plot structure of the novel. Memories and personalities are only presumed in this context to be easily interchangeable because the cyberpunk universe depends on a hidden assumption: that all ‘personal’ information can be abstracted as data or merchandise, which is independent of its material storage device. But this is perhaps cyberpunk’s greatest myth. Hayles contests this “materiality/information separation” and

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demands that the “illusion of erasure should be the subject of inquiry, not a presupposition that inquiry takes for granted” (12; 28). The “technological transcendence of human limits” has frequently been identified as one of the “pivotal concepts in most cyberpunk works” (Grant “Transcendence” 45).22 This aspect of transcendence is a frequently criticized tendency in cyberpunk, often identified with its “romantic trappings” (Hollinger 31).23 But Cadigan brings a more nuanced approach to transcending the human body, which has nothing to do with the “bodiless exultation” experienced by the typical male Gibsonian hero in cyberspace. Gibson’s protagonists remain paradoxically confined by their bodies, even when the flesh becomes “flatlined” or dead; their minds lose control of their new freedom and often become locked in some circular logic, as shown by Case’s entrapment on the virtual island with his deceased girl friend, Linda Lee. Michael Heim traces the history of cyberspace to the tradition of Platonic idealism and Leibnizian metaphysics, which he recognizes as the foundation beneath cyberspace. He compares these monads or constructs to “nonphysical psychical substances” or “internal representations” (71). Each “monad represents within itself the entire universe” in condensed form, but each sees it differently depending on its perspective. He concludes that “cyberspace supplants physical space” (73), enabling a disembodied existence “devoid of material content” (Heim, “Erotic Ontology” 68). But the real question is not the way in which cyberspace replaces or supplants physical space, which it clearly does not do – neither in fiction nor in the real world. The question is the extent to which the creation of The same argument is underlined by Csicsery in his essay, “Sentimental Futurist,” where he accuses Gibson and the cyberpunks of “artificially” constructing “transcendence” (226). 23 The connection between romance and cyberpunk is quite appropriate when one considers their common emphasis on adventure stories centered on chivalry and love. Moreover, the link with romanticism’s “flights of fancy and imagination” is not so far-fetched as it might seem, aside from the fact that these “introspective and imaginative worlds” or paysages intérieurs do not reflect a remote past so much as a parallel yet exotic fictional reality in cyberspace (Dictionary of Literary Terms 581). 22

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cyberspace relies on physical space, and what its link with other kinds of space might be. If this process is considered as an interaction between worlds, reflects Roseanne Allucquere Stone (“Will the Real Body” 82), then the worlds of nature and technology must be seen as mutually constitutive. Stone claims that, “no matter how virtual the subject may become, there is always a body attached” because “bodies in cyberspace are constituted by descriptive codes that “embody” expectations of appearance” (111; 103). Cyberspace has evolved beyond fiction, thanks to a number of developments. Timothy Leary considered Gibson’s vision of cyberspace a continuation of his own cherished “real-life” “hallucinatory iconography” from the 1960s (Bredehoft 253). After all, the surreal landscapes which can be created in cyberspace resemble the altered perceptions induced by psychedelic drugs such as L S D . Cyberspace is simply another means of altering consciousness, sometimes enhanced by the ingestion of drugs. Since cyberspace is free from such constraint’s as gravity or ‘natural’ forms, Leary has identified certain grounds for kinship with his own liberationist philosophy. He further claimed that cybernetics has been abused as a passive means of control, instead of being celebrated for its more active range of individual potential. He hailed Gibson’s cyberpunk as more creative, drawing on the connotation of cybernetics derived from the Latin gubernare, implying a self-controlled ‘steersman’ or ‘pilot’ who is a self-reliant and innovative individual (“The Cyberpunk: The Individual as Reality Pilot” 252). Other developments which fostered the growth of cyberspace as a concept derive from military applications, such as remote-controlled robots and cruise-missile flight systems. These have in turn found applications in the fields of medicine, civilian aircraft, and the computer-gaming industry.24 They all Sterling, in “Cyberspace™,” differentiates five stages in the use of the term cyberspace. First is Gibson’s “graphic representation of data,” which became synonymous with the internet. Then comes the development of virtual reality by Jaron Lanier, a “computer-generated” multi-media experience, accessible by means of eye phones, data gloves or suit (46). These environments Sterling sees further developed in simulators, by which he understands “contained artificial environments” (46). The fifth and final 24

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contributed to an evolution beyond computer-generated landscapes represented on a screen toward an immersion in these graphical representations, increasingly perfecting the illusion of a seamless environment. Cyberspace also opens up new narrative possibilities that were hitherto unavailable to the genre of science fiction. Cyberspace can be regarded as a meta-space, which highlights the very concept of space (or notional space) in fiction. Mieke Bal remarks how the creation of space in fiction seems to be a concept which is very often taken for granted. She rightly distinguishes space from place. Space is a specific “topological position in which the actors [are] situated and the events [take] place” (93). “The story is determined by the way in which the fabula is presented. During this process, places are linked to certain points of perception. These places seen in relation to their perception are called space” (93). Bal describes the interdependence of character and space, calling the space where the character is located the “frame” (94). Her theory adds the notion of focalization in order to refine the notion of narrative perspective or point of view; it emphasizes the “relation between the vision and that which is ‘seen’, perceived” (100). The description of objects through the sensory perception of this agency fill and determine the spatial aspects. Depending on the reader’s “frame of reference,” such spatial notations as “in the kitchen” lead to different visualizations/evocations of these places. This need not be limited to the reader’s actual experience but involves his/her semantic familiarity with a place like Dublin, which serves as the fictional setting for Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Bal thus distinguishes two functions of space: On the one hand, they are only a frame, a place of action. In this capacity a more or less detailed presentation will lead to a more or less concrete picture of the space. The space can also remain stage is the “interactive extension of human presence” through systems of remote control (46). Sterling makes the important distinction that the data feeding into the representation of virtual reality is “partially real” and so derives from measuring objects in reality, whereas cyberspace is entirely fictional (46).

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entirely in the background. In many cases, however, space is ‘thematized’: it becomes an object of presentation itself, for its own sake. Space thus becomes an ‘acting place’ rather than the place of action. It influences the fabula, and the fabula becomes subordinate to the presentation of space. (95–96)

Cyberspace is a form of thematized space to which the characters are in most cases subordinate. They change location from the frame to the thematized space (cyberspace) and thus highlight the differences between them through their perception and focalization of both. Above all, the path along which they travel is significant. For Case, the hero of Neuromancer, the journey through cyberspace is an end in itself and the novel follows a circular structure. He ends up more or less where he started at the outset of the novel – all that he has gained is experience. As in many other travel narratives, “the movement is a goal in itself. It is expected to result in a change, liberation, introspection, wisdom, or knowledge” (Bal 96). But in cyberpunk fiction, the description of cyberspace does not slow down the narration nor allow room for reflection; it is part and parcel of the action narrative because the “perception of the space takes place gradually (in time) and can therefore be regarded as an event” (Bal 97). The perceiving point of view – a technique close to the cinematic equation of camera lens with the character’s range of vision – is “literally the character.” These paths in cyberspace along which the characters travel – often with the suggestion of immense speed – highlight the temporal dimension of cyberspace. While cyberpunk fiction creates the impression of speed through a collage technique, it also leaves little time for the reader to construct a map of cyberspace. Those maps are left for the critic to construct, after the breathless fact of the story. Cyberpunk fiction privileges the temporal, whereas literary criticism focusses on the spatial dimension. It has often been argued in cyberpunk criticism that “cyberpunk writing implies the conflation of time and the deflation of space” (Landon, Aesthetics 127). Csicsery–Ronay, in “Sentimental Futurist,” makes similar claims (226). Similarly, Bukatman, in “Cybernetic (City)State,” regards cyberspace as an “extension (and implosion) of

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the urban topography located at the junction of postmodernism and science fiction” (48). His conclusion is clearly derived from Jameson’s analysis of postmodernity, since it echoes his wording. The notion of implosion for Bukatman usually does not refer to the representation of space in the narrative but to “the depthless surface of the screen,” the interface between reality and virtual reality which he calls “terminal identity” (Bukatman “Cybernetic City(State)” 65). But this typically mistakes the material signifier (the screen) for the fictional representation. A narrative can also produce the illusion of three-dimensional space although its material expression is limited to two-dimensional, surface representation. The convention of perspective can create the illusion of three dimensions in a painting, rendering the frame a window into another world. So why is this a valid device in painting, but not in the new media, where the alleged “depthlessness” is suddenly to be deplored? What else can the conflation of time and deflation of space mean with respect to cyberpunk? The primary/framing fictional worlds of cyberpunk occur close to the contemporary present, at only one apocalyptic remove (such as that occasioned by nuclear war, financial disaster, or an earthquake). No time-travel is involved. The narrative universe is set in one and the same time frame, to which the virtual world of cyberspace is parallel. It is not removed in time; nonetheless, it presents an alternate universe. The human body exists in two spaces at once: the framing narrative world and the world of cyberspace. But only one can be described at a time, because simultaneity is notoriously difficult to represent in fiction. Fiction relies on the linear representation of events structured through the sentence on a page, a linearity reinforced by the reading process. References to objective or clock time are often inserted during the journeys through cyberspace, a device that emphasizes both the pace of the action and the sense that the hero is running out of time. The deflation of space is a more ambiguous matter. Cyberspace is a space produced by the imagination. It is experienced as infinitely large, although it is merely an illusion. The deflation or implosion of space refers to the representation of an inner world rather than an

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external world, a notion already experimented with by the New Wave writers of science fiction. The conflation of time can mean many things, and the fact that the two ontological spaces (framing world and virtual world) are posited as parallel merely enhances the possibility for the two to be confused, especially since each world is experienced as equally real in the fiction. What will be of importance here is the fact that cyberspace or virtual reality can be used to represent any kind of space. It is a device for creating a “metaworld” which can function as a “locus for postmodern metafictional projects” (Bredehoft 253). Unfortunately, very few critics seem capable of distinguishing virtual reality from simulation. It is a crucial difference to bear in mind. The discourse of simulation and simulacra articulated by Baudrillard, Kroker, Bukatman and others implies that the real can be displaced by a kind of false real from which it becomes rapidly indistinguishable. The virtual, on the other hand, assumes an inbetween position between the actual (or real) and the merely possible, but it can still be distinguished from these states. In short, the virtual creates artificial worlds rather than substituting one world for another. In cyberpunk fiction, the two worlds (one framing and one virtual) always remain distinguishable. Their temporary confusion remains temporary, the better to highlight differences; it serves as an artful reminder of the boundary between worlds. Cyberspace is constructed from representations of information. The process of creating these virtual geographies is realized in different ways by different authors, but they are all faced with a common set of challenges. First, they need to establish landmarks or points of orientation for navigating this space, such as the pyramids representing banks (Neuromancer), the ports or entry points to the Metaverse (Snow Crash), or the church as gateway to a personality (Mindplayers). These artifacts need to be seen as functioning on several levels. A building like a pyramid symbolizes a structure of information as well as a power structure. Buildings in cyberspace are representations of data, information which stands in turn for knowl-

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edge, money, or memories.25 Buildings have walls (albeit virtual ones) which contain information and keep unwanted users out. The way these buildings are arranged creates a particular landscape of information, which in the case of Gibson resonates with the urban environment outside of cyberspace. The legacy of cybernetics has provided the scientific logic behind the metaphoric processes that enable everything to be represented in terms of information. It underlies the personification and animation of cyberspace as much as the naturalization of artificial intelligences. By the same token, cybernetics also provides the paradigm which envisions human memory as being stored and transformed between computer hardware and other human beings. The theory of cybernetics may only be implicit here (as Angenot’s notion of the “absent paradigm” would have it), but it nonetheless remains a large part of cyberpunk’s attraction.

Style and Attitude: The ‘Punk’ in Cyberpunk Punk was not a musical genre; it was a moment in time that took shape as a language anticipating its own destruction, and thus sometimes seeking it, seeking the statement of what could be said with neither words nor chords. It was not history. It was a chance to create ephemeral events that would serve as judgements on whatever came next ... (Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces 82) “What he’s the master of, really, is garbage, kipple, refuse, the sea of cast-off goods our century floats on. Gomi no sensei. Master of junk [...] ‘Messing around’ he calls what he does [...] I’ve seen Porush in “Frothing the Synaptic Bath” worries that “cyberspace replaces literacy and personal memory with travels through the raw data representations themselves in a totalizing machine memory” (231). But they are not “raw data representations,” because data is already represented as something else, i.e. buildings. I also fail to see how it is “totalizing machine memory” because the space it represents is described as infinite, limitless. Nor is everything governed by the representation of data (although information is the underlying paradigm). Instead, data landscapes are often animated, personified, or represented in organic terms. 25

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Rubin program his constructions to identify and verbally abuse pedestrians wearing garments by a given season’s hot designer; others attend to more obscure missions, and a few seem constructed solely to deconstruct themselves with as much attendant noise as possible.” (Gibson, “Winter Market” 119)

Cyberpunk can be regarded as the deconstruction of the science fiction tradition “with as much attendant noise as possible.” The notion of punk inherits the modernist esthetic impulse that survives at the heart of Lyotard’s notion of the postmodern. It negates what has gone before, while it strives to make art and to find new forms of expression that break with convention. The punk attitude aims at re-inventing the meaning of art, so that art can continue to exist. It fills the void of endless debates about the end of art, as it contests the commercial processes of the culture industry. But what is punk? An attitude, a subculture, a musical style, or a fashion? In a narrow sense, ‘punk’ describes a musical style associated with British punk rock, specifically the Sex Pistols. Although they were a short-lived phenomenon that peaked around 1976/77, they left a lasting impression. In a wider sense, ‘punk’ in American colloquial language refers to a young person who indulges in semilegal activities. However, both meanings are pertinent to the meaning of cyberpunk. The cyber-cowboys or juvenile hackers learn by trial and error, experimenting with new uses for the tools already at hand. They break and enter into data networks in order to extract information, but they are not only after the money – they enjoy the adrenaline rush of danger, as well as the prestige associated crossing the new final frontier of cyberspace. Bobby in “Burning Chrome” speaks for all of his fellow cyberpunks when he avows that neither “love [of] money” nor “power over other people” spurs him on in his quasi-criminal pursuits; instead, it is the chance to test and show off a “pride in his skill” that truly motivates him (176). Skill is perhaps unintentionally ironic, since that particular skill involves a lot of intuition, talent, and disrespect for traditional learning. The connection to 1970s music is not always obvious in all cyberpunk works, although some texts deliberately foreground this homage. For instance, John Shirley’s fiction includes detailed por-

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trayals of the music scene which are probably related to his own experience as a touring musician. Shirley represents an interesting case, because he has been associated with cyberpunk by many commentators. But he only shares the punk attitude of the cyberpunks, not the interest in cyberspace or virtual reality, except in the broad sense of a shared illusion of space created through the performance of the music.26 Cyberpunk defines itself in terms of an avant-garde and subculture. Its members proclaim themselves rebels, revolutionizing science fiction and overthrowing the old order. Even if they do not voice these views themselves, they subscribed to them in the inflammatory prefaces to Mirrorshades and Burning Chrome, which rapidly acquired the status of manifestoes. Ellen Datlow was one of the first to dub the writing she promoted in Omni magazine as “Punk SF”.27 Norman Spinrad went further with the early association between punk and cyberpunk by distinguishing not only clothes or fashions held in common, but similar icons such as mirrorshades, black leather, and concrete, which all contributed to a new “punk sensibility.” But he also compared Gibson to Harlan Ellison and the New Wave – a strand of science fiction that the cyberpunk writers wanted so desperately to reinvent on defiantly new terms (Science Fiction in the Real World 110).28 Cyberpunk also shares with the 1970s Shirley has been the lead singer in the rock band Obsession and the punk rock band Sado Nation. He has also written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult and recorded with a band called the Panther Moderns (Gibson named his media-terrorists in Neuromancer after the latter). He writes in many genres and is not exclusively associated with science fiction. See his collections of short stories in Heatseeker and New Noir, for instance. 27 Datlow was responsible for publishing five of the twelve stories collected in the Mirrorshades anthology and played a crucial role in the cyberpunk writers’ association as a group. Before there were conference panels under the heading of cyberpunk, Armadillo Con in 1982 featured a panel entitled “Behind the Mirrorshades: A Look at Punk SF” that included many future cyberpunk alumni, as Shiner reports in Fiction 2000 (21). 28 John Clute concurs with this comparison in his entry on Ellison in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, when he highlights Ellison’s interest in “the turbulent complexities of the modern U S City,” the deliberate depreciation 26

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punk movement a mistrust of the entertainment industry, which it aims to undermine before becoming fatally appropriated.29 The mechanisms of the marketplace blunt punk’s ‘edge’ by absorbing its claim to novelty and its call for change, and reducing it to just another passing fad or fashion. These considerations were the reason why most alleged members of the movement ultimately rejected the punk label, although they all benefited from it in a commercial sense. Of course, “cyberpunk is not really punk,” but it carries enough similarities on a stylistic level to be identified with the same “attitude,” a nebulous notion in need of sharper definition (“Cyberpunk Yes, Punk No” 5).30 What does ‘punk’ mean in the context of the high-tech cyberworld? According to David Porush, “punk implies a conflict between natural and artificial,” but a conflict that has been pushed into becoming ultimately “obsolete” (“Frothing” 332). He develops this same idea in Fiction 2000, when he states that cyberpunk is determined by a “war between natural and artificial and their inevitable deconstruction, their collapse into each other as meaningless distinction” (256). He perceives the boundaries between natural and artificial as blurred by the interchange of semantic qualities, imposed by cybernetics; for the natural is always portrayed as a work of culture in the cyberpunk landscape; nature is at best a second-hand description. Urban spaces are littered with junk which has assumed animistic qualities, while multinational corporations become superhuman conglomerates of information and genetically cloned families reign over the world but have hardly any human qualities. In conof distinctions between “generic and non-generic writing,” and the “Ellisonian pathos about the sadness and rage of men and women” (377, 378). 29 McCaffery observes that punk was “the most significant artistic movement of the 1970s” and that it “shared with cyberpunk the same urges to use technology as a weapon against itself and to seize the control of its form from the banalizing effects of the media industry” (“Cutting Up” 289). 30 McCaffery also hints at the “shared ‘attitude’ ” of the cyberpunk writers – “an attitude of defiance towards cultural and aesthetic norms” – which he unfortunately fails to describe further (Storming 288).

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trast to this increasing process of denaturalization among men, the artificial world of things or cyberspace becomes increasingly endowed with organic attributes. It is a man-made second nature – wild, untamed, and still uncharted. Any romantic notion of an original state of nature becomes untenable in the exterior polluted urban world. All sense of virgin territory is thus projected onto cyberspace. Junk and refuse often clutter the urban environments found in the typical cyberpunk framing universe, and the cyber heroes’ bodies are frequently regarded as extensions of the same. The body is the outer shell, which the protagonist discards and leaves behind upon entry into the immaterial realm of cyberspace. However, all movement and perception remains determined by visual perception, and all brain activity still relies upon a body. Junk and dirt form the counterpoint to the clean, bright, streamlined futures envisaged by a past generation of science fiction writers. Cyberpunks also offer projections, but their visions of the future are more immediately attainable and a good deal less utopian. They display a typical irreverence for good taste by elevating ugliness over beauty. What the punk rocker is to punk music, the hacker is to the technological subculture of the cybernetic underground. The punk in cyberpunk primarily characterizes the meeting of high technology with low life. But the link between 1970s punk and cyberpunk persists, as in the case of graffiti found on the “hull of a century-old synagogue” in Ambient: “U S O U T O F N O R T H A M E R I C A , N O FU T U RE ” (Womack 56). The no-future slogan of the Sex Pistols’ hit single by the same name emerges here as a reference, while the call to expel the US A from North America is indicative of the fragmented post-nation-state which sets the scene for this postapocalyptic novel.31 Punk music rewrote the history of rock ’n’ roll by mobilizing raw anger and noise, together with a flaunting of disrespect for conventional skill or beauty,. It created a sense of shock

Another subtle reference to punk music is Gibson’s name for Armitage’s war mission, “Screaming Fist” – the name of a little-known Canadian punk band (Grant “Transcendence” 44). 31

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by attacking public symbols of harmony, stardom, and success.32 Cyberpunk aims for the same shock effect with respect to the tradition of science fiction, and it succeeds mainly on the the level of style. It shakes off the positivist language of hard science, as well as the introspective inner space of the New Wave, in favor of the hardboiled dialogue of the detective novel. Cyberpunk wreaks havoc with the old guard’s vision of the shape of things to come, which remains “uncertain [...] of what future there might remain” (Womack Ambient 21). The shape of the future is now literally found on the trash heap, in the dumpster, or as a layer of graffiti in a dark alleyway. In the same way that postmodern art juxtaposes previous historical styles, these piles of junk are a means of representing earlier styles of art and technology synchronically. Thus in Gibson’s short story “Johnny Mnemonic” the “concrete walls were overlaid with graffiti, years of them twisting into a single metascrawl of rage and frustration” (9). Graffiti, junk, and debris are recurring elements in cyberpunk fiction. They often contain vital clues to the shape of both the past and the future, since discarded old art objects or things for daily use point to the idea of obsolescence. Shirley’s Eclipse trilogy, which Slusser calls a “punk saga,” makes many references to rock music (Slusser, “Literary M T V ” 334). The short story “Freezone,” excerpted from the first volume, conveys an acute dislike for computer-generated music as epitomized by the “Wiredancer” or “Minimono” style. For Shirley’s hero, Rickenharp, it is the enemy which threatens the authenticity of live performance. Computer-generated music supplants the spontaneous feedback between performer and audience, thereby reducing the musician to a machine and creating music of inferior (because monotonous) value. The Minimono’s performance is thus characterized by “cookiecutter sameness” and “stultifying regularity” (145). This perhaps constitutes cyberpunk’s blind spot: a faith in the unique human McCaffery explains, referring to the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, that “punk aimed at returning to rock’s original sense of power and menace by creating a deliberately ‘crude’ sound that emphasized sensuality and surface-level energy at the expense of technical virtuosity” (“Cutting Up” 295). 32

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capacity to generate a range of emotional intensity (such as anger and frustration), which a machine cannot generate. Cyberpunk also shares with punk the emphasis on anger as a driving force. Rebel in Vacuum Flowers says: “She wanted this anger. It was her ally, her only friend. It raged through her paralyzed body, a hot storm of fangs and claws and violence.” Case’s anger in Neuromancer fuels his survival instinct and sharpens his reactions, so that he can beat the killer virus. His anger is produced by the memory of Linda Lee’s murder. The Beater in Cadigan’s Synners shares Shirley’s nostalgia for live rock music, valued for its high emotional content. Here a new method of creating music and video is supposed to create a consensual experience for the audience: it is enabled by a technology of brain implants and increased computer power, which synthesizes music with images in a new way. The “Killing Floor” in Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” highlights the more violent aspect of punk music: style as a weapon. Here music becomes noise produced by movements within a rusty, derelict building, “a shifting trampoline of scrap” (19). It produces “aesthetic revulsion” and kills with “culture shock” (20; 21). The floor is wired to an amplifier and a synthesizer which pick up the sound of footsteps through a microphone “taped at random to rusty machine fragments” (19). This dangerous site falls under the territory of the ironically named Lo Teks. Their choice of low technology (scrap) is deliberate, as is their production of noise via punk music. The Lo Teks provide cover for Johnny and Molly from Johnny’s pursuers, who are intent on retrieving the memories with which he has escaped. But his pursuers are killed in a stylized martial dance on the Killing Floor, courtesy of the crude technology of amplified anger transmitted as noise. This short story demonstrates cyberpunk’s general propensity to subvert the use of objects and technology against their originally inscribed design, even if the result is a fragmentary patchwork rather than a unified whole. The human body is presented as a similar collection of diverse elements where the opposition between natural and artificial has become blurred through fanciful transformations or straightforward surgical interventions (such as prostheses, implants, organ trans-

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plants, and plastic surgery). These deliberate modifications are never merely decorative: they are statements, markers for a social group, even tribal insignia. Ratz, the bartender in Neuromancer, is marked by “his ugliness,” which “was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldig about his lack of it” (4). All cyberpunk works are peopled with colorful subcultures who identify each other by a common style of clothes, make-up, or elective surgery. For instance, a typical LoTek has a transplanted canine tongue and fangs which turns his face into “a mask of total bestiality. It had taken time and a certain kind of creativity to assemble that face, and his posture told me he enjoyed living behind it” (“Johnny Mnemonic” 15). They epitomize cyberpunk, that peculiar mix of raw instinct and high technology: “LoTek fashion ran to scars and tattoos. And teeth. The electricity they were tapping to light the Killing Floor seemed to be an exception to their overall aesthetic, made in the name of ritual, sport, art?” (18). Jack Womack’s Ambients carry the notion of voluntary body mutilation still further. Some Ambients are born mutants as a result of a nuclear accident, while others voluntarily join their ranks: “By altering the body in unappealing ways and thus becoming voluntary, the non-Ambient might not only find kinship but could as well demonstrate the iniquity of a society that forced one to do such” (68). Mutilations of the body with razor blades or safety pins with their deliberate emphasis on ugliness are also associated with punks. Such violations of the body are also mirrored by the fictional treatment of the human body. Most cyber-cowboys are equipped with socket-implants which represent a continuation of the esthetic of piercing. However, these sockets are not there to shock so much as to extend and enhance human skills. They represent a gateway or interface between man and machine, through which the body truly becomes a cyborg or cybernetic organism. These sockets (sometimes electrodes) provide the channels for communication between human and computer. They penetrate the human body and become integrated into the workings of the human brain and nervous system, so it becomes difficult to say where the machine stops and the human body begins. Esthetic considerations are not important

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here; function rules first and foremost, be it the increased memory storage capacity of the human (as in “Johnny Mnemonic”) or the retractable knives replacing Molly’s fingernails in Neuromancer. In a way, the brain is the most important part of the body, the rest of which is dismissively considered “flesh” or “meat.”33 From this vantage point, the body becomes an object, often portrayed as “outthere” or “disconnected.” Cyberspace almost allows the hero to forget the reality of his own flesh. It comes close to creating and sustaining the illusion of transcendence, of infinity, even of eternal life. But it always remains linked to the human body, since the perception of cyberspace is impossible without it. Enclaves, local cultures, constantly shifting allegiances, “loosely defined governments” and the “winds of the black-market economy,” all combine to make society and politics in this fictional world largely unpredictable. Survival in the underground at the interstices of corporate capitalism is guaranteed by guerrilla tactics, which remain the only means for the cyber-heroes to escape the allpowerful corporation or fascist state. For example, the Inner Circle in Ambient and the government in the Eclipse trilogy both bear distinct fascist traits. They are among the few cyberpunk works to address the potential for abuse inherent in the new media, especially when those media are placed in the hands of a modern surveillance state. Cyberpunk frequently adopts an anarchic stance toward society and politics, an attitude also characteristic of the punk movement. The focus is on the individual – perhaps a romanticized version of the lone resistance fighter – who battles against the dominating corporations and their representations in cyberspace. They cannot be attacked with logic, strategy, or reason. Countermeasures against their overbearing control are often irrational, powered and driven by anger, or governed simply by luck. The hero’s world-view is continually overshadowed by larger-than-life conspiracies trying to

Case in Neuromancer observes that “the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat” (6). 33

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contain his free will.34 As a result, there is the constant feeling that what may seem like individual freedom is often predetermined or under remote control. The hero’s range of action consists primarily of acts of sabotage, turning the system against itself. Examples are Gabe’s mail-bombs in Synners, which cause the collapse of the computer system at his much-despised company; and the Panther Modern’s guerrilla tactics in Neuromancer while simulating a terrorist attack. Lupus Yonderboy, one of the Panther Moderns, represents the “spookier side of punk” according to Gibson in an interview with Timothy Leary: “They’re sorta like Marshall McLuhan’s revenge. Media Monsters. It’s as though the worst street gang you ever ran into were, at the same time, intense conceptual artists. You never know what they’re going to do” (61). His statement clearly shows how politics, esthetics, and culture are intricately linked, and how concrete story elements – clothes, appearance, buildings – are far more than decorative filler. Anarchy is the law of the street, where the street metonymically stands for the subculture or underground that has managed to survive in the hostile all-consuming economic climate of corporate capitalism. It also follows a dynamic of its own, because “the street finds its own uses for things” (Gibson “Burning Chrome” 180). Here is a hint toward understanding a recurrent theme that weaves through many cyberpunk texts: the principle of self-organization. Sterling, in his novels Schismatrix, Artificial Kid, and Islands in the Net, makes expert use of this principle in order to paint compelling portraits of very complex societies. It also reflects the laissez-faire politics of the Ronald Reagan administration, which dominated the U SA in the 1980s and gave rise to the cyberpunk wave. But the same principle of self-organization that Gibson observed at work in the streets applies equally to the emergence of artificial intelligence. Dr. Fish in Synners gains true power when he accidentally merges with Visual Mark, who seeks refuge in the net later. Similarly, the cloning of family members into the artificial intelligences of NeuroFor example, the orbital satellite defense system in Hardwired, Armitage’s schizophrenic military presence in Neuromancer, or Virek’s virtual, omnipresent existence in Mona Lisa Overdrive. 34

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mancer and Wintermute results in a larger sentient being entering the matrix, which fragments again and manifests itself as voodoo loas in the sequels. Greg Bear’s Blood Music takes up the same theme of self-organization or emergence on a biological level. Humanity is literally sucked down the drain and disintegrates before gathering in big pools of human biomass, which then re-organizes into a larger sentient life-form. In cyberpunk fiction, large is not necessarily beautiful and power often resides in the local. The mega-corporation, the global, and the gigantic have a tendency to crumble and collapse once they reach a certain size, a tendency often precipitated by the smallest changes. Cyberpunk celebrates the fragment, whether it is the patchwork urban landscape or the syncretic Rastafarian or voodoo belief systems imported into cyberspace in Neuromancer. Art in the age of the new media in Mona Lisa Overdrive is epitomized by a box of found objects, assumed to be collages made by Joseph Cornell. As it turns out, the artifacts are created by an artificial intelligence that randomly picks up floating debris from the former Villa Straylight, home of the eccentric family/corporation of Tessier–Ashpools in Neuromancer. The fact of this achievement questions one of the last vestiges distinguishing humanity from the machine, the domain of creativity. The art historian who discovers these boxes and mistakes them for the works of Cornell shows how the human quality is read into these works. The artificial intelligences have passed an esthetic Turing test, so to speak. If the art they produce can be mistaken for that of a human, they are no longer distinguishable on this basis. But the boxes can also be read as a commentary by Gibson on his own artistic processes. This, after all, is the same author who confessed to such a limited knowledge of high technology that he was forced to cobble together his entire universe of cyberspace from a collection of words found in advertising brochures. He subsequently lost control over the meaning of cyberspace, but the richness of associations and commentaries that it has evoked remains a distinct measure of its value. Following from cyberpunk’s penchant for collage is a corresponding parody of high culture, which is frequently re-used and retrofitted exactly like a piece of discarded technology. For instance,

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Julius Dean’s office in Neuromancer contains a homage to twentiethcentury avant-garde art from Dalí to Kandinsky right next to a Mickey Mouse statue. Kadrey’s Metrophage begins with a “toilet full of Nietzsche.” Count Zero features the self-destructing, rusty robots made from discarded pieces of technology, a scene reminiscent of the performance art by Survival Research Laboratories.35 The notion of fragmentation is taken up in a different context by Cadigan. In Mindplayers she repeatedly uses the image of a pearl necklace, which also functions as a mise-en-abyme to represent Allie’s increasingly complex identity. Her multiple personality results from her diverse mind-to-mind experiences, yet somehow manages to remain a whole. The counterpoint to Allie’s shifting assortment of memories is Jerry, who increasingly fragments, copies, and dilutes his own personality; nevertheless, a trace of his character remains recognizable in each of the fragments. Stephenson plays with the same dialectic of fragment versus universal on the level of language. Bob L. Rife’s effort to recreate a universal language is counteracted by the Babel-effect, which fragments language into many different kinds – thus impeding the free circulation of viruses, ideas, or specific knowledge. Cyberpunk thus shares with punk an emphasis on noise, destruction, and a deliberate, sometimes violent, esthetic based on fragments of both art and the human body. The two styles of punk also tend to parade the same anarchic sentiment, bordering on antisocial tendencies and political extremism. Iain Chambers in Popular Culture describes ‘punk’ as the subversion of “the traditional closure of subcultural style,” which, as it became the object of facetious quotations, irreverent cut-ups and ironic poses [...] ransacked post-war subcultures for fashions and signs to re-cycle and re-live. In a blasphemous remixing of revered subcultural memories [...]. The punks constructed an iconography of disrespect, pillaging the sub-cultural past and attiring themselves in urban rubbish: bin-liner skirts, empty sweet packets pinned on ripped and torn clothing. (170–72) Survival Research Laboratories is a group of artists who stage performance spectacles. They build remote-controlled sculptures from discarded machinery, which in the course of each performance destroy each other. 35

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The postmodern likewise places a punk-like emphasis on fragments, the use of quotations, and the employment of irony as indirect means of political statement. The ‘iconography of disrespect’ is directed against present social and cultural systems, as well as against the past systems of value that originally produced them. Punk especially exhibits postmodern tendencies when it subverts the fashion and music industry. It displays a unique awareness of how any social message or alleged authenticity of emotion is disabled and co-opted once a subculture is reduced to ‘style’. Bin-liners produced by Versace with a four-figure price tag do not broadcast the same message as street punks dressing in bin-liners, who comment far more directly on the tyrannies of the fashion industry and society’s unspoken standards of beauty. Punk’s suggestion of estheticized violence is similarly translated into cyberpunk’s notion that “style is a weapon” (Hardwired). All of the accoutrements of cyberpunk – the omnipresence of black leather clothes and mirrorshades, the obligatory neon lighting and dreary rain, and the ubiquitous chrome and concrete – all of these details extend well beyond surface or textural interests. In many ways, cyberpunk followed in the trail blazed by punk. It may have begun as “fake culture” or a byproduct of “fashion sense,” but it “became real culture” in the end, exactly as punk did (Marcus 69). Cyberpunk also appropriates high-art images and conventions, turning them into concrete story elements such as furniture or decoration. There is a certain complicitous joy to be found in the destruction and devaluing of high art, when popular culture takes its revenge on the smug conceits of high culture. But cyberpunk also does not hesitate to pillage its own past (the pulp tradition of science fiction), just as it gleefully lampoons its sparkling future (the naive belief in progress through technology).36 The punk elements in cyberpunk find another echo in the postmodern concept of deconstruction. Whenever symbols and icons of modernity are subverted or dismantled, their ruins provide the foundation for the reconstruction of something new. Greil Marcus 36

See Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum.”

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in Lipstick Traces describes this process as a powerful punk strategy, which creates a “new set of visual and verbal signs [...]. by its very unnaturalness, its insistence that a situation could be constructed and then, as an artifice, escaped” (69).37 Cyberpunk delights in the destruction of the icons and monuments of modernity, be it classical architecture or its own less-than-classical history as science fiction. The modern city in ruins provides hiding-places for the new technowise underground, which proclaims all blueprints for a utopian society hopelessly false or bankrupt. For cyberpunk’s persecuted mavericks and desperadoes, the future promised by a generation of writers forecasting progress and prosperity never materialized. Punk may even be described as a turning point in cultural history because the self-conscious constructions – the deliberate choice of imagery guaranteed to shock: the swastika, the mutilation of the body by safety pins, its imprisonment in chains and dog collars – turned the attention of subsequent youth culture to the actual mechanisms of representation: the codes themselves. (172)

The punk in cyberpunk stands both for the appropriation and subversion of conventions and of high-art images in science fiction. On the political and social level, cyberpunk turns the system against itself as much as it turns technology against its intended design into “detourned technology” (to borrow Glenn Grant’s formulation). But as far as the postmodern esthetic is concerned, cyberpunk assumes a far more ambiguous position while remaining true to its genre roots.38 Above all, punk and cyberpunk both share a marked sense of style, which Suvin calls “aesthetic cohesion” and considers absolutely critical to genre identity (“On Gibson and Cyberpunk SF” 351).

½¾ McCaffery concurs with Marcus’s analysis: “punk artists demolished and then reconstructed the semiological codes and physical objects around them, determined to play with and otherwise manipulate these discarded cultural and technological elements into new objects with new purposes that their original creators could not have anticipated” (“Cutting Up” 298). 38 McCaffery also refers to cyberpunk and punk rock music as “radical, highly stylized forms of postmodernist urban art” (Storming 293). 37

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It is probably clear that I am defining postmodernism here based on a model from architecture, the first domain in which the term was used in a more or less uncontested fashion. Postmodern art in other form, then, would be art that is fundamentally paradoxical in its relation to history: it is both critical of and complicitous with that which precedes it. Its relationship with the aesthetic and social past, out of which it openly acknowledges it has come, is one usually characterized by irony, though not disrespect. Basic contradictions mark its contact with artistic conventions of both production and reception: it seeks accessibility without surrendering its right to criticize the consequences of that access. Postmodernism’s relation to late capitalism, patriarchy, and the other form of those (now suspect) master narratives […] is paradoxical: the postmodern does not deny its inevitable implication in them, but it also wants to use that insider position to problematize the “givens” that “go without saying” in those grand systems. Thus, it is neither neoconservatively nostalgic nor radically revolutionary; it is unavoidably compromised, and knows it. (Hutcheon, “Fringe Interference” 102)

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H U T C H E O N derives much of her theory of the postmodern from the writings of Charles Jencks and Paolo Portoghesi on postmodernism and architecture.1 Hutcheon’s key concepts of irony and historiographic metafiction owe much to Jencks’s INDA

Hutcheon elaborates on the idea of “critical reworking” and the “governing role of irony in postmodernism” in A Poetics of Postmodernism (4). 1

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notion of double coding in postmodern architecture. According to Jencks, there is a marked divide between the modern and the postmodern architectural approaches, since the former insists on a single imposed unity of form and function, which is particularly noticeable in the excesses of the International Style. The postmodern architectural signature of double coding is also a quality inherent in the rhetorical figure of irony, which enables a playful dimension of critique. In Hutcheon’s view, double coding functions on a synchronic level in the figure of irony, and on a diachronic level in the paradigm of historiographic metafiction. The latter is employed as another means of critique, this time to refute the alleged ahistoricity of the postmodern. Hutcheon thus expands Jencks’s notion of double coding beyond its strictly architectural limitations as a formal feature and structural principle into a political strategy, which she calls “complicitous yet critical” (Poetics 73). Postmodernism has often been accused of being ahistorical and noncommittal, especially when it is reduced to the slogan of “anything goes” (Jameson, Postmodernism 6). But Hutcheon’s “complicitous critique” tries to counter that accusation while also exposing the myth of the neutral, detached critic. She creates a new space for critique from the inside, which implies a certain involvement with the issues. When it comes to the postmodern, Hutcheon rightly points to the blurring that inevitably occurs between architecture, fiction, and literary criticism.2 Modern or postmodern architecture is related to political, economic, and social expectations as well as to formal and esthetic demands as a discipline. This is also true of the “fictional architecture” of cyberpunk fiction, both in the primary fictional world of Gibson’s Sprawl and in computer-generated cyberspace or virtual Hutcheon also extracts a double perspective in a temporal sense from the examples of postmodern architecture, a notion that is central to her analysis of postmodern historiographic metafiction. She observes that “architecture has been rethinking modernism’s purist break with history. This is not a nostalgic return; it is a critical revisiting, an ironic dialogue with the past of both art and society, a recalling of a critically shared vocabulary of architectural forms” (Poetics 4). 2

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reality. But, being fictional, all pillars and underpinnings are, of course, constructed here in language. Nothing can be grasped without the point of view of the observer, the narrator or focalizor (Bal). For instance, the Sprawl is described via the heuristic fiction of a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta... (Neuromancer 43)

This map helps the reader to comprehend the suggested immensity of the Sprawl area; it creates an equivalence in terms of language between the urban infrastructure and the exchange of information. “Traffic” no longer stands for moving vehicles or people but for the traces they leave in terms of their interaction with or representation as data. Dense areas of information are referred to as bright lights on the computer screen; through this transference, the energy of human and machine movement is transubstantiated into the energy of light given off by a computer screen. With the zooming-in effect of “up your scale” – a camera metaphor – city blocks now grow distinguishable amidst hitherto abstract data. Later in the novel, Case becomes immersed in cyberspace and virtually one with the information structures, by “grace of the mind–body interface” which the cyberspace console enables (262). Case’s perception almost merges with the Kuang virus which he uses to intrude into another computer system: Case had the strange impression of being in the pilot’s seat in a small plane [...] Headlong motion through walls of emerald green, milky jade, the sensation of speed beyond anything he’d known before in cyberspace [...]. The Tessier–Ashpool ice shattered, peeling away from the Chinese program’s thrust, a worrying impression of solid fluidity, as though the shards of a broken mirror bent and elongated as they fell [...] the horizonless fields of

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the Tessier–Ashpool core, an endless neon cityscape, complexity that cut the eye, jewel bright, sharp as razors. (Neuromancer 256)

Travel in cyberspace is frequently described by metaphors of ‘flying’, ‘surfing’, or ‘riding’, but each without the perception of a specific medium of transportation. In fact, the computer-generated space changes and creates the illusion of speed that the disembodied cyber-hero experiences as he hurtles along. Solids become liquid – propelling “motion through walls” and “ice shattering, peeling away,” “shards of broken mirror bending and elongating as they fall.” This oxymoron of “solid fluidity” is one of the rhetorical pillars of cyberspace, verbally supporting its liquid architecture. Case is so immersed in cyberspace that he can no longer perceive a horizon; now it is the data that appear as infinite “endless neon cityscape.” Data is described in terms of large corporations, such as a “city of data” with “gleaming spires of a dozen identical towers of data, each one a blue neon replica of the Manhattan skyscraper” (257). Such a description retains the structural property of towers with all their hierarchic implications as power structures, but their building material has changed. They are now constructs of light and neon gas, which semantically interact with the neon lights that illuminate Night City at the beginning of the novel. The experience of infinity is often associated with the sublime, especially when the illusion of immense speed and its attendant confusion of the senses also come into play: Case’s sensory input warped with their velocity. His mouth filled with an aching taste of blue. His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with the frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine glass spines. The spines split, bisected, split again, exponential growth under the dome of the Tessier–Ashpool ice. (Neuromancer 257)

The surreal effect is enhanced by the synesthetic fusions on the verbal level, e.g. the “aching taste of blue.” His body, in sympathetic vibration, assumes the same qualities as the cyberspace in which he is immersed: “his eyes were eggs of unstable crystal.” It is impossible to determine whether he perceives a “humming forest” sprout-

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ing or whether his eyes become “hair-fine glass spines.”3 He can no longer distinguish between what is inside and outside of his body. Once he has retrieved the information he needs, he begins to distance himself once more through a shift in perception: “His vision was spherical, as though a single retina lined the inner surface of a globe that contained all things, if all things could be counted” (257). He moves beyond himself, catching fresh sight of himself as a separate entity. He even emerges empowered from the threat of incorporation, and mystically endowed with superior insight into the “inner surface of a globe that contains all things.” The episode concludes with “darkness,” which “fell in from every side, a sphere of singing black, pressure on the extended crystal nerves of the universe of data he had nearly become” (258). The “hair-fine glass spines” from a sprouting forest become reminiscent of D N A combination and recombination, especially in view of previous references to the Tessier–Ashpool clan and their cloned aristocracy. Finally, the ice (defined earlier as ICE , an acronym for Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics, a viral software defense system against unwanted intruders) always retains its semantic connotations of ice as frozen water crystals. Together with the images of “exponential growth,” the semantic fields of genetic reproduction, viral replication, and the human architectonics of the spine all contribute to form the “extended crystal nerves of the universe of data he had nearly become.” This string of signifiers suggests that human beings are no longer in control; action resides autonomously in data and

Celeste Olalquiaga in Megalopolis describes the condition of being unable to distinguish between oneself and one’s environment as “psychaesthenia.” This is “a state in which the space defined by the coordinates of the organism’s own body is confused with represented space. Incapable of demarcating the limits of its own body, lost in the immense area that circumscribes it, the psychasthenic organism proceeds to abandon its own identity to embrace the space beyond. It does so by camouflaging itself into the milieu. This simulation effects a double usurpation: while the organism successfully reproduces those elements it could not otherwise apprehend, in the process it is swallowed by them, vanishing as a differentiated entity” (1–2). 3

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nature, as implied by the active grammatical structures of “spines split, bisected, split again.” The typical cyberpunk hero is a juvenile hacker/rebel who is coerced into servitude by a multinational corporation through either force or blackmail4 His only way out is to turn the system against itself by injecting a virus that undermines the structure of the corporation and causes it to fragment or die. He thus resorts to anarchic tactics, manipulating and sabotaging the information networks which contain the digital representations of their power. Money, for example, is stored as information in a bank; it is no longer a concrete medium of exchange. As a result, the destruction of the corporation’s digital representation in cyberspace represents its destruction in the ‘real’, i.e. primary fictional world. The Panther Moderns, who assist Case and Molly in breaking into the Sense/Net pyramid, epitomize the anarchic principle: they only “differ from other terrorists precisely in their degree of self-consciousness” (Neuromancer 58). By injecting “a dose of misinformation” they divert attention from the actual data burglary (62). They thrive on chaos, which, they say, “is our mode and modus. That is our central kick” (67). The urban architecture of the primary fictional world is intricately linked to the construction of virtual space in cyberspace and involves the critical reworking of the genre’s past topoi – something that is perhaps not immediately apparent to a reader less familiar with the genre. The Sprawl or urban fabric is more important than the fleshing-out of individual characters and their emotional and motivational depth. The characters can easily be classified as types. The constructed urban space, however, is enriched with a (fictional) past, with allusions to the architecture of modernity (both real and fictional). Depending on the reader’s familiarity with the genre’s history, topoi, and figures, one can negotiate a path through this junkyard of history and decipher its patterns. For example, geodesic domes once symbolized images of better societies projected into the future (e.g. by Asimov), not only in science fiction but also in Buck4

The only heroines are to be found in Cadigan’s books.

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minster Fuller’s utopian geodesic architecture and its real-life constructions at the world fairs which he inspired (e.g. the 1933 New York World Fair with its “This is Tomorrow” pavilion). On a more formal level, cyberpunk remains science fiction first and foremost, despite its sharing some traits with postmodern fiction. Its full meaning thus emerges in relation to the conventions of science fiction. But this does not imply that cyberpunk is merely formulaic or derivative, since the formulaic aspects can suggest potential patterns for subversion right at the creative heart of science fiction. Like any avant-garde, science fiction has a constant need for reinvention, because its whole identity as a genre depends upon generating ideas of the ‘new’ as much as new ideas. Cyberpunk exhibits a type of self-consciousness which is not directed toward the process of writing as such but to the foregrounding of its setting, icons, and narrative devices (time-travel, alternate history, space opera, etc.). Science fiction can display special aspects of historiographic metafiction (or rather, futurographic metafiction) without necessarily displaying the degree of self-referentiality familiar to us from postmodern fiction. Architecture within the cyberspace universe functions as a metaphor for society and for entertainment corporations such as Sense/Net, which fuse urban space with symbolic cyberspace. The latter is described in immaterial terms and is semantically constructed from structures of light: pixels on a screen. Postmodern architecture has been situated specifically in terms of language (see Jencks’s The Language of Postmodern Architecture).5 This has perhaps facilitated the adoption of architectural theory by literary criticism (e.g. Jameson, Hutcheon, Welsch).6 The present Welsch in Unsere postmoderne Moderne also points out the close connection between the literary idea of postmodernism and that of architecture. 6 The way architectural theory has been employed by these critics is very diverse. Jameson, for instance, derives his notion of hyperspace from an analysis of the Bonaventure Hotel, which illustrates his theory of postmodernity and its implication in the development of late capitalism. However, this particular building is by no means considered typically postmodern. Jameson thus stands on shaky ground when he generalizes from this hotel to the aesthetic qualities of postmodernism as a whole. There is a tendency to slip from description into value judgment, e.g. the emphasis on 5

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study proposes a new approach: applying the discourse surrounding postmodern architecture to the imaginary, fictional architecture projected by the language of cyberpunk science fiction. The constructed space of these works functions on a literal, concrete level within the fictional discourse, which can also yield symbolic implications recoverable by interpretation. These buildings or constructs concretize in turn the postmodern element in science fiction.

The Failure of the International Style Jencks was among the first of a wave of critics to condemn the brand of modern architecture associated with the International Style as a failure on social grounds. He found particular fault with Mies van der Rohe’s and Le Corbusier’s principles of “truth to materials,” “logical consistency,” “simplicity” and “straightforwardness,” which were writ large across the face of early twentieth-century architecture. He preferred the application of postmodern values such as “double coding” and “complexity” for their stylistic notes and philosophical depth of interest (often referred to as eclecticism). In “The Death of Modern Architecture,” Jencks identified the precise moment of modern architecture’s demise as July 15, 1972, at 3:32 p.m. in St. Louis, Missouri. This was the time and place of the Pruitt–Igoe detonation, a housing project whose ruins were to serve as an emblem for all of the atrocities committed in the name of modern architecture (470). Above all, Jencks criticized the functionalist thinking behind such buildings, which imposed a facile correspondence between the appearance of architecture and the form of society it was supposed to engender: its Purist style, its clean, salubrious hospital metaphor, was meant to instill, by good example, corresponding virtues in the inhabitants. Good form was to lead to good content, or at least good surface leads to seeing the values it represents as superficial. Unlike Jameson, however, Hutcheon and Welsch have employed architectural discourse toward a more productive and consistent emphasis on the multiple and heterogeneous, as the next section will show.

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conduct; the intelligent planning of abstract space was to promote healthy behaviour. (“Death” 470)

In “What Is Post-Modernism?” he went on to apply the concept of postmodernism to culture at large, but it is his earlier writings, which remain the most influential to both architecture and literary theory.7 Jencks saw postmodernism’s hybrid style as eclectic in a positive, pluralist sense, because it enabled architecture to communicate on “various levels at once” and to employ both “popular and elitist signs” (“Death” 474). Most importantly, he characterized the principle of double coding as the trademark of the postmodern style. The International Style in architecture was renowned for its use of novel industrial materials such as steel, concrete, and glass. These materials were relatively cheap and widely available, and thus rapidly deployed toward mass housing for the growing postwar population. On a more commercial scale, these same materials contributed to the boom in skyscrapers and the scaling of new heights. Skyscrapers by no means represent the most cost-effective way of building; but they carry considerable freight in terms of sheer visionary and symbolic power. They have frequently served as corporate images for large companies, and were as much monuments to powerful individuals and corporations as they were public “landmarks and icons of progress” (Nye 89). Within the context of the American technological sublime, they provided a vision of the city which materialized a new historical relationship between human beings and their environment. The new “body” that fuses nature and culture presents a historical vision of technological progress as a sequencing of objects. A new organism emerges, built out of materials wrested from nature. It tantalizes the viewer with a vision of the totality of civilization, expressed as Barthes’ “concrete abstraction.” (Nye 107)

Jencks contextualizes his postmodern theory after the fact and alludes to the latest scientific trends in order to lend his ideas credibility. He hints at Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” and to chaos theory as postmodern science, with ecology leading toward holism rather than specialization. 7

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Skyscrapers afford the vantage point for surveying the “city as a vast map,” with its various networks of streets and traffic patterns forming an abstract grid for pedestrian movements, now suddenly and naturalistically comparable to ants (105). The first entry into cyberspace in Neuromancer opens in similar terms: a kind of map or computer representation creates the same sense of empowerment and mastery because it provides a view of cyberspace from above, so to speak. But once the cyber-traveler is immersed in this space, he almost blends into the data structures in verbal and visual terms. He is suddenly faced with a huge wall of ice threatening to devour him; the vertical view that promised control and mastery is no longer a view at all, but a bewildering immersion and incorporation that entails the loss of a perceivable horizon from which the hero can be differentiated.8 The International Style’s industrial accoutrements of concrete, steel, and glass figure prominently in cyberpunk fiction. The particular way in which such building materials are presented attests to a certain critique of the implications inherent in modernity and its universalist claims. Concrete in cyberpunk texts is all-pervasive and frequently described as crumbled, cracked, or in ruins – quite unlike the myth of longevity which it was supposed to embody in modern architecture. Instead, organic matter is growing through the cracks, breaking up the rigid geometry of blocks and cubes. Squatters have subverted its anonymity by covering it with their signature graffiti. Similarly, steel is frequently revealed as rusted and decayed; it has not lived up to its structural expectations either. The geometrical, box-shaped buildings, which once represented a factory esthetic enhanced by concrete and steel, have now been converted into new habitats appropriated by diverse subcultures and street gangs, with only the scraps of modernity left as raw materials. Hutcheon considers the “recycling” of modern materials and elements to be one This initial plunge involves two different aspects of the sublime at once: one relying on the allusion to infinity and vastness beyond compare, which results from the horizontal, bird’s-eye perspective – and the other relying on the more vertical threat of an abyss, which is translated into the “edge” in most cyberpunk universes. 8

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of the strengths of postmodern architecture, because it “does not reject the technological and material advances of high modernism of the International Style: it cannot. But it can subvert its uniformity, its ahistoricity, its ideological and social aims – and consequences” (Poetics 60). Geodesic domes are certainly subject to this same impulse: once visionary, utopian, fictional artifacts inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s and Asimov’s vision of self-sufficient cities, they are now diverse subcultural groups, besieged and pilloried, in the cyberpunk universe.9 Le Corbusier’s call to follow the structure of machines in the design of mass housing emphasized the values of functionality and efficiency. The connections forged between machine and building to create a “machine for living in” extended to the borrowing of formal elements from automobile design. Le Corbusier believed that engineering and architecture were closely related, since both disciplines were expected to follow the universal laws of geometric form as well as to comply with the principles of economics and mathematics (202). In order to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, Le Corbusier devised the use of steel and concrete on a large scale. His vision of the city was influenced by American skyscrapers made from reinforced concrete, because he considered this material especially appropriate for a “revolution in the aesthetics of construction” (211). He wanted to “recover the grand line of tradition by a complete revision of the methods in vogue and by the fixing of a new basis of construction established in logic” (211). This emphasis on logic and rigid geometric form, symbolizing reason and order and enlightenment rationality, becomes the resource for the playfulness of postmodern architecture. In cyberspace, the high seriousness of the Le Corbusier legacy is sent up and Fuller, in his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, embeds his architectural theory and utopian thought in a general system theory reliant on cybernetics. From the “geodesic lines” of mathematics and topology he arrives at “geodesically structured thoughts,” thus also creating an identification between the structure of buildings and human existence, but on a more complex level than the functionalist and behaviorist implications of the International Style may reveal. 9

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dispersed into an architectural landscape that is dynamic, multifaceted, and fluid. The machine esthetic of modernist architecture is subverted by the organic, through rampant and unruly metaphors of growth such as “arcologies.” Arcologies for Asimov were geodesic domes that enclosed self-sufficient societies, and so functioned as an ideal representation of “the engineering of human souls.” But in Gibson’s Count Zero, arcologies acquire a less seamless image of perfection: The elevators were located at the core of the arcology, their shafts bundled together with water mains, sewage lines, huge power cables, […] You could see it all whenever the doors opened; everything was exposed, raw, as though the people who built the place had wanted to be able to see exactly how everything worked and what was going where. And everything, every visible surface, was covered with an interlocking net of graffiti, so dense and heavily overlaid that it was almost impossible to pick out any kind of message or symbol. (Count Zero 110)

The fact that “everything was exposed” hints at the design ethic behind modernist architecture, which is literally deconstructed by its (postmodern) users. All of the machinery inside the arcology is dysfunctional, the elevators out of order; but its inhabitants continue to occupy the interstices by forming subcultural enclaves, subtle hierarchies, and temporary allegiances. The factory as a model for modernist architecture is similarly subverted in Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive, where a “grid of unglazed steel” forms “Factory’s south wall” (10). Factory is a defunct industrial building, which now serves as a squat for the scrap artist Gentry. It represents the opposite of assembly lines, mass production, and efficiency. This shadow of its former purposeful glory contains an “outcropping of compacted cars, rusty pallets of crumpled steel” (15), scraps of which Gentry uses to construct giant kinetic sculptures while also searching for the “overall total form” of cyberspace (75). These sculptures or robots are assembled out of parts of old machinery, chainsaws and found objects from “rustbelt jersey” (41). They are remote-controlled and are employed to fight against each other as a means of testing their capabilities. Their names include Judge, Corpsegrinder, and Investigator, in accordance

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with their ultimate function as fighting machines against the Maas– Neotek corporation. Gibson’s rusting chainsaw robots represent a wry wink at science fiction history, with its dreams of automated progress liberating man from mindless labor. The trajectory from robot to android to cyborg by no means follows a straight line of development: it shifts from docile subservience to disturbing replication before finally becoming a superior life-form, a hybrid of man and machine with artificial intelligence as the extension of human nerves, memory, and physical strength. The subcultural enclaves that populate the in-between spaces of cyberpunk cities embrace the opposite of a uniform esthetic and style, openly rebelling against any attempt to impose one. Fashion for these inhabitants is more than a style fetish – it is the quasi-tribal construction of identities, a flag proclaiming group allegiances (e.g. “Her style must be a weapon, a shaped charge,” Hardwired 12). Consumer culture and computer technology are appropriated and adapted according to the principle that “the street finds its own uses for things” (Count Zero 69, “Burning Chrome” 186). It represents the punk attitude against authority in its several subversions of high culture, high technology, and high fashion. The punk sensibility imports anarchic creativity and the politics of chaos into the esthetic of cyberpunk fiction. The metonymy of “the street,” which ultimately refers to people conducting business in outdoor municipal spaces, suggests an ambiguously amoral ‘urban jungle’ following its own laws of nature. It is no accident that most cyberpunk novels posit an apocalyptic event in the prehistory of their stories, separating the reader’s present from the fictional near-future portrayed in the fiction. Whether the result of natural disaster or war, these dire events are frequently described as man-made catastrophes, proceeding from the excesses of the arms race or the pursuit of ‘progress’. The ruins of modern architecture often provide the building materials and habitats for the next generation, who do not necessarily recognize their original semiotic context. The new environment is never a clean slate, nor does it carry the promise of a phoenix rising out of the ashes, since such optimism is considered unwarranted or naive (see the Eclipse

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trilogy). Even if the meaning attached to the ruins is lost to the new generation, its scraps are nevertheless incorporated into new structures or invested with new meanings. But it is up to the reader to piece together all the associations of the “old world,” both fictional and real – be they references to real landmarks in New York, or fictional cities and buildings. For instance, in Womack’s Ambient the Statue of Liberty is described as amputated: she has lost an arm during a traumatic war. This detail assumes a symbolic meaning in the context of the book and the other volumes loosely linked to it (Terraplane, Elvissey, Random Acts of Senseless Violence). It relates to the loss of liberty in a world governed and controlled wholly by the Dryco corporation. Cities are zoned, and free movement is restricted and dangerous due to warring factions and random executions on the streets. But the ‘amputated’ monument also stands for the loss of limbs characteristic of the Ambient subculture, whose first members were the mutated victims of a nuclear meltdown on Long Island, New York. The group subsequently grew to include real mutants as well as voluntary amputees burning to join their cause. The Ambient style of speech reflects the radicalized stumps of their bodies, running toward fragments from Shakespeare and other cryptic shards of poetic diction, in sharp contrast to the hyper-functional, hyper-correct bizspeak of the Dryco corporation (e.g. “He gives good behavior when publicked,” Ambient 36).10 Thus Enid, an ambient, speaks in poetic paraphrases: “What sinks your lids so low?” or “Does the pain burn diamond sharp?” and “The nightmare rides you hard, but at morningshade you’re left whole and freshly dewed” (66). The post-apocalyptic urban sprawls of cyberpunk fiction display a fascination with borderlines, twilight zones and dark alleys between official culture (usually global and corporate) and street subcultures (usually local, anarchic, and semi-legal). Such a social universe reflects the virtual disappearance of the nation-state and welfare system: “Ninsei was like a deranged experiment in social

Other instances of corporate language are: “I’ve decisioned” (14), “Don’t alone streetways” (14). 10

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Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button” (Neuromancer 7). As a result, black markets for human organs, technology, and information thrive and proliferate. The multinational zaibatsus (e.g. in Gibson’s Neuromancer, Sterling’s Schismatrix) or infinitely wealthy families, clans, and individuals (the Tessier–Ashpool clan in Neuromancer, Virek in Count Zero, the Dryco corporation in Womack’s books) represent the enemy to the cyberpunk hero. Here the separation between corporation and family has become utterly blurred: they are now modeled on each other, to the extent that the corporation is represented as a hive or a life form unto itself. Cyberpunks are thus forced to operate in the interstitial spaces or gray zones between legal and illegal, black and white magic, the city and the fringe, earth and outer space colonies (see “Chiba” or “Night City” in Neuromancer, “Freezone” in Shirley’s Eclipse and his short story “Freezone”). The translucent and clean sense of geometry peculiar to the fluid and dynamic domain of cyberspace stands in stark opposition to the junk and decay littering the external urban environment. All symbolic architecture within cyberspace points to the stain of power and wealth. The international style in architecture promoted the renunciation of decoration (Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more”) and ornament (Adolf Loos’s “ornament is crime”), thus representing a radical break with the baroque and Victorian styles. In contrast, postmodern architecture honors the hybrid as its design principle, with “complexity and contradiction” opening new possibilities for pluralism in both form and appeal (see Venturi). Postmodern design problematizes the “mass” by dismantling the city and the environment into discrete but interlaced networks (see Portoghesi’s “urban fabric”). In Postmodern, Portoghesi regards postmodern architecture as “a plurality of tendencies directed toward an escape from the crisis of the Modern Movement with a radical refusal of its logic of development,” i.e. a refusal of modernism’s “attempt to construct a linear function of architectural progress” (308; 311). He calls for a multiplicity of layers and values. According to Portoghesi, “the postmodern condition is gradually substituting the concreteness of small

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circumstantiated struggles with its precise objectives capable of having a great effect because they change systems of relations” (312). He advocates a “return to the study of the city as a complex phenomenon” (312). “Every day, we witness the collapse and changes of the great central systems with which we deluded ourselves that everything could be explained” (314). More specifically, he refers approvingly to Lyotard’s “incredulity toward metanarratives.” Wolfgang Welsch also emphasizes the values of multiplicity and plurality, which cannot be controlled or mastered in the postmodern debate on architecture and its theory. The very desire to achieve total control or mastery seems contrary to the idea of the postmodern (114). Welsch reveals another myth of modern architecture: the paradox of functionalism, which echoes the slogan “form follows function.” He claims that architects and designers did not find a suitable form for a specific purpose – instead, they invented the cause they claimed to serve. It was the buildings and their appearance that ultimately forced society and modern architecture into homogeneous form; the buildings came first, dictating the values that came later. Modern architecture ended up imposing its own social ideal on its buildings’ inhabitants, but sought to legitimate itself through an avant-garde discourse. The myth of form following function is also exposed in Gibson’s “The Gernsback Continuum.” Here a photographer is searching for American gas stations from the 1920s and 1930s as examples for a popular history book that he is compiling, with the working title “The Air Stream Futuropolis: The Tomorrow That Never Was” (24). The structural lie and pseudo-scientific principle are simultaneously revealed: “For the most part, the change was only skin-deep; under the streamlined chrome shell, you’d find the same Victorian mechanism” (25). Cyberpunk hints at the failure of the modern idea of mass culture through its postmodern fragmentation and proliferation of colorful spaces and subcultures. The whole notion of mass society is a modern invention largely fostered by recent advances in communication, advertising, and the media. For instance, the concept of a mass audience emerged as the byproduct of early television criti-

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cism, and became identified as a watchword from the Frankfurt School’s critique of the mass media.11 However, concepts like ‘mass society’ are disdained by most postmodern criticism in favor of less ideologically charged concepts such as context, interaction, situated knowledge and complexity. Multiplicity and complexity are realized as concretized abstractions in cyberpunk fiction, rather than being embodied at the level of narration. Cyberpunk writers often hint at these complex, fluid constructs by legitimating them with theories of scientific complexity, non-linear dynamics, or fractal geometry (e.g. Sterling’s Schismatrix, Rucker’s fractals). Such meta-imagery evolves into an identifiable common denominator of the postmodern, with all of its attendant ambiguities of ultimate value.

Double Coding: Complexity and Contradiction To this day I would define Post-Modernism as I did in 1978 as double coding – the combination of modern techniques with something else (usually traditional building) in order for architecture to communicate with the public and a concerned minority, usually other architects. The point of this double coding was itself double. Modern architecture had failed to remain credible partly because it didn’t communicate effectively with its ultimate users – the main argument of my book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture – and partly because it didn’t make effective links with the city and history. Thus the solution I perceived and defined as postmodern: an architecture that was professionally based and popular as well as one that was based on new techniques and old patterns. Double coding to simplify means both elite/popular and new/old and there are compelling reasons for these opposite pairings. (Jencks, “Postmodern vs. Late-Modern 4) Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in Dialektik der Aufklärung see mass culture as an industry or function of mass consumption. Mike Davis, in his detailed and impeccably researched City of Quartz, contextualizes their cultural critique, attributing it to Adorno and Horkheimer’s outsider status in American society during their years of exile from Germany, which discouraged them from analyzing much of the local culture (48–54). 11

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Like Lyotard, Charles Jencks sees postmodernism as both “the continuation of modernism and its transcendence” (“Postmodern vs. Late-Modern” 5). Although he refers mostly to architecture, Jencks acknowledges the fact that postmodernism includes a “plural set of departures from modernism” and denies that there is such a thing as one “postmodern style” (9). He concludes with an extensive list of criteria comparing modern, late-modern and postmodern – a list that cannot necessarily be transferred to other disciplines. However, the underlying feature of postmodernism is defined as “a pluralism both philosophical and stylistic, and a dialectical or critical relation to a pre-existing ideology” (9). This explains the frequent coexistence of old and new elements, the juxtaposition of styles and formal elements associated with previous epochs in one building or one work. Robert Venturi in his Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture follows the same line of argument; however, his theory is more concerned with the creative tension and incommensurability that arise between different discourses in radical juxtaposition. Hutcheon also elaborates her postmodern poetics on the model of double coding derived from architecture, taking it to mean complicitous critique, as exemplified by the rhetorical strategies of parody and irony, which inscribe one discourse while simultaneously questioning and undermining it. This can work synchronically in the inscription of different discourses, as well as diachronically in the bringing together of diverse time-frames from history, fiction, and other discourses; this is why historiographic metafiction plays such a pivotal role in her theory and analysis. Hutcheon not only employs the notion of double coding on the level of rhetoric but takes it further by pointing out the inherent political attitudes implied by these strategies of resistance, which ultimately deny closure and any process of “dialectic in the postmodern” (Poetics x). A dialectical process requires distinct binary oppositions – distinctions undermined by the postmodern, which tends to privilege the hybrid and dialogic (Bakhtin), notions that refuse synthesis and allow for the coexistence of difference.

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Hal Foster distinguishes between affirmative (i.e. conservative) postmodernism and resistant postmodernism.12 Hutcheon aligns herself with postmodern resistance because she is self-consciously aware of her position as someone both implicated in and complicitous with the system in question. Her defense of irony and parody aims at subverting the system of mimetic representation from within, thus approaching certain deconstructionist strategies. Irony is a safeguard and inoculation against nostalgia (Hutcheon, Poetics 39). But according to Jameson, parody and irony reduce the postmodern to pastiche, nostalgia, and surface; they are symptoms of the dominance of postmodern space over the “great high modernist thematics of time and temporality” (Postmodernism 17–19; 16). Hutcheon notes that irony and parody inscribe doubleness, selfreflexivity, and critique, while always remaining situated or localized in a specific discourse which they simultaneously challenge, undermine, and erode. The two rhetorical strategies of irony and parody thus make possible the “critical distance” that Jameson claims has been “abolished in the new space of postmodernism” (Postmodernism 48). Irony and parody within cyberpunk rely on the incorporation of images, names, and artists from the history of science fiction. Subtle subversions of certain building materials such as concrete, glass, and steel can be read as an implicit critique of the International Style in architecture and its cherished notion of progress. The modernist myth of progress is more explicitly undermined through parodic references to early science fiction, particularly as it appeared in the early pulp magazines, which demonstrated a touchingly naive faith in technology. Simultaneity or “communication at various levels at once” (Jencks 16) can work temporally as well, as Hutcheon superbly illusHuyssen also asks to “redefine the possibilities of critique in postmodern terms rather than relegating it to oblivion. If the postmodern is discussed as a historical condition rather than only as style it becomes possible and indeed important to unlock the critical moment in postmodernism itself and to sharpen its cutting edge, however blunt it may seem at first sight” (After the Great Divide 182). 12

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trates in her succinct analysis of historical metafiction. Proceeding from a model of historiographic metafiction, she observes that the postmodern novel “always works within conventions in order to subvert them” (Poetics 5). The image of the future as a history that has not yet happened has become a referent of the past, a specific science fiction past as it imagines the future. Science fiction films of the 1980s like Terminator or Blade Runner seem scripted within cyberpunk settings, where “fragments of our decayed world are almost a cliché,” encapsulated in the image of the modern city as “garbage dump” (Franklin 30). This produces the tension between the decaying ruins of the external world and the glittering technological space projected inside cyberspace. We must be careful to interpret subversions of the science fiction genre and its conventions, tropes, and key symbols as a pattern of generic limits and presuppositions, the better to account for the new generic variation of cyberspace. Particular conjunctions and displacements of time/space or chronotopes (Suvin) play a vital role in establishing a new sense of generic identity. These cyberpunk landscapes, which emerge from detailed descriptions of a new chronotope, represent fictional universes that are more important than the actual story, plot, or characters set therein. What often functions as background in mainstream fiction becomes the foreground in science fiction, with the characters often relegated to the background because of their stereotypicality. They merely serve as focalizors (see Bal), cameras that move through the landscape, which is literally the case with Arti in Sterling’s Artificial Kid. Science fiction always entails at least two fictional worlds that differ from one another; these can be parallel, inset, or alternative time lines. McHale has mentioned Foucault’s heterotopia, but prefers to call these typically postmodern, “incongruous,” “incommensurable,” and “heteroclite” spaces, zones or interzones – a characterization that certainly applies to Pynchon and Burroughs (Postmodernist Fiction 44).13 McHale argues along the same lines as HutFoucault, in his preface to The Order of Things, distinguishes heterotopias from utopias. Utopias “have no real locality” but can unfold undisturbed, whereas in heterotopias the tension and doubleness that are 13

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cheon, except that he places the process of double coding on the ontological level of fictional worlds: The space of a fictional world is a construct, just as the characters and objects that occupy it are, or the actions that unfold within it. Typically, in realist and modernist writing, this spatial construct is organized around a perceiving subject, either a character or the viewing position adopted by a disembodied narrator. The heterotopian zone of postmodernist writing cannot be organized in this way, however. Space here is less constructed than deconstructed by the text, or rather constructed and deconstructed at the same time. Postmodernist fiction draws upon a number of strategies for constructing/deconstructing space, among them juxtaposition, interpolation, superimposition, and misattribution. (Postmodernist Fiction 45)

Cyberpunk does not do away with time; unlike previous science fiction, it does not extrapolate or speculate about the far future. It is grounded in a near future, separated from our present by a fictional apocalyptic event. Cyber-heroes resemble McHale’s “perceiving subject” in realist writing, because they are literally disembodied whenever they travel through cyberspace. Cyberpunk worlds are at the very least double – including both the urban sprawls of the framing narrative, and the cyber-worlds of the inset narrative. However, cyber-worlds, because of the digital paradigm, can also contain versions of the framing narrative world, thus reversing the opposition of container/contained, framing and inset or parallel narrative – in theory at least, if not in practice. This potential has not yet been exploited by cyberpunk fiction (although some of it has been realized in the film Strange Days). Of course, these two fictional worlds of framing and inset/ parallel universe are already hybrids. The urban environment is characteristically a mix of city names and landmarks from the reader’s and writer’s real-life acquaintance, as well as fictional architecture (such as arcologies or geodesics). Cyber-worlds by definition included are “disturbing, probably because they secretly undermine language, because they make it impossible to name this and that, because they shatter or tangle common names, because they destroy ‘syntax’ in advance, [...] also that less apparent syntax which causes words and things (next to and also opposite one another) to ‘hold together’ ” (xviii).

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can contain any computer-generated world, including the framing fictional world as reproduction. In verbal, descriptive terms this might be hopeless to distinguish, except for certain helpful transition markers in the text which signal a change in style or language (e.g. Marîd Audran’s insertion of a character module in Effinger’s When Gravity Fails initiates a transition in register to the hardboiled detective style). The transition from one world to another is provided by a brief verbal clue, such as “jacking in,” flipping a switch, plugging in, or hooking up to a computer console, thus abolishing the need for the description of a traveling device such as a spacecraft – because the real body can seemingly be left behind and the mind transported to a different context. During this moment in transit, the mind can access distant destinations via data networks, which then teleport or immerse one’s consciousness in the other space and suggest a new representation for the body. Finally, this new virtual body enters into interaction and dialogue with other characters/players. Cyberpunk offers a uniquely fluid capacity to change gender, name, age, culture, race, role, and personality in the process of moving from one world into another (see Turkle).14 Both spaces, urban and virtual, are presented as complex domains with difficult borders, fractal geometries, and a multiplicity of cultures. What Iain Chambers has observed about the city of London holds true for these cyberpunk spaces as well: The city exists as a series of doubles: it has official and hidden cultures, it is a real place and a site of the imagination. Its elaborate network of streets, housing, public buildings, transport systems, parks and shops is paralleled by a complex of attitudes, habits, customs, expectancies, and hopes that reside in us as urban subjects. We discover that urban ‘reality’ is not singular but multiple, that inside the city there is always another city. (183)

Turkle has analyzed the constructive aspect of so-called “multi-user dungeons,” or virtual reality environments as shared social spaces that also contain artificial reality programs, as a new space for the “working through” of issues of intimacy and identity as well as “gender swapping.” 14

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The urban environment functions as a prefiguration of cyberspace (its neon lights, arcades, street grids, and traffic flows semantically preparing the construction of cyberspace); depending on what is mapped by whom, it is a corporate (power) structure or a criminal/ subcultural ecology. Personas, roles or personalities can be equally complex, superimposed, and overlaid; a single identity cannot always easily be deduced. For instance, Rebel the “persona bum” and Eucrasia the neuro-scientist in Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers end up in one body, their memories struggling for dominance. Jerry Wirerammer in Cadigan’s Mindplayers copies, clones, and mutates his persona beyond recognition in order to avoid being tracked down by the authorities and to escape death. The three women in Cadigan’s Fools, an actor, an undercover cop, and a memory junkie – Marva, Marceline, Mersine – are all trapped within one body, with extra supplements of identity entering through their jobs. It is virtually impossible to distinguish them, because they all narrate in the first person. Although the typeface of the three narrative strands helps the reader to distinguish the voices, they intrude into each other’s ‘awareness’ or narrative. The entailed presupposition is that personalities, personas, and minds are perceived in terms of software and are thus fully encodable in computer data, which makes it possible to transfer them from body to body but also from computer into its projected space. Ultimately, the notion of double coding proves too binary to be useful beyond the theoretical constraints and concerns of architecture. Even Jencks speaks of “hybrid language” as the “style of PostModern architecture” (“Death” 472). Hybridity has been applied to diverse areas of discourse: computer science and engineering, media and communication theory (McLuhan), postcolonial theory, and feminism (Haraway).15 Irmela Schneider observes that all of these variations on hybridity have a common denominator, in that they enable a higher degree of complexity by combining different models

These different uses of the term ‘hybrid’ have been surveyed by Schneider in her introduction to Hybridkultur. 15

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and processes (19). Paradoxically, too much hybridity leads to a reduction in that very complexity, once it has become a habituated lumping-together forgetful of its rich historical context (58). Most importantly, the discourse of hybridity can provide a new theory of social and cultural change that does not follow linear patterns of development and succession; the hybrid imagines the possibility joining temporally heterogeneous forms or Ungleichzeitigkeiten. The theory of non-linear mathematics and the geometry of fractals have become commonplaces in popular science and science fiction alike, but they have also entered the parlance of philosophical and literary theories (see Lyotard and Hayles; see also Broderick’s use of “strange attractors” as a model for the genre of science fiction). It represents a new metanarrative for postmodernism, without staking any instant claim to unity, totality, and linear progress. In cyberpunk fiction, these concepts do not refer to the organization of the narrative (because cyberpunk fiction cannot be considered as having a non-linear organization in the way that hypertext or multimedia cybertexts do). Such concepts refer instead to the semantics within the narrative.16

Liquid Architecture: A Poetics of Cyberspace A liquid architecture in cyberspace is clearly a dematerialized architecture. It is an architecture that is no longer satisfied with only space and form and light and all the aspects of the real world.

Aarseth’s concept of cybertext does not “limit itself to the study of computer-driven (or ‘electronic’) textuality” but “focuses on the mechanical organization of the text” including text, images, and sound (1). He distinguishes clearly between the organization of the narrative and its semantics, both of which are frequently confused in what he calls the “spacio-dynamic metaphors of narrative theory” (4). Of course, the actual reading path chosen by one particular reader will always be of a linear nature; however, the abstract representation of entire texts with all their possibilities, of which only some will be actualized by the reader, represents a viable network of interrelated items. See also Landow’s map of storyspace universes (111). 16

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It is an architecture of fluctuating relations between abstract elements. It is an architecture that tends to music [...]. This fundamental transformability suggests a liquidity in what was once the most concrete of the arts and requires the use of the plural: Architectures. (Novak 251–52)

Marcus Novak applies the term “liquid architecture” to a range of disciplines and concepts that includes architecture (models, spaces, buildings), mathematics (topology), and computer science (animated simulation, ray tracing, fractal geometry). He writes a new form of architectural history, one that is conscious of its roots in a visionary tradition of “architecture for architecture’s sake.” As an imaginary world it possesses the same ontological status as fiction, although it uses a different grammar and vocabulary of forms and materials. Liquid architecture is related to a branch of experimental architecture which explores the new ‘immaterial’ medium of data processed by computers, otherwise known as virtual worlds constructed via Virtual Reality Markup Language (V R M L ). Thanks to this new technological capability, architectural relations can be postulated and expanded “without explicit reference to external reality” in the same imaginative tradition as the great modernist avant-garde artists (such as Malevich, Marinetti, Mondrian, Klee, and Kandinsky) (Novak 245). The examples of Gropius and Lebbeus Woods (who first envisioned “anti-gravity” architecture) and Piranesi (whose drawings of prisons represented an ultimately unbuildable architecture) are other important (if often unsung) precursors. In his investigation of the limits of architecture, Michael Menser calls Lebbeus Woods’s blueprints for heterogeneous structures and free spaces a new species of “anarchitecture.” Woods characteristically sketches parasitic, temporary, and irregular structures to cover urban interstices, in a definitive break with the Cartesian space of the grid in the direction of the “projective rather than the progressive” dimension of architecture (Menser 302). Woods himself describes his Berlin Free-Zone project as a new matrix of potentialities and possibilities. Built on the free dialogue of self-inventing individuals, nurtured by their continual spontaneity and play, the Free-Zone is a parallel culture by definition, parallel to one of conformity and predictability. But it will be

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tolerated only so long as it can remain hidden. It will survive in the new, commercialized center of Berlin only so long as its inhabitants maintain their wit and quickness, so long as they are free performers in a self-organizing and secret circus, a cybernetic circus. (quoted in Menser 288)

Woods’s project represents one of the few attempts to envision and construct a non-Cartesian description of space. But the legacy of Descartes still dominates the spatial code of virtual spaces, including Gibson’s fictional depiction of cyberspace (Stone 104). David Thomas concurs with Michel Serres’ insight that Euclidean space is the master space of Western culture, manifesting itself in “the geometry of vision, the road, the building, and the machine” (“Old Rituals” 34). References to fractals or the geometric figure of a Möbius strip, on the other hand, signal an often disorienting shift toward other geometric paradigms and new levels of complexity. The fictional architecture which frames and prefigures cyberspace is usually set in urban interzones or underground enclaves reminiscent of the hardboiled detective genre. Many cyberpunk writers exploit the hardboiled model for both setting and style (preeminently Gibson, Cadigan, Effinger and, to some extent, Williams and Womack). For example, the “free zone” in Shirley’s short story by the same name is a “floating city,” or “urban raft,” which “shelters a few semi-illicit hangers-on” (141, 142). The hardboiled milieu is frequently reduced to the metonymy of “the street,” where “the street finds its own uses for things” at the interstices of corporate and individual / public and private space or official and underground culture: right at a moral ground zero, “in the interzone where art isn’t quite crime, crime not quite art” (Neuromancer 44).17 Effinger’s trilogy (When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss) similarly exploits links between the hardboiled detective genre and certain traits of the cyberpunk genre. Here a killer is on the loose, and only the stereotypical cyberpunk hero can catch and outsmart him by means of “plug-in personality modules” (chips that This ‘street’ metonymy appears as early as Gibson’s short story “Burning Chrome,” which first introduces the elements that later appear in Neuromancer, such as I C E (186). 17

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slot into his implanted brain sockets and endow him with temporary knowledge of foreign languages, street-fighting techniques, or effective investigative methods). While Effinger’s novels do not project a coherent cyberspace in which characters can interact with each other, they still suggest great intertextual possibilities without departing from the generic framework of science fiction – since Effinger’s personality modules are derived straight from “fictional characters, or real people, recorded right from their brains or reconstructed by clever programmers,” ranging from James Bond to Charles Manson (When Gravity Fails 85). V R M L , the language used to construct the illusion of threedimensional space behind or inside the computer screen, empowers the user to modify the objects in that virtual space and to construct new entities without knowing the codes of that language. These 3D worlds are similar in principle to text-based multi-user environments (MUD s or multi-user dungeons) except that they represent an interactive space with three-dimensional objects. Potentially, at least, it is a “user-driven, self-organizing system” (Novak 234). Nonetheless, certain rules are written into the very syntax and algorithms of the V R M L language. When viewed on a computer screen, these threedimensional objects appear as geometric wire frames that can be covered in a number of surfaces (ray tracing). These surfaces are frequently based on condensed fractal algorithms which can achieve the highest degree of verisimilitude or realistic effect in the representation of clouds or trees, because they generate highly complex patterns. The illusion is further enhanced when a user is immersed in this virtual space by means of a body suit or glove that provides feedback between the projected computed space and the movements of the body projected into that space. A head-mounted display, helmet, or goggles eliminates the perception of a frame and so enhances still further the illusion of full immersion in a seamless virtual environment. Eye-movement is also measured and fed into the computer, so that shifts in perspective can be translated into a change of position in artificial space. The virtual traveler thus becomes part of the environment: he is represented in terms of data and can choose an avatar to register his new identity. His percep-

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tions are controlled by a menu of selections, such as scale, the constellation of objects, or a detailed range of surfaces. He is no longer confined to the limitations of his own body, exercising a wider arc of perception and movement. Virtual space enables and encloses new spaces, based on paradigms beyond those binding us to gravity and other scientific principles on earth. The uses to which these virtual spaces can be put are manifold, ranging from science and architecture and the industrial–military complex to pornography and the entertainment industry. All of these diverse applications function as environments for groundbreaking models of thought.18 However, Novak and most of the other contributors to the Cyberspace: First Steps anthology do not distinguish between virtualreality environments created by computation and fictional cyberspaces projected by cyberpunk writers. The latter are not bound by technical difficulties such as smooth real-time motion and level of surface detail, which rely on immense computing power and can be just as easily evoked by verbal means. Computer-generated virtual worlds differ significantly in terms of material, effect, and interactive potential from the purely fictional worlds of cyberspace. On the other hand, V R M L -generated cyberspace shares at least one crucial quality with the fictional architecture or cyberspace of cyberpunk: both senses of space constitute “an invented world; [which] requires a ‘physics,’ ‘subjects’ and ‘objects’, ‘processes’, ‘a full ecology’ ” (Novak 234). A traveler through both the computer-driven and the book-driven domains of cyberspace changes the attributes of temporary objects and so effects a re-ordering, which results in the “transfiguration of the environment” (235). The reader must imagine or concretize an environment in which the action can take place, but in the actual narrative he cannot choose between different The history of virtual-reality technology goes back to military, medical, and architectural practices of simulation, devices that enable remotecontrolled action by robots in dangerous environments, as well as videogame technology and pornography. For more detailed views, see Wolley’s Virtual Worlds, Rheingold’s Virtual Reality, de Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, Laurel’s Computers as Theatre, Heim’s “The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace” and The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. 18

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paths. The only networks that he encounters are those between semantic fields constructed out of literalized metaphors, not different paths in the narrative plot. Neither the entertainment function nor the action-adventure nature of the narrative lends itself to multiple or open endings. An emerging “topology of perceived interconnected cyberspaces need not have any direct connection to that of the array of support computers, since the cyberspaces are perceived, not actual spaces” (Novak 237). Certainly Gibson’s sense of cyberspace, described as a “consensual hallucination,” is just such a perceived space. “Hallucination” is an altered state of perception with certain ties to a previous generation’s experience with drugs as consciousnessenhancing and mind-expanding. Timothy Leary’s move from the promotion of soft drugs in the 1960s to the promotion of virtual reality in the late 1980s attests to this enduring connection.19 Robert Markley is particularly critical of a tendency to cloak virtual technology in “millenarian rhetoric […] recasting the legacy of the 1960s counterculture” (57). He considers the discourse surrounding cyberspace as a “metaphysical construct, shot through with the assumptions and values of an idealist philosophy” and deplores the “rhetorical jump cuts between technological jargon and mystical incantations: these leaps of faith from the still-primitive technologies of virtual reality to the fictional realm of seamless human– machine symbiosis” (57). A related flaw creeps into Baudrillard’s analysis in “Simulacra and Simulations.” Here he conflates the effects of the old new media (mainly television and advertising) with science fiction and fiction (Borges). He draws the conclusion that [a]bstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a I attended one of Leary’s presentations at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto in 1991, when he referred to Gibson and presented a number of virtual-reality researchers and their projects. Leary stands for the radical democratic view of virtual reality and the electronic media as tools of empowerment and liberation. See also Leary’s contribution to Storming the Reality Studio (245–58). 19

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referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory [...]. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself. (166)

Once he has replaced the real by the model, there is nothing to hinder him from projecting these notions onto his analysis of ‘real’ places such as Disneyland and elevating them to a prime symptom of malaise for the entirety of American culture (172). The real as replaced by the simulacrum becomes unreal, ultimately, through Baudrillard’s own lack of discrimination and serious occupation with the American landscape, which he perceives exclusively through his knowledge of European city spaces: “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself” (167). The terms ‘hyperreality’ and ‘hyperspace’ are too closely tied to his negative teleology (as questionable as their feeble recuperation through the “passivity” of the “silent masses”) and will therefore be left aside here, because they do not contribute to the analysis of the fictional presentation of cyberspace. Cyberspace bears a different relation to reality than that of substitution; it highlights the constructed nature of all reality and represents a further stage in the departure from the mimetic code in science fiction. Too easy an acceptance of hyperreality also encourages the misconceptions clustering around the “disembodiment of the human” (Dery, Escape Velocity 6). Nonetheless, Baudrillard is frequently cited in discussions of cyberpunk literature (e.g. by Bukatman), and his version of hyperreality is imported clumsily by Jameson into the postmodern debate. Hyperspace (originally a description of architecture) now becomes synonymous with the “new postmodern space” (Postmodernism 37).20 Here is Jameson’s example of the Bonaventure hotel: Jameson misreads Warhol’s screen prints as rendering the “object world” into “simulacra” (9), which supports his analysis of postmodernity 20

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… the glass skin repels the city outside, a repulsion for which we have analogies in those reflector sunglasses which make it impossible for your interlocutor to see your own eyes and thereby achieve a certain aggressivity toward and power over the Other. In a similar way, the glass skin achieves a peculiar and placeless dissociation of the Bonaventure from its neighborhood: it is not even an exterior, inasmuch as when you seek to look at the hotel’s outer walls you cannot see the hotel itself but only the distorted images of everything that surrounds it [...] You are in this hyperspace up to your eyes and your body; and if it seemed before that that suppression of depth I spoke of in postmodern painting or literature would necessarily be difficult to achieve in architecture itself, perhaps this bewildering immersion may now serve as the formal equivalent in the new medium. (Jameson, Postmodernism 42–43)

Jameson rhetorically personifies the building and focusses only on its outside, the reflective surface of its “skin,” which then creates the optical illusion of immersion. The connection with reflector sunglasses or mirrorshades (one of cyberpunk’s trademark motifs) is no coincidence,21 Jameson also takes pains to describe cyberpunk as “an expression of transnational corporate realities” and of “global paranoia” where “William Gibson’s representational innovations [...] mark his work as an exceptional literary realization within a predominantly visual or aural postmodern production” (38). Jameson concludes that “postmodern hyperspace […] has finally succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and cognitively, to map its position in a mappable external world” – as a “waning of affect” (11), with depth being “replaced by surface, or by multiple surfaces” (12), ultimately leading to everything being reduced to “the omnipresence of pastiche” (18). “The new spatial logic of the simulacrum” (18) prompts him to claim that we “now inhabit the synchronic rather than the diachronic” and that our daily experience is “dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time” (16), culminating in our current “crisis of historicity” (25). 21 Sterling in his Preface to Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology: “This movement was quickly recognized and given many labels: Radical Hard SF, the Outlaw Technologists, the Eighties Wave, the Neuromantics, the Mirrorshades Group” (ix).

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in short, to mistake fiction for reality (44). Without openly acknowledging it, Jameson borrows Baudrillard’s notion of hyperreality and projects it onto his analysis of postmodern space. He derives his emphasis on the reflecting surface from an ill-chosen example of architecture, which most might consider an example of high or late modernism and not postmodernism at all – thus inadvertently scapegoating the very thing he seeks to defend. His argument finally falters on a naive projection of cyberpunk fiction back onto the postmodern evils of capitalism. These several spectacular pitfalls attest to the necessity of distinguishing between the fiction of cyberspace and the rhetoric of cyberspace in cultural discourse, which all too often conflates science fiction with cultural analysis. Computer visualization programs or virtual walk-throughs of future cities represent the latest developments in liquid architecture, an art form sufficient unto itself and utterly devoid of reference to actual applications. “Liquid” in this context refers to the process of modeling, transformation, and self-organization, as well as to experimentation with simulating different stages, viewpoints, and iterations. It also incorporates the previously ignored fourth dimension of time as an element of architecture. This temporal modeling resembles the dynamic, animistic, and organic processes in nature as mediated and recorded by film (such as slow-motion, stop-motion and fast-motion photography, which capture time lapses in movement or development and growth). Novak sees the “liquid” aspect as a “new concreteness” – a virtual concreteness for trying out abstract ideas and manipulating them as if they were real or material (227). In these “embodied fictions” which construct “a habitat for the imagination” he sees a reformulation of the philosophical mind– body split where the body is placed “in spaces invented entirely by the mind” (225; 227). The textual, fictional equivalent of this space, I suggest, is cyberspace. However, in cyberpunk fiction such space is not a graphic representation but a linguistic–semantic construction. The reader synthesizes or concretizes cyberspace out of interactions and exchanges between known semantic fields, tipped off by the metaphoric process of transferral. Its entire structure or organization is not graspable as a whole.

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Novak calls liquid architecture “animistic, animated, metamorphic, […] crossing categorical boundaries, applying the cognitively supercharged operations of poetic thinking” (250). Such a description recalls the poetic effect achieved by special effects or morphing in film, which underwent exponential growth in science fiction films of the 1980s owing to the increased affordability of computing power (see, for example, The Abyss, Terminator I and II) The Terminator films were especially innovative in presenting morphing techniques as monstrous deformations of the human body: as the cyborgs turn into liquid metal, fragmenting and reconstituting themselves, they display their liquid architecture and their synthetic human and machine nature. Similarly, the shape shifter in the Star Trek Deep Space Nine television series (known as Odo) transforms his extremities into weapons and converts his entire body into household objects, when he does not choose to hide himself in walls or picture frames or transform himself into an animal. These liquid bodies enact the art of camouflage as a pure function of the will, literally merging with their environment. The better they are hidden, the greater the surprise or shock effect when their presence is suddenly revealed to the viewer. The seamless transformation or metamorphosis from A to B is an impossible geometric conversion, a mapping of two disparate entities onto each other by mathematical computation. The animism, organicism, and personification of cyberspace are special effects of metaphors, creating the liquid architecture of cyberspace as an entirely verbal byproduct. Gibson’s description of cyberspace begins with a prefiguration of the main character’s painful exclusion from it. It is composed of a synthesis of images related to his perception of Chiba (sky, neon, growth of junk, towering domes, streamlined ideograms), the chrome shuriken stars, his orgasmic experience, memories of the arcade with Linda Lee (lights, grids, battles), and pursuit in a dark alley. Perceiving the city in terms of cyberspace, [Case would] see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void […] and it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded

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him of proteins linking to distinguish cell specialties [...]. all around you the dance of biz, information interaction, data made flesh in the mazes of the black market. (Neuromancer 4; 16)

When Case first enters cyberspace it is focalized through him as follows: [I]n the bloodlit dark behind his eyes, silver phosphenes boiling in from the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking past like film compiled from random frames. Symbols, figures, faces, a blurred fragmented mandala of visual information [...] A gray disk, the color of Chiba sky [...] Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of paler gray. Expanding – And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country … (Neuromancer 52)

The double or multi-coding of objects through metaphoric transfer and the interaction of semantic fields is an inherent quality of the information space of virtual reality, where “any entity [...] can provide several levels of information: information about something else, information about itself, information about the observer, information about the surrounding environment, and global information” (Novak 240). The coming into existence of cyberspace is linked to Case’s internalization and perception of that space. It is embodied in active verbs evoking the older, better-known medium of film (“like film compiled from random frames”) and expresses ritual entry into cyberspace through the abstraction of the city and outside universe as “blurred fragmented mandala of visual information,” where “mandala” is defined as a mystic circle or symbolic map of his spiritual universe. Objects are perceived in terms of organisms that change and represent a node of information, an intersection between several symbolic layers. For example, Case has a dream of a wasp hive that he superimposes on the Tessier–Ashpool corporation and its palace in outer space. To achieve longevity, their family members have been fused, creating the artificial intelligences Wintermute and Neuromancer, which have become independent life-forms through self-organization. The Tessier–Ashpool’s corporation as life-form is enhanced through the image of the wasp hive with its hierarchic social structure. This dream analogy is

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metaphorically transferred onto the architecture of their habitat in outer space. Their “space station” looks like a spindle, in whose tip they have built their “nest” or empire. Like the wasp hive, their home in outer space is a self-reliant structure with a similar hierarchical organization to that of a bee society. The core where the queen resides is protected by the outer layers. The Tessier–Ashpool’s “heart” is the black box computer that stores all the informational secrets: namely, the “magic” formula to unite the two artificial intelligences. Cyberspace is a space that Case can enter and inhabit; it is dependent on a subject that perceives and moves around in order for the space to emerge at all.22 The ‘natural’ or ‘real’ is one style or idiom among many and is subsumed by the virtual, because, when it frames the ‘real’, it becomes merely one virtual world among many: it functions only as if it is real, thus foregrounding the conventional aspect of what is taken for real. It can even reveal the fictionality of the real. Wolley’s comments in Virtual Worlds are apposite here: ... artificial reality does reveal a great deal about the ‘myth’ of reality – about the way that the idea of reality is used and understood, at least within the Western culture that gave birth to it [...]. It reveals that the things we assume to be independent of us are actually constructed by us. It reveals that being ‘real’, like being ‘natural’, is not simply a value-free, unproblematic, apolitical, objective state ... (8–9)

The sense of disembodiment alleged to occur in cyberspace is at best a temporary feeling or an illusion, because the very experience of cyberspace depends on some bodily perception of it. Hayles reminds us that … we are never disembodied. Simulated worlds can exist for us only because we can perceive them through the techno-bioapparatus of our body spliced into the cybernetic circuit. The reading of cyberspace as a disembodied realm is a skeuomorph that harks back to the first wave of cybernetics, which in turn is a reading of information that reinscribes into cybernetics a very old Stone also observes that “cyberspace is part of, not simply the medium for, the action” (107). 22

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and traditional distinction between form and matter. (“Boundary Disputes” 34)

Lyotard describes the new digital media that make up virtual reality as “immaterial.” Objects and subjects are equally made up of data which can be manipulated as if they were solid, while simultaneously preserving their fundamental abstraction as data, surfaces, and positions. Problematically, however, Lyotard only consents to redescribe a paradox – “immaterial” is a deliberate contradiction in terms describing something that does not sustain “matter for a project” (Immaterialität und Postmoderne 77).23 He justifies this description on the basis of perceiving matter as differential states of energy, and objects as structures with limited local validity. He then refers to the interpenetration of matter and spirit, which he sees as leading to a shift in the relationship between mind and body (25).24 Cyberpunk’s perception of a city mediated by an experience in cyberspace (and vice versa) agrees with Lyotard’s sense of equivalences, since it generates an interrelated force field of ambiguities through a network of literalized metaphors. The computer as interface, node, and gateway is the vehicle that lends credibility, plausibility, and a degree of realism to the otherwise fantastic worlds depicted. One needs to distinguish the architecture of cyberspace (the grids, matrices, and lattices prefigured in the description of the Sprawl in Neuromancer) from the architecture in cyberspace, the Lyotard sums up the definition of “immaterial” as follows: “I propose the term ‘immaterial’ to connote this uncertainty, which denotes in a contradictory manner that it is a material without matter for a project” (77; my translation). 24 Lyotard in Immaterialität und Postmoderne states that “ ‘Immaterial’ as a notion is a risky neologism [...] It merely expresses that today – and this applies to all realms – matter/material can no longer be regarded as an object pertaining to a subject. Scientific analyses of matter show that it is nothing else but a state of energy, that is to say a constellation of elements which are not graspable themselves and which are determined by structures which have a locally limited validity [...] The increasingly interlocking penetration of matter and spirit – equally apparent in the uses of word processing systems – results in a shift of the classical problem of the unity of body and soul” (25; my tr.). 23

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second order of signification (which includes such symbols as the pyramids, cubes, and disks representing the power of corporations).

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The Postmodern and Popular Culture

I would like to warn against what can be termed a “reverse highbrow” approach. There is a tendency among what we might call “high-brows with a bad conscience” to ignore cultural hierarchies altogether and play up, instead, popular, commercial or naive literature as “the true and exclusive culture”… (Evan–Zohar, “Polysystem Theory” 292)

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at the controversial crossroads of cultures: the high and the low, as well as the humanities and the sciences. These are distinctions that the postmodern seems to blur, if not erase.1 The perspective of high culture often CIENCE FICTION IS SITUATED

In his Keywords entry under “Culture,” Raymond Williams describes the divide between high and low as a result of the shift in meaning, from a culture as civilization “involving claims to superior knowledge [… and/or] refinement […] to the meaning of culture as husbandry and cultivation, which produced the distinctions between ‘high’ art (culture) and popular art and entertainment” (92). The definitive work on the divide between the humanities and the sciences is C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Hassan’s early writings on postmodernism, Fiedler’s notorious “Cross the Border – Close that Gap,” and Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” promoted a willful blurring of the distinctions between high and low. Such blurring often occurs in the field of Cultural Studies since it generally treats both realms with equal seriousness, sometimes going so far as to reverse the values associated with these categories (see Frith). The relationship between the sciences and the humanities has likewise spawned a new generation of debate with the rise of chaos theory (see Hayles, Freese, Lyotard, and One Culture edited by George Levine). Lawrence W. Levine traces the emergence 1

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tends to dominate most discussions of science fiction, relegating its presence or significance to trace elements within most postmodern works, including Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, Barth’s Giles Goat-Boy, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow, and Acker’s Empire of the Senseless. Of course, postmodern fiction and postmodern science fiction represent two very different animals, largely due to the latter’s conflicted and complex relationship to postmodernism itself. 2 The relationship between science fiction and the ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ sciences has always been central to the debates surrounding science fiction’s self-conception and origins, particularly in the case of the American pulp fiction industry and its debt to what Gernsback calls “scientifiction.” Depending on how one constructs this relationship, the ordering of the genre and its subsets will change (from hard science fiction to New Wave, for example). Different national traditions also account for different emphases on science fiction of the term ‘highbrow’ back to the 1880s, when it was first used “to describe intellectual or aesthetic superiority,” and ‘lowbrow’ back to 1900, when it first meant “neither ‘highly intellectual’ or ‘aesthetically refined’” (221–22). Highbrow and lowbrow thus derive from the rather racist implications of phrenology, based on a perception of culture as a monolithic production; the postmodern, on the other hand, promotes the proliferation of cultures as a more disparate process on a horizontal scale (224). 2 Teresa Ebert rightly distinguishes several strands within postmodern fiction, ranging from innovative fiction to neo-realist writing, as well as several tendencies within science fiction which she calls “parascience fiction” and “metascience fiction.” The common ground that she identifies between the postmodern and science fiction is confined to postmodern innovative fiction and metascience fiction, the latter exemplified by the self-referential and metafictional techniques of Delany’s Triton and Dhalgren. Ebert then proceeds to juxtapose science fiction and mainstream fiction, of which postmodern fiction is said to form a part. However, what she calls postmodern innovative fiction can hardly be described as mainstream fiction, because it is closer to avant-garde experimentation and displays a degree of difficulty generally not understood by mainstream audiences. The present study seeks to explore more productively the relationship of postmodern science fiction to postmodern fiction, without restricting the definition of postmodern science fiction to Ebert’s category of metascience fiction.

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within the genre. For example, the British tradition tends to draw on the model of “scientific romance” first established by H.G. Wells, while the German pattern tends to follow precedents in utopian literature. The value of science fiction vis-à-vis the postmodern mainstream tends to change with respect to the position that it occupies in the literary or artistic field of cultural production at any given time, particularly with regard to the frequent incorporation of science fiction tropes in postmodern fiction and their ensuing elevation into ‘art’. But it is the rich extraliterary context of science fiction that actually decides much of its value as literature – its extensive fan base (both active and passive); the influence of the publishing industry on the categorization, length, and long-term availability of books; the negotiation of a canon of science fiction works; and the overall success of the genre in terms of sales. What Bourdieu calls the “autonomous principle (e.g. ‘art for art’s sake’),” or “seeing temporal failure as a sign of election and success as a sign of compromise” (60), is virtually inapplicable to the genre of science fiction. This state of affairs may well explain why the value of science fiction is often dismissed in direct proportion to its individual or collective achievement in terms of commercial success, because this is considered proof of taint from the marketplace. Reconceptualization of the distinctions between ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘elite’ and ‘popular’, ‘major” and ‘minor’ is crucial to the emergence of the postmodern and its inheritance of 1960s countercultural concerns.3 The postmodern arose out of the Beat movement and Pop Art, which questioned the high-modernist esthetic of art for art’s sake.4 Early theorizers of the postmodern such as Howe, Fiedler,

Hassan also suggests that the “energizing matrix of postmodernism, if not its origin, may have been the sixties in America, with all their liberationist and countercultural tendencies” (“Prospects in Retrospect” 215). Hassan and Fiedler both tend to consider the 1960s as a critical influence on the (early) postmodern, as does Bertens (“Weltanschauung”). 4 Clement Greenberg provides one of the more pointed critiques of this position with his arguments for abstract impressionism in painting. See Greenberg’s article “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” in Art and Culture: Critical Essays. 3

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and Hassan often celebrated the collapse of all divisions between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. Jencks and Venturi followed suit in their heralding of a new postmodern age of architecture, which was supposed to incorporate a wide variety of vernacular styles. But these theories sometimes fell short of their promises, precisely because they were limited to style. McHale and Hutcheon represent a later moment in the literary debate, offering more subtle observations about the possible degrees of incorporation between high and low, which ultimately break down under the pressures of a prevailing ironic mode. But irony especially cannot do away with these distinctions, because it depends on the coexistence of two distinct meanings or frames of reference (explicit and implicit) for its very strength: expressing one aspect while alluding to another. Jameson rejects the pop-cultural idiom from the sanctuary of a high-modernist esthetic, because he considers it compromised by consumer culture and capitalism and thus devoid of a critical dimension. Since, in Jameson’s view, all infiltrations of the popular into the highmodernist esthetic are symptomatic of postmodern culture, producing the lamented “waning of affect” or concern with surface over depth, the whole of postmodern culture is correspondingly discredited (Postmodernism 9). Paradoxically, however, science fiction is exempt, presumably because of the utopian dimension that Jameson seems to regard as the genre’s main function; he reserves for it a critical dimension which he denies to other popular genres. Jameson falls victim to the myth of culture with a capital ‘C’. Jim Collins accounts for this persistent phenomenon with his image of a “Grand Hotel,” a metaphor for the myth of a unified, monolithic culture based on the concept of mass society.5 This myth has also been perpetuated from a haughty European standpoint, pitching the ‘superior’ Old World legacy of culture and civilization against the ‘inferior’ New World accomplishments of Hollywood or DisneyCollins sees “popular culture and Post-Modernism as a continuum, because both reflect and produce the same cultural perspective – that ‘culture’ no longer can be conceived as a Grand Hotel, as a totalizable system that somehow orchestrates all cultural production and reception according to one master system” (iii). 5

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land, into a form of shorthand for the ‘evils’ of American popular (consumer) culture or American society as a whole (see Baudrillard America; Davis City of Quartz).6 All of these issues contribute to the emergence of the postmodern as a cultural field of tension, which has become an international phenomenon of the Western world but which is not reducible to a uniform style or universal, easily recognizable criteria. It draws on different national and generic histories of the modern and emerges over different time spans or within different traditions depending on which notion of the modern or modernism it engages. For the field of science fiction and the postmodern, this involves sketching the modern and modernism with respect to this particular genre in order to arrive at a specific constellation of postmodernism which remains relevant to it and does not a priori devalue it. While the incorporation of the popular into the postmodern has often been discussed, the reverse side of this same process has received little attention. Importing postmodern devices into the Horkheimer and Adorno state that mass culture under monopoly conditions always produces the identical; they see no way out of this vicious circle, which derives from a feedback loop between the culture industry and mass man (Dialektik der Aufklärung 108). Baudrillard, in “The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media,” retains this notion of the masses, but in his later works acknowledges how their previously lamented passivity and silence might outline a strategy for subversion. Collins also notes that Horkheimer and Adorno condemn “mass culture” because it “ is so rigidly controlled by corporations” (Uncommon Cultures 9). “Perhaps the most extreme ramification of this position,” he states, “is their absolute denial of style in such a culture, particularly in relation to Hollywood films, jazz music, etc. […] Anything formulaic is therefore deemed styleless since all formulaic texts, regardless of medium or genre, are only representative examples of a homogeneous whole” (9–10). One of cyberpunk’s strong points is the creation of a unique style from the combination of hardboiled detective, high-tech gloss and subculture slang, a style which cannot be separated from the invention of cyberspace as a new topos within the field of science fiction. In other words, to deny the popular the value of style is to deny it any value at all. This theoretical blind spot a priori frames the devaluation of the entire genre. 6

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domain of the popular frequently results in a sense of humor and irony, since it requires recognition of both registers. The boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ may have shifted here, but they have not been eliminated or erased by any means. Forms of popular culture are just as capable of playing with their own conventions as those of ‘high’ culture, often through implied subversion of all pretense to Culture and Knowledge. ‘Lowbrow’ playfulness in the postmodern vein frequently refers to ‘classical’ artifacts, only to reduce them to merely functional objects or images of decay and obsolescence. A favorite target of popular derision is book or print culture, since it enjoys particular status as a site of superior knowledge. For instance, the surreal, melting clock in Dalí’s painting “Persistence of Memory” (which dates back to 1931 and recurs throughout the Dalí oeuvre) becomes a timepiece on the wall in Julius Deane’s office in Neuromancer – only it is now employed as an actual piece of furniture, albeit completely devoid of use because it does not even tell the correct time.7 Such nods toward the high culture of surrealism in the ‘lowlier’ form of cyberpunk often occur by means of literalized images – something that can be considered as the reversal of the process of metaphorization, one of science fiction’s genre-defining hallmarks (see Science Fiction und Ihre Grenzbereiche 83).8 One of the earliest field observers to record the emerging concept of postmodernism was Irving Howe. In his “Mass Society and Postmodern Fiction,” first published in 1959 in Partisan Review, Howe describes a number of issues pertaining to both ‘high’ and ‘low’

There is an interesting connection between the concern with liquefied solids and biomorphic forms, and the portrayal of cyborgs in cinematic discourse. For example, the liquid chrome Terminators in the movie Terminator can melt, morph into other people, or morph their limbs into deadly weapons. Their liquid bodies are visual metaphors drawing on the semantic fields of man and machine, with liquid chrome becoming the substitute for human skin or blood. Instead of assuming disguises to deceive people into believing they are different people (i.e. that they are ‘like’ someone else), they can literally become other people (i.e. “John is a lion”). 8 Hartwell also observes that “abstract ideas are made flesh through science fiction” (Age of Wonders 26). 7

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culture.9 Howe essentially expresses a fear of the ills stemming from a “passive, indifferent, and atomized” society where “man becomes a consumer, himself mass-produced like the products, diversions, and values that he absorbs” (196). Tied to this fear of passivity induced by mass society is a fear of technology producing “docile attendant[s] to an automated civilization” (207). With regret, he notes that “high culture as we understand it will become increasingly problematical and perhaps reach some point of obsolescence” (207). Howe may regret the waning of high culture, but Leslie Fiedler in the liberating spirit of the 1960s applauds the “closing [of] the gap between elite and mass culture” (156). Fiedler enthusiastically proclaims the death of the traditional novel and, following in the footsteps of McLuhan, states that the printed book may soon disappear. The new novel, he claims, is “anti-art as well as anti-serious” (154). He then proceeds to praise popular genres like the western, science fiction, and pornography as new sources for postmodern fiction, because these “forms still contain myth and entertainment” (156). Popular genres such as these still rely on more or less linear adventure plots, which can provide some cohesion (if only on one level of the narrative). Fiedler holds particularly high hopes for the relatively young genre of science fiction, since it serves the purpose of “imagining a destiny rather than [inheriting] one” (158). He considers his call for literature to become “prophetic and universal” as fulfilled in Burroughs’ appropriation of science fiction elements (166). He reads the “intrusion of Pop into the citadels of high Art” as “subversive, a threat to all hierarchies,” which have monopolized all judgments of esthetic value for far too long. Now the criterion for such judgments becomes a much more open question of whether the result is good or bad art (162). Fiedler illustrates how the 1960s provided a watershed in postmodernist criticism, which continued to grow in strength and sophistication in subsequent decades. Fiedler was soon followed by another cultural theorist with a more nuanced interpretation of the postmodernist phenomenon.

Huyssen, in The Great Divide, regards the late 1950s as “the starting point of a mapping of the post modern” (195). 9

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Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” discusses a cultural sensibility that “turns its back on the good–bad axis of ordinary esthetic judgment. Camp doesn’t reverse things”: rather, it is “a supplementary set of standards” (114). She argues that the camp style is playful and antiserious, then challenges the belief that “the sensibility of high culture” possesses a “monopoly upon refinement” (118). Since Sontag discerns esthetic qualities in camp despite its refusal to make a “distinction between the unique object and the mass-produced object,” she shapes a niche in between the poles of ‘high’ and ‘low’ without claiming to abolish or level either of them, and without reversing the hierarchies or denying that a distinction exists. Sontag’s analysis of camp sensibility prepares the ground for what Huyssen in The Great Divide calls the “new creative relationship between high art and certain forms of mass culture” in the force field known as the postmodern (194). Huyssen places postmodernism in a field of tension between tradition and innovation, conservation and renewal, mass culture and high art, in which the second terms are no longer automatically privileged over the first; a field of tension which can no longer be grasped in categories such as progress vs. reaction, left vs. right, present vs. past, modernism vs. realism, abstraction vs. representation, avantgarde vs. Kitsch. (216–17)

Science fiction needs to be situated within these force fields. It shares an awareness of being distinct from the mainstream, and its fan communities affirm its existence on the margins of the literary establishment, without seeing themselves as part of either mass culture or high art. Experiments aiming at higher literary values or “leaving the gutter” where many believe science fiction belongs (Hartwell Age of Wonders 192) tend to result in the alienation of readers or the crossing over of writers (such as Vonnegut) into the mainstream. Higher literary values and their success ultimately mean the end of the generic identity of science fiction, which is quite content with inhabiting its niche in the literary landscape because it can thereby preserve its distinctiveness.10 Cyberpunk takes cognizance Hartwell explains that the British and American New Wave “failed” as science fiction because both movements “denied the genre status of SF 10

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of the complex relations between high and low, popular and academic, by finding refuge in the “slipstream” – a body of literary works situated in between popular genre categories and outside the mainstream or academic canon. Richard Kadrey describes the slipstream as open to a kind of postmodern fiction that defies easy genre classification. It often combines elements of older genres, such as science fiction and mystery, with high literary concerns and style. As a school of fiction, it’s a cultural mongrel, splicing fantastic, sometimes deliberately surreal images and ideas with journalistic snapshots of contemporary life, all designed to undercut many of our assumptions about everyday reality. (Covert Culture 4)

The coining of the term “slipstream” serves a seemingly contradictory double purpose: on the one hand, it attempts to raise the value of cyberpunk by bringing it closer to “high literary concerns and style”; on the other, it also challenges higher literary values by adopting science fiction themes and accepting its pulp origins.11 But both purposes actually valorize cyberpunk, since they each encourage and accept a healthy degree of growth beyond the stale conventions and formulae associated with the genre. Cyberpunk can therefore be considered as an avant-garde moment in the history of science fiction, with Gibson as its most prominent representative. entirely and ended the continual development of new specialized words and phrases common to the body of SF, without which SF would be indistinguishable from any other experimental literature [...] The denial of special or genre status is ultimately the cause of the failure of the New Wave to achieve popularity, which […] would have destroyed SF as a separate field” (Age of Wonders 153). 11 Sterling places Gibson in this new category by stating that “he has a fondness for the odder and more inventive byways of mainstream lit: Le Carré, Robert Stone, Pynchon, William Burroughs, Jayne Anne Phillips. And he is a devotee of what J.G. Ballard has perceptively called ‘invisible literature’: that permeating flow of scientific reports, government documents, and specialized advertising that shapes our culture below the level of recognition” (Sterling “Preface” to Burning Chrome, xii). He thus places Gibson in a tradition of the popular genre of the thriller and postmodern fiction, including its neo-realist facet represented by Phillips, and Ballard’s experimental science fiction.

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By now Gibson’s topos of cyberspace has already quickly become another science fictional device, conceit, and convention – even an “oxymoronic conceit” (Csicsery–Ronay, “Cyberpunk and Neuromanticism” 183). The importing of science fiction elements into postmodern fiction creates a dimension of easy accessibility for the reader, thanks to its conventionality and greater emphasis on redundancy, which has led to the claim that postmodern literature is more easily accessible than modernist literature. However, postmodern fiction writers usually stand outside the science fiction community and its lively dialogue between writers, fans, and critics. They thus tend to borrow ossified or formulaic elements from science fiction, which are more easily recognizable than the more innovative or challenging elements available to them. This fact might explain a certain lag or nonsynchronization between the two cultures of science fiction and the more academically mediated postmodern mainstream (see Ebert). Fred Pfeil, in a revision of his earlier assumption of the breakdown “of categories of high culture on the one hand, mass or ‘popular’ culture on the other” (107), ranges all postmodernist works on a continuing scale of accessibility according to how much mediation they require by academic discourse. The less accessible a work, the more academic mediation it requires. He also sees postmodernist culture as the “successor to and supplanter of the ‘counter-culture’ of the 1960s” (Another Tale to Tell 119). For critics like Pfeil who follow in Jameson’s footsteps, popular culture or mass culture exemplifies the evils of postmodern culture and its complicity with consumer capitalism. Rather than discussing the “aesthetics of popular culture,” which Simon Frith rightly calls a “neglected topic” (103), these critics indiscriminately lump together “those elements that characterize postmodernism: superficiality, pastiche, bricolage, and so on” (Polan 53).12 Frith warns against the Frith takes a firm stand against Iain Chambers, for instance, who opposes popular culture to official culture. The latter is “preserved in art galleries, museums, and university courses, demands cultivated tastes and a formally imparted knowledge” (Chambers 13). The former is valorized for 12

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pitfalls of denying or reversing the “high/low cultural hierarchy” (105), and argues for the necessity of reevaluating popular culture on its own esthetic terms instead. He claims that popular culture by no means constitutes a uniform object of study: Such judgements rest on various sorts of prior knowledge (about genre distinctions, for example) but also on implicit aesthetic hierarchies: the popular consumer too distinguishes between the easy and the difficult, between trash and quality.... (112)

The meaning and value of science fiction is negotiated according to hierarchies of both high and low measures of esthetic difficulty and complexity. A further pecking order of assigned values occurs within the science fiction community as well. Many debates raised by both popular and academic criticism of science fiction concern the question of canonical affiliation and the right of such works as Gibson’s Neuromancer to hold pride of place in the literary or science fiction halls of fame. Gibson’s specific debt to science fiction cannot be emphasized enough, because he has invented a new topos which has simultaneously revitalized the genre from within and has attracted considerable attention from without. Further dissent within the science fiction community has resulted in a faction supporting written science fiction as the most prestigious form, in keeping with a general mistrust of the proliferation of science fiction into other media. Film and television tieins to written science fiction works such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Tek Wars and many others are thus perceived as derivative.13 However, mobilizing “the tactile, the incidental, the transitory, the expendable; the visceral. It does not involve an abstract aesthetic research amongst privileged objects of attention, but invokes mobile orders of sense, taste and desire. Popular culture is not appropriated through the apparatus of contemplation, but, as Walter Benjamin once put it, through ‘distracted reception’” (12). While aiming to empower popular culture by underlining its difference, Chambers reinstates a value hierarchy that excludes it from serious study and as an object of contemplation. 13 Four different generations of Star Trek have been serialized for television to date. See also the British and American versions of Max Headroom, the serialization of the film Star Gate, and such television shows from the 1980s and 1990s as Quantum Leap, Sliders, and Time Trax. Cinematic

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the elaborate fictional universes portrayed in these media have by no means abolished or undermined original science fiction writing: in fact, one can argue that they have contributed to the survival of the genre as a publishing category by providing a quick income for many writers, freeing them to work on other original works. They have also increased the popularity of the genre to an unprecedented degree, particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s. Science fiction necessarily requires a certain degree of repetition, redundancy, and formulaic elements – which is not to say that it is static; in fact, innovation is at the core of the genre’s identity. There is a complex of values and prejudices associated with these issues which leads one to ask how science fiction can be postmodern without losing its genre identity. One of the possible answers lies in the increasingly postmodern stance of self-awareness, referring to its own status as fiction. Science fiction writers have intensified a sense of textuality and emphasized the uncertainty of the capacity of fictional worlds to effectively predict the future. Such awareness of its own processes does not lock science fiction into the “prison house of language” so much as gesture toward other forms of media crucial to its development, such as the cinema and multimedia environments. These self-conscious references to other media make explicit the limitations or obsolescence of certain shared topoi and/ or themes, as seen in the dialogue between Dixie Flatline (a stored personality construct of a dead man’s memories) and the cyberpunk cowboy Case: “Wait a sec,” Case said. “are you sentient, or not?” “Well, it feels like I am, kid, but I’m really just a bunch of R O M . It’s one of them, ah, philosophical questions, I guess....” The ugly laughter sensation rattled down Case’s spine. “But I ain’t likely to write you no poem, if you follow me. Your AI, it just might. But it ain’t no way human.” (Neuromancer 131)

adaptations of science fiction works cover a similarly broad range, from H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds to Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. As indicated above, other science fiction-inspired films include Blad Runner, Terminator, and cyberpunk’s own Johnny Mnemonic.

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This exchange foregrounds the fictionality of the device as well as the traditional distinction between human and artificial intelligence based on issues of creativity such as the writing of a poem. Distinctions of this kind are increasingly blurred in cyberpunk science fiction, in a very postmodern concern with fragmentation of the human subject. The emphasis on the concrete, the literal, or the literalization of the figural, like the importance placed on detailed description – not as mere background to the action of the characters but as foreground – is a feature not only of cyberpunk in particular but of science fiction in general. ‘Naturalistic’ detail or description may outwardly resemble the conventions of realist fiction, which seeks to create and sustain a more believable fictional illusion through the trick of verisimilitude. However, it also circumscribes an invented world which the reader by convention does not expect to mirror or imitate reality. The literalization of what is usually there in a metaphoric or figural sense paradoxically heightens the fictionality of the universe.14 There is more to the postmodern in science fiction than a popularization and literalization of the esthetic strategies encountered in postmodern fiction. If one looks for examples of self-reflexivity and metafiction as indicators of the postmodern in science fiction, their effect is less compelling and less significant than those found in their postmodernist counterparts. Science fiction in general and Alan Singer in the Metaphorics of Fiction summarizes Paul de Man’s theory in Allegories of Reading, which reverses “the usual priorities of referential and metaphorical value,” since the “familiar elements of plot, character, setting, and theme claim only a kind of second-order significance as clues about the rhetorical devices that operate them [...] within the context of the avant-garde aesthetic, productivity is therefore distinguished from the mimetic content of novels. The mimetic is held in comparative disrepute as a merely received – not created – commodity of culture” (5). Science fiction, while often close to the “descriptive faculty of traditional realist narrative,” paradoxically can also reveal the “fictionality of reality” that Singer and de Man see as the objective of self-reflexive strategies in postmodern fiction. The reality it purports to reflect is always what Angenot calls an “absent paradigm” and it thus creates a double fiction. 14

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cyberpunk in particular both incorporate some postmodern features on the level of content and as literal statements. But these literalizations are not merely derivate; they do not simply imitate or translate elements of postmodern fiction into science fiction, from abstract into concrete terms.15 Science fiction has an identity of its own, with independent institutions, forms of socialization, and traditions, all of which show some points of convergence with postmodern fiction (see Ebert). Science fiction and the postmodern neither mirror each other nor follow the same path of development; each honors distinct landmarks in its collective memory and within its respective community. Both thrive on the exchange, interaction, incorporation, and appropriation of themes, styles, and conventions which can work both ways, from high to low and low to high, in complex feedback cycles; or they can choose to take no notice of each other at all. Guy Scarpetta suggests a way out of the polarized impasse between high and low culture through a move toward lateral diversification. He retains the notions of major and minor, but not as two distinct cultures in a sociological sense; he considers them “two registers that are always copresent,” either in an antagonistic or in a continuous sense (76).16 He specifically warns against blurring the distinction between major and minor, because failure to recognize both registers actually prevents us from understanding how each functions (77). In short, Scarpetta reminds us that it makes a difference whether we analyze the major from the point of view of the minor or vice versa, since one challenges the position and value of the other (82). Postmodernism and science fiction therefore not only confront us with “the revenge of bad taste,” attacking the monopoly of knowledge and civilization represented by high culture, but they also draw our attention to the diversity of cultural phenomena (what What I call the concrete or literalized images of science fiction is by no means to be confused with the process of concretization in which the reader is involved (see Ingarden The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art). 16 Collins, in Uncommon Cultures, also works with a pluralized notion of ‘cultures’, which he defines as a “network of competing discourses” (4). 15

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Collins calls “conflicted pluralism” in “tension-filled environments”). As such, they demand to be taken seriously on their own terms as fictions, narratives, stories, universes, traditions, and rich cultures on the margins of the literary establishment (27).17

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Clement Greenberg is one of the few critics to join Habermas in denying the existence of the postmodern (see his “The Notion of the Postmodern”); his view is summarized thus by Calinescu: “a heroic struggle against the encroachment of bad taste or kitsch in the domain of art; postmodernism is only the latest name under which commercial bad taste, masquerading as sophisticated ‘advancedness’, challenges the integrity of art” (Five Faces of Modernity 289). 17

T HE

P ART II ½¾ C YBERSPACE : N EW F RONTIER

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I think what I did was I used the academic stuff that I got from studying modern poetry in university to deconstruct hacker-speak, I sort of deconstructed the jargon and built my own reality of computers out of it, and a whole bunch of it seems to have worked. (Gibson interviewed by Tom Maddox “Disclave 1986 Guest of Honor Interview” SF Eye 1.1 1986: 25)

W

GIBSON FIRST EMPLOYED ‘CYBERSPACE’ as a neologism to designate a new type of alternat(iv)e reality or fictional world. 1It cannot be entirely explained by its two components of ‘cyber’ and ‘space’, although these certainly contribute some connotations. Bernard Dupriez points out that in fiction, neologisms are frequently nothing more than nonce-words which ILLIAM

Gibson has occasionally explained the precise genesis of the term, most recently in an interview given on the occasion of his participation in Barcelona’s Kosmopolis book festival in December 2002 (Gibson 2002). He notes wryly that the term ‘cyberspace’, which was grudgingly and belatedly attributed to him in the most recent edition of the O E D , is now in all the dictionaries of the world – the work of two minutes has become his major contribution to history. While writing “Burning Chrome” in 1981, he was looking for a term to define the non-geographical space where the society of the future develops, the place where information is exchanged between computers. Gibson first wrote “infospace,” which didn’t appeal to him. After some more doodling on his notepad, he suddenly wrote the word “cyberspace”; now the whole world uses it. 1

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remain short-lived and confined in their meaning to individual works. However, the word ‘cyberspace’ has achieved a far-reaching and lasting effect well beyond Gibson’s specific usage, since it has infiltrated other domains of discourse and passed into common English speech. Cyberspace has become accepted as the colloquial equivalent for the internet or World Wide Web, especially among the internet community.2 Gibson’s original sense of cyberspace bears some resemblance to the three-dimensional computergenerated virtual reality environments which later emerged from sophisticated military and medical applications. But fictional cyberspace is constructed from language, while virtual-reality computer representations are built on graphic algorithms and mathematical formulae. Language can always allude to and metaphorically evoke these graphic representations, of course, but its effects are essentially the products of language and the imagination – not the projection of light suggesting space. Cyberspace represents a new fictional landscape, an example of Suvin’s chronotope, and a valuable addition to the repertoire of science fiction as one of the key components of cyberpunk. Geoffrey Leech regard a neologism such as cyberspace as “a new word […] launched on a semantic course of development independent of the meaning of the elements which compose it” (32). He defines its primary function as “extending the conceptual system” (30). Like catachresis, which Dupriez defines as responding “to the need to name, with a single word, some new reality or one considered new,” neologisms are more frequently found and needed in the language of science and technology than in literature (93). The reason for this, Leech argues, is that scientists have constantly to adapt and reorder “their conceptual apparatus in order to give a precise explanation of what they observe” (32). This is a characteristic aspect of the scientific register of language, which science fiction seeks to emulate through its own fictional acronyms and The emergence of the term cyberspace coincided with the internet’s rapid expansion beyond the computer elite. By borrowing such a semantically laden term from Gibson’s fiction, the internet community found a means of describing both its frontier ethos and its subcultural identity. 2

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invented jargon. But science fiction does not necessarily employ these inventions in order to describe a new reality. Instead, it tends to coin new words in order to create a fuller and more persuasive world of fiction. Of course, there are further nuances which occur between the invention of a word and the creation of a new fictional world. Virtual reality represents the cognitive novum of Gibson’s first novel, and the subsequent volumes are set in the same Sprawl/cyberspace universes. Stephenson names his modified form of cyberspace “Metaverse” (see Snow Crash), while Cadigan calls hers simply “the system” (see Mindplayers, Synners, and Fools). Gibson’s, Cadigan’s, and Stephenson’s versions of cyberspace are created by means of different rhetorical strategies: the transfer of semantic properties engenders Gibson’s metaphoric networks, the literalization of linguistic puns helps create Cadigan’s virtual worlds, and interwoven layers of linguistic, biological, and technological meaning are the foundation of Stephenson’s Metaverse.3 All three writers exploit different fictional aspects of the new chronotope. One uses it predominantly as an alternate or parallel fictional world, while another employs it as a plot device; yet another takes it as an occasion for role-playing. These possibilities yield particularly important ramifications for the development of science fiction approaching a postmodern esthetic. The first traces of Gibson’s cyberspace can be seen in certain precursory elements already at work in “Fragments of a Hologram Rose,” “The Winter Market,” and “Burning Chrome.” One of his earliest stories published in 1977 (the aforementioned “Hologram Rose”) includes an “Apparent Sensory Perception” device, abbreviated as ASP – a means of entering “into other flesh” similar to the simstim device used in Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive (37). Simstim is first mentioned in the short story “Burning Chrome” where it is explained as “Simulated stimuli: the world – all I am retaining the capitalization as used by Stephenson, e.g. Metaverse, Reality, Pearly Gates, Snow Crash in order to distinguish the terms from their use by other writers, or general concepts such as reality rather than Stephenson’s fictional version thereof. 3

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the interesting parts, anyway – as perceived by Tally Isham” (183). The words “apparent” and “simulated” hint at the illusion-creating effect of simstim. Simstim is an edited reality and an escape from the unpleasant side-effects of life, such as headaches. Edited simstim, as opposed to unedited simstim used by the cyber-cowboy Case, represents the use of the new medium for mass entertainment. Tally Isham is the star of an extended soap opera in a variation on reality TV. Raw, unedited simstim and cyberspace are almost exclusively the domain of male cyber-cowboys and hackers. Pain, fear, anger, and hate are extreme emotions which – once overcome – lead to a sublime experience in a virtual environment which is all the more intense because the hero risks his life “on the edge.” He is subject to attack from killer-virus programs and faces the threat of virtual death through “flatlining” (otherwise known as brain death). Death is the absence of a heart beat indicated by the straight line on a monitor screen (or electroencephalogram), and a cyber-cowboy will avoid this fate at all costs. When Case uses simstim, a special piece of broadcast equipment that feeds him the information from Molly’s sensory perception, he is more than a passenger behind her eyes. He has virtually switched gender and feels what it is like to have breasts and nipples, as well as what it is like to walk in high heels. Despite the transmission of all her sensory data, vision remains the dominant sense. Molly’s remotely accessed eyes serve the same function as a camera by extending the visual range of the human body. But the shift in vision also serves a narrative purpose, since it makes the sudden transition between viewpoints plausible without disrupting realist narrative conventions. The slowing down and speeding up of narrative time becomes a straightforward matter of a video tape being played in slow motion or being fast-forwarded. Furthermore, comparisons to film and video contrast familiar experiences with old media against the new, unfamiliar medium of cyberspace. Appeals to previous modes of visual description provide a means of ‘unfolding’ cyberspace for the reader’s benefit. This technique is already present in “Burning Chrome,” when the protagonist describes the matrix (or cyberspace) in cinematic terms:

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Ice walls flick away like supersonic butterflies made of shade. Beyond them, the matrix’s illusion of infinite space. It’s like watching a tape of a prefab building going up; only the tape’s reversed and run at high speed, and these walls are torn wings. (177)

This emphasis on visual perception produces a seemingly intuitive encounter with cyberspace which renders it tangible and concrete. Such an effect results from the interaction of semantic fields or the oscillation and metaphoric transfer between properties pertaining to both cyberspace and the city. Confronted with the juxtaposition and interaction of at least two universes, the reader is forced to imagine a more or less coherent cyberspace by negotiating semantic clashes with his or her own knowledge of the world. By reconciling oppositions and making clashes plausible, a new universe is constructed where they can coexist without contradiction. As I indicated earlier, the first line of Neuromancer thus becomes a super-metaphor (“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel”). The initial semantic clash applies to properties of one specific world, and their gradual negotiation creates the new fictional world of cyberspace. The urban Sprawl and the environment external to cyberspace will be called the framing or primary universe here, since the reader encounters it first. Similarly, the subsequent experience of cyberspace will be called the secondary or framed universe. ‘Primary’ and ‘secondary’ are somewhat arbitrary notions; more importantly, the concern here will be with the exchange and transfer between semantic fields of properties that provide the material from which cyberspace is built. Both the framing and the framed universe are situated on the story level. The framed space, or cyberspace, is by far the more dynamic sphere of action, whereas the framing environment is dominated by accumulated layers of junk and decay.

The Prefiguration of Cyberspace The creation of cyberspace is anticipated by a number of metaphors which provide the semantic building blocks for this universe. The

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primary or framing narrative is set in Chiba, Japan, also called Night City, then shifts to the Sprawl or Boston–Atlanta Metropolitan Axis – B A M A for short (43). The Sprawl is a conglomerate of cities stretching across the whole eastern part of the USA . These urban spaces outside of cyberspace are presented from the point of view of Case, Neuromancer’s main protagonist. Caught for double-crossing his employer while trading black-market organs, Case is punished with removal from the disembodied “exultation” of cyberspace. He is condemned to imprisonment in his own flesh, a metonym for and reification of his body. He acutely misses the empowering sense of being able to extend his body beyond its physical limits that cyberspace so recently afforded him. A third-person narrator looks through Case’s eyes and translates his perception of the world for the reader. It is precisely his sense of loss and exclusion from cyberspace that tinges his perception, a nostalgia already apparent in the opening paragraphs.4 Let us once again return to the very first line: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Mapping the television screen onto the limitless expanse of the sky triggers semantic interactions between concepts of nature and concepts of media technology, cityscape and datascape. In narrative terms, the description of the city is tainted by the experience of cyberspace with which the reader of the novel is as yet unfamiliar. Gérard Genette might call this narrative technique ‘prolepsis’. I find the term ‘prefiguration’ more appropriate, since it accounts for the crea-

See Martin Wallace’s summary of the narratological concept of focus in Recent Theories of Narratology. Important here is not who writes (the focus of narration) but who perceives (the focus of character). Wallace states that such a distinction was first introduced by Brooks and Warren and later taken up by Genette and Bal as a specific aspect of omniscient narration. According to Bal, it adds to narrative perspective the possibility of distinguishing between “those who see and those who speak” (101). Narration is rarely foregrounded in cyberpunk fiction; rather, a shift in focus is foregrounded by means of technological tools which modify the character’s perception. 4

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tion of cyberspace through figurative language.5 By describing the familiar urban environment as if it is estranged, and cyberspace as if it is familiar, Case states his preference for his electronic home. Yet his exclusion from cyberspace tells the reader about both worlds, inner cyberspace and outer city, without avoiding excessive didactic description. The reader is gradually prepared for cyberspace by a number of semantic connotations which are woven into a network of associations and subtle resonances. Case anticipates cyberspace when he dreams of it: he sees “the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void” (5). The matrix is almost synonymous with cyberspace, but the term also carries a more general meaning: “something within or from which something else originates, develops, or takes form,” a property which highlights its potential as a meta-space for world building (“Matrix”). It concretizes logic via the image of a grid, which organizes space and provides coordinates for orientation. Lattices qualified as bright allude to grids made of light, or computer-generated pixels on a screen. In the metaphoric expression “bright lattices of logic,” the semantic field associated with logic clashes with the one associated with lattices, because one is concrete and visible while the other is abstract and invisible. However, they share the notion of structure and organization – whether of ideas or of matter – and their association is further reinforced through alliteration. Then there is the detail of these lattices “unfolding,” like paper. The use of the present participle endows this space with dynamism, shifting suddenly from two to three dimensions. These same characteristics are reintroduced while entering cyberspace, which is described as a “neon origami trick” (52). “Unfolding,” a quality associated with paper and by metaphoric extension applicable to space, now reinstates the I prefer the term prefiguration because a foreshadowing of the cyberspace universe occurs through the metaphoric description of the urban environment, the primary fictional universe. By highlighting metaphoric networks I am proceeding from a consideration of semantics and rhetoric to the level of narrative, but I do not intend to offer a narratological analysis per se. 5

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capacity for more complex figures and shapes, as created in an origami sequence of folds. The comparison with origami also extends the inceptive Japanese context of the novel into the artificial universe of cyberspace. All along, the perspective is presented in terms of a detached observer, quite akin to a passive viewer watching a program, an animation, or a computer simulation. Light also plays a very important role in the projection of cyberspace; indeed, it is the (immaterial) matter of which cyberspace is made. Objects within it behave as if they were solid, since the brightness of light is equated with the density of information (e.g., 43). Case lives for the night, when the “towering hologram logos” of Night City and its neon advertising signs come back to glowing life after lying dead and inert during the day. The illuminated night as artificial day is associated with life and action, and as such it represents a trademark of the noir style which cyberpunk appropriates from detective fiction and film.6 The night sky is described as the “black expanse” against which the lit profiles of the city emerge (6). In typical noir style, the night is portrayed as sinister: it possesses a “mean shade of gray” as well as “teeth,” while the “television sky’s” color of “poisoned silver” carries an extra foreboding of danger (15). The reader’s gaze is next directed to a close-up view of an arcade, a store window, and a dark alley, where the action around Case begins to unfold. When Case passes the arcade, the players at the video consoles trigger a memory of his girlfriend, Linda Lee, whose “eyes” he sees “reflected in a cage of neon” and whose “features” he perceives as “reduced to a code” (10; 8). The lights The noir style is closer to the future noir that characterizes the mood and setting of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, “where it rains continually, pollution is a fact of life, and dialogue is short and poignant.” Giordana Bruno, in her article “Ramble City,” sees in Bladerunner all the symptoms of the postmodern city, with its “aesthetic of decay” and its “erosion of distinctions,” where we are not “presented with a real geography, but an imaginary one: a synthesis of mental architectures, of topoi” (186). Although I agree with her diagnosis that the city contains signs of the postmodern, her analysis is unfortunately influenced by Jameson’s flawed discussion of postmodern architecture – a discussion which offers little useful purchase here. 6

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emitted by the war games on the screen are visible in the cigarette haze of the room, surrounding the players and inducing a state of “projected disembodied consciousness” not far removed from cyberspace (5).7 In a shop window Case sees the chrome shuriken, weapons with “knife-sharp points” that harken back to the “stars under which he voyaged” in his artificial sky (11). Their reflection of the city lights resembles the “mirrors” implanted in Molly’s eyes (12).8 Furthermore, the reflection on the surface of the chrome shuriken provides the first glimpse of Case’s pursuer, Molly (14).9 The ensuing chase through the dark alleys causes Case’s adrenaline level to rise, reminding him of a “run in the matrix” where it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking to distinguish cell specialties. Then you could throw yourself into a highspeed drift and skid, totally engaged but set apart from it all, and all around you the dance of biz, information interacting, data made flesh in the mazes of the black market .... (16)

The triangulation between the three dominant semantic fields contained in this passage – city, matrix, and DNA – leads toward the abstraction of data, a process that underlies the idea of cyberspace. On the one hand, the city (or, by way of metonymy, the people moving therein) is compared to a field of data, like the matrix or cyberspace, and every representation is based on information. On the other hand, the matrix itself is compared to human D N A (“proteins linking”), which hints at the posthuman assumption of the novel: that human memory can be digitized and stored as information, and thus become immortal in cyberspace. Gibson once mentioned in an interview that the way the players of video games seem to be connected to (and even immersed in) the screen led to ponderings which culminated in his creation of cyberspace. 8 Mirrors here stand as an abbreviation for mirrorshades, which, Shiner suggests, are the trademark of the entire cyberpunk movement (“Inside the Movement” 21). 9 Molly previously appeared as Molly Millions in the short story “Johnny Mnemonic.” 7

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Case is driven by fear, an emotion which brings him close to the sensation that he remembers experiencing during a run in the matrix. He clearly lives for this excitement. Money and wealth are not ends in themselves but merely means of acquiring more effective tools, the better to ensure an “edge” as part of the technological avant-garde. Case’s life is not worth living so long as he is not in cyberspace. Death holds no terror for him compared to stasis, which threatens to exclude him from the action by trapping him in his decaying body. Fear functions as a life-preserver because it brings him to the “edge of anxiety” and makes his “nerves scream” – it increases the acuity of his perception and speeds up his reflexes. A similar effect can be induced by using drugs such as speed. However, drugs only function as a substitute for that heightened state of experience encountered in cyberspace. Even the drugs’ bright color and geometric shapes are derivative of the virtual architecture in cyberspace. The connection with drugs here prefigures the synesthetic effect resulting from Case’s perception of the outer world as well as the blurring of semantic categories, which are then used to describe cyberspace. While undergoing surgery, Case’s capacity for synesthetic perception becomes stronger still (31). Armitage, his new employer, secretly implants toxin sacs in his body. Only Armitage knows how to stop them from dissolving into Case’s blood stream – a cruel method to ensure Case’s loyalty. These altered states of consciousness, whether induced by drugs, anesthetics or sex, blur the boundaries between abstract and concrete, animate and inanimate, material and immaterial. Fusing these categories builds up to the definitive plunge into cyberspace. These episodes of altered consciousness become increasingly animated, culminating in Case’s orgasmic experience where “images [come] pulsing back” and “fragments of neon” arrive and recede, feeling like “flaring blue in a timeless space, a vastness like the matrix” (33). Case initially regards the people on the street surrounding the arcades in terms of abstract patterns of movement, or “an intricate dance of desire and commerce” (11). Later, he similarly perceives the crowds in a Sprawl mall as a “field of flesh” akin to a river with

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“eddies” and a “stream of faces.” Case’s distance as a field observer of his own species enlarges to encompass the entire Sprawl in the abstract terms of a map. The parallelism and structural similarity, irrespective of the scale of the human environment under observation, assumes impersonal proportions of implacable magnitude: Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan, outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of Atlanta.... (43)

The movement of both people and money becomes abstracted into “data exchange” and “traffic,” retaining only vestiges of its reference to actual cars and streets. This is a computer simulation of information flows that originate at specific locations such as Manhattan or Atlanta. The warning that the “map is about to go nova” equates the realm of data with the laws of our cosmos, thus likening cyberspace to a universe of its own. Power centers pulsing across the Sprawl are dramatically magnified, much like a zooming-in effect in film. The bird’s-eye view of the overall structure yields to a close-up view of the teeming details which were too complex to become intelligible before. Yet in narrative terms, the shift from macro- to microcosm here remains well within the conventions of realism. Larger structure, pattern, and order only prevail when the city is seen from the proper position of distance and detachment. The closer the reader is guided back to the ground where organic forms stand in stark contrast to the bright geometries of architecture, the more detailed the environment becomes. The urban interstices are filled with junk and waste, which looked like something that had grown there, a fungus of twisted metal and plastic. He could pick out individual objects, but then they seemed to blur back into the mass: the guts of a television so old it was studded with the glass stumps of vacuum tubes, a crumpled dish antenna, [...] An enormous pile of old magazines

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had cascaded into the open area, flesh of lost summers staring blindly up as he followed her back through a narrow canyon of impacted scrap. (48)

Inorganic matter is described as having organic properties and becomes a type of secondary biomatter which grows unpredictably. The discarded and obsolete technology with the “guts of a television” and the “stumps of vacuum tubes” is described in terms of human disability. The metonym “flesh” refers to the images in pornographic magazines, objects reduced and separated from the mind. It also equates human bodies with technology in the sense that both become obsolete just as quickly. The sheer size of discarded magazines opens into a description of the urban environment as landscape, transforming an alley into a “canyon of impacted scrap.” This interplay of organic and inorganic qualities finds another figurative echo in the ‘refamiliarization’ of the program I CE to “ice,” the association with frozen water thus asserting itself alongside the earlier definition for the remaining length of the novel. A similar technique is used for the description of the city and the Sprawl. Viewed from a distance, the cityscape becomes a “field of data.” When zooming away from the close-up view of dark alleys to the larger plane of abstraction, the threshold of cyberspace is announced when the lines of vision shrink “like city lights receding” (16). The city with its “neon forest” of advertising signs and video game parlors illuminates the almost permanently dark sky. The darkness is due to pollution, but also coincides with the typical noir atmosphere of constant drizzle from either rain or condensation within geodesic domes. Like the dark urban environment, the matrix is also perceived as a black, infinite space with illuminated grids and objects. This pattern is repeated on several fractal levels or scales. For example, Case compares the abstract pattern on his dead girlfriend’s scarf to a map of microcircuits on a computer circuit board: “Her dark hair was drawn back, held by a band of printed silk. The pattern might have represented microcircuits, or a city map” (9). This analogy is in keeping with Case’s tendency to see the traces of cyberspace everywhere around him, especially since his temporary fall from cyberspace. When he dreams, he passes through the “cor-

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ridors of television sky,” once again confusing the categories of nature and technology (31). The distorted reality of the dream resurfaces in Case’s experiences of both an anesthetic and a hallucinogenic, which he compares “to a run in the matrix” (16). All of these instances of strategic intermingling of nature with technology and the media pave the way for the decisive entry into cyberspace. Thus when the threshold is finally crossed, the reader has been sufficiently inundated with elliptical allusions to grasp the abstract overview of the experience that is cyberspace: A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts [...] A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.... (Neuromancer 51)

By this point in the novel, the reader is already familiar enough with the experiential aspects of cyberspace to dispense with tediously explicit explanations which might slow down the pace of the action. Expository paragraphs are often cut short, appearing well after the introduction of the thing explained. Gibson’s novel begins in medias res, and the reader is left to try and make sense of any reference points with which s/he is familiar. These recurrent didactic moments are often abbreviated to avoid boring the reader by description without action, a common weakness of many gadgetoriented science fiction novels. By placing these explanations later rather than earlier – often in the guise of smart-ass, precocious computer constructs or personalities – explicit explanations are delayed and an ethos of trial-and-error, or practical, hands-on experience is privileged. This goes for the cyber-cowboy as much as for the reader: the first struggles to navigate the treacherous currents of technology, while the second labors to decipher neologisms and construct new worlds into which they may fit. Metaphoric and thematic clusters in Gibson’s Neuromancer show a distinct parallelism in structure between city space and cyberspace. Both spaces are focalized through Case’s perception. Interestingly,

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the blurred distinctions between categories (such as human and inhuman, animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic, abstract and concrete) remain stubbornly unresolved. Instead, they constantly interact. The virtual realm of cyberspace is a fictional space imagined and constructed by the reader, where these mixed realms make sense. Reading is an act of constructing the unknown from elements of the known and the known is made up of real experience as much as of our knowledge of other fiction.

In Cyberspace After some fifty pages of building up the reader’s expectations, Case finally enters cyberspace for the first time. He is a passive observer as cyberspace slowly “materializes” and “unfolds” in the “bloodlit dark behind his eyes.” The coming-into-existence of cyberspace is recounted through a string of present participles: “silver phosphenes boiling in from the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking past like film compiled from random frames. Symbols, figures, faces, a blurred, fragmented mandala of visual information” (52). The important elements here are the luminescence implied by “phosphenes”; the association with a dream-like, semi-conscious state evoked by “hypnagogic images”; and the collage effect resulting from “random frames,” “mandala,” and “symbols, figures, faces.” All of these fragmented elements belong to a complex pattern that weaves in and out of the novel as a whole. Moving images of all kinds are now explicitly compared to film, where they had previously been only implied (such as Ninsei on a “fast-forward button,” or Case’s dreaming in “freeze frames”; 7, 29). Shifts between scenes or perspectives occur as cinematic fade-outs, with “body image fading down corridors of television sky,” or the “sky fad[ing] from hissing static to the noncolor of the matrix” (31). Gibson’s likening of these images to film or video tape results in a temporal compression similar to the effect of time-lapse photography. Moreover, the allusion to film technique becomes a metaphor for narrative technique. The cutting and joining of scenes

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without explicit transitions, the association of consciousness with the visual field of the camera, or the implication of a shift in point of view – all function as ‘jump cuts’ within the novel. Abrupt changes in location, such as shifts from cyberspace to simstim, are occasioned by the mere flip of a switch. The reader is thus subjected to sudden, unexplained changes which preserve a heightened level of suspense, while the frequent omission of narrative links serves to enhance the overall impression of speed. The shorter the narrative segments, the more breakneck the pace and the more breathtaking the action. In the chaos and disorder of fragments, the “gray disk, the color of Chiba sky” rises across Case’s field of vision (52). As we saw earlier, the color of Chiba sky is “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” This metaphor initiates an exchange between sky and television by projecting some of the screen’s properties onto the sky (such as the flatness, display of static or white noise). This twodimensional, screen-like sky is now recalled and transformed into a three-dimensional space from which the illusion of cyberspace emerges: Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of paler gray. Expanding – And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity. Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond his reach. (52)

The two-dimensional disk thus becomes a three-dimensional sphere, which expands and creates the impression of infinity in cyberspace. The effect of infinity results from the lack of perceptible boundaries. The liquid flow of images suggests the celluloid trick of film, except that Case is gradually becoming a part of the film and of the animated media environment that surrounds him. The alliteration of “flowed” – “flowered” – “fluid” heightens this effect, unfolding the third dimension as if from flat paper. The luminous and translucent quality of this space is once again described in terms of a “fluid

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neon origami trick.” Neon is technically not fluid but a gas, but any light filmed during a long exposure (such as the moving headlights of cars) will appear as continuous, blurred lines. Case’s eyes fixed in one direction can be equated with a camera lens, which passively records the motion around it. All that is left of Case’s body is his “inner eye,” a stand-in for his body, which anchors him in that artificial space. His perception is colored by previous experiences of cyberspace and the longing to return to his “distanceless home.” His body is ‘somewhere’ – it does not really matter where. Now his fingers on the keyboard feel distant and remote although his body has not actually moved an inch. The only distance traversed is mental, moving from a perception of outside space to the projection of inner space (52). Cyberspace is a peculiar combination of external perception and internal projection. There is no necessary connection between the inner space of cyberspace where Case’s point of entry is marked by the pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority, and the actual location of Case’s computer or cyberspace deck. “Cyberspace, as the deck presented it, had no particular relationship with the deck’s physical whereabouts” (105). The entry point always looks the same regardless of whether he logs onto the net from Earth or from outer space. It is all part of the same program. The computer itself is elliptically reduced to the keyboard or console most of the time, which represents the gateway and communication device between Case and cyberspace. The rest of the computer remains virtually unmentioned, hence non-existent. Computers in the cyberpunk universe are small: they are often incorporated into the human body under the skin of the user, such as Molly’s cranial sockets. The usual gamut of hardware and gadgets so often found in science fiction writers from the Golden Age are forgone here. Issues of style and mood are far more important signposts of the new subculture than technological details. Our only clue to the exact nature of the connection between Case and the computer comes from a “black terry sweatband [worn] across his forehead” holding in place the “flat Sendai dermatrodes” that are said to transmit data directly to his brain. “Behind his eyes,”

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in the “nonspace of the mind,” cyberspace is projected “on the mind’s screen” (51; 152).10 Up to this point in the novel, cyberspace has been described as a translucent, luminous space ordered by a grid like a mathematical set of coordinates or a complex city map. Once inside cyberspace, the very simplicity of the geometric shapes in the landscape is inversely proportional to the power they represent. For example, the pyramid of the Fission Authority or the green cubes of the Mitsubishi Bank of America dominate the skyline as clean-cut monoliths (52). Less is definitely more, exemplifying the modernist esthetic principle associated with Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe. The same applies to computer equipment outside of cyberspace: the simpler its appearance (such as a black cube), the more powerful it is guaranteed to be. The formidable artificial intelligence Wintermute is thus represented as “a simple cube of white light, that very simplicity suggesting extreme complexity” (115). So far, cyberspace has been introduced through allusions to (and the illusion of) a space, a background, a cosmos, or a universe. Black or blue are associated with the initial plunge into the void, the insinuated depth of cyberspace; even gray represents a sort of neutral background from which objects can emerge, like the stars (here chrome shuriken). Familiar references to gravitation and magnetic poles still persist in this new space as well. Action verbs like “boiling,” “jerking,” “blurring,” and “rotating,” all suggest speed and motion. Other verbs such as “expanding,” “unfolding,” and “extending” compound this effect by indicating the shape of the narrative to come. An illusion experienced as real but not to be confused with reality is the primary or framing narrative. This experience is much more readily achieved through metaphors and the merging of semantic fields than through real-life applications of virtual environments, which are still lagging behind the seamless, perfections envisioned by cyberspace. Pixels are visible, possibilities for feedback are largely confined to vision (and perhaps some sense of touch). Motion is still imperfect, lacking the fluid continuity suggested by Gibson’s cyberspace. Detail or resolution is likewise limited by computing power, whereas fictional cyberspace is merely limited by the power of imagination, the power to form a mental image of something that does not yet exist in the outside world. 10

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In order to move between cyberspace and the framing world, Case must toggle a switch and hit the right keys on his console or computer keyboard. While this method is explicitly mentioned at the beginning of the novel, the “switch” becomes progressively more elliptical as the action unfolds. The shift in and out of cyberspace is thus abbreviated to “he flipped a switch” when it is not omitted altogether or simply alluded to by the insertion of a new paragraph. Descriptions of cyberspace are also more to the point (e.g., “Cyberspace slid into existence from the cardinal points” or “cyberspace shivered, blurred, gelled”; 55, 115). But all movements and descriptions here fundamentally rely on individual agency. Cyberspace always exists as the graphic representation of computer data that the hero enters by means of an interface such as virtual-reality equipment (glasses, suit, feedback devices etc.). Space does not come into existence per se; rather, the person entering cyberspace gradually begins to perceive the existence of a new environment all around him. By the same token, the hero’s shift in position tends to dictate different points of view instead of the space contributing any of its own animation. Cyberspace does not move; the perceiving subject does. Animated objects found in cyberspace are usually viruses (which Gibson likens to military missiles) or ice defense systems (which grow and expand to keep out intruders.) Now that cyberspace has been imagined by the reader and more or less mapped out, we can more closely examine the variety of objects placed within this space. Familiar architectural elements such as walls, windows, and gates compose the geometric cubes, spheres, and pyramids found in cyberspace. These constructs are not built with solid materials but invisible data, which are rendered visible by graphic representation and projection. The illuminated pixels on the screen (before Case’s inner eye) thus represent information. Walls and cubes represent collections of data, such as the New York Public Library. Case and Molly infiltrate this library in order to steal Dixie Flatline, a personality construct and former cyber-cowboy. He has been reduced to a collection of memories stored before his accidental death. More precisely, he is a R O M or Read-OnlyMemory construct which cannot store new experiences. Infiltration

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of a virtual building is performed literally by penetrating its walls and its security systems or ice by means of an ice breaker – a program which can crack the code of the enemy’s ice. Gibson offers an explanation of the acronym I CE in the story “Burning Chrome,” but it does not really enlighten the reader because it uses an equally unknown and invented paraphrase of technical jargon. However, its devolution into lower-case “ice” activates the semantic qualities of frozen water, and its metaphoric association is transferred onto the characteristics of cyberspace in turn. The most important semantic properties here are the coldness of ice, the smoothness of its hard surface, and its crystalline structure and semi-translucent quality. Its transformation into “walls of ice” in both the short story and subsequent novels transposes ice from the horizontal to the vertical domain, where it becomes one of the definitive aspects of cyberspace. There are two different types of ice: deadly black ice, and good protective ice. Good ice functions as a defense system against unwanted intruders, such as those surrounding Chrome’s castle. The reader does not have to understand the technical implications (especially since they do not really make any sense); he or she only has to make an imaginative leap by reconciling the semantic connotations of initially contradictory elements into a single harmonious fictional space. The same suspension of disbelief applies to the literalization of Gibson’s oxymoron “burning chrome.” Chrome is a metal that does not actually burn, but Gibson suggests two semantic meanings as a solution to the puzzle. First of all, chrome is the name of a cyborglike character in the eponymous story, described as possessing a “childface smooth as steel” and “cold gray eyes” (169). Metallic characteristics are thus attributed to both the appearance and the character of the person. Bobby and Automatic Jack do not literally burn Chrome, the person, but they invade and steal Chrome’s database, represented as a “castle of ice” in the “simulation matrix,” or early equivalent of cyberspace (169). Heat is, naturally, associated with burning through these “walls of ice,” because it recalls the ice found in nature. But on a second level, it also carries a dead metaphoric connotation from American slang, since ‘to burn’ someone

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means “to cheat a partner out of his business profits or criminal loot” (Dictionary of American Slang 77). Another slang connotation of ‘to burn’ refers to killing someone by shooting or electrocution. In Gibson’s story, Chrome is burnt metaphorically because her power center in cyberspace is violated by intruders searching for “the heart of all Chrome’s expensive darkness” (178). A chain of associations thus teases out the significance of this early story’s title. The reconciliation of seemingly incompatible and even mutually exclusive properties enables the emergence of semantic signposts along the new pathways of cyberspace. Clearing a space for the coexistence of mutually exclusive properties reveals the dimensions of a new fictional world. As the world becomes more detailed, it is common for initial metaphors and other figurative uses of language to become increasingly literalized. The metaphors of cyberspace do not remain metaphors for very long, because they rapidly acquire properties from the newly carved-out space. Semantic clashes are reduced as figurative and factual features alike grow progressively more familiar. All the same, it is the figurative moments that contain in embryo the entire course of the narrative. Metaphors remain privileged because they contain the implicit plans of construction for the new world, as well as all clues to its interpretation. In Neuromancer, the same rhetorical strategy of gradually literalizing metaphoric expression applies to the creation of a full-fledged fictional universe. For instance, the Tessier–Ashpool clan is a rich and powerful family dwelling in a castle far in outer space. It is located on the tip of a spindle with a torus-ring surrounding it. Their residence is a space station portrayed and prefigured by a comparison with the image of a “hive” or “nest.” Case anticipates his encounter with this castle in a dream of a wasp hive: “In his mind’s eye, a kind of time-lapse photography takes place, revealing the thing as the biological equivalent of a machine gun, hideous in its perfection. Alien” (126). This dream image presages the encountered image of defunct power and wealth based on inheritance, embodied in the parasitic growth of the baroque castle that “produced nothing at all” (225). Not only the outside of the castle is convoluted; “the hull’s inner surface is overgrown with a desperate

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proliferation of structures, forms flowing, interlocking, rising toward a solid core of microcircuitry, our clan’s corporate heart” (172). And the structural similarity and symmetry between forms of family and forms of housing goes even further. The building in outer space reflects the symbiotic structure of the family because its “semiotics [...] bespeak a turning in, a denial of the bright void beyond the hull” (173). To the extent that “the construction of an extended body” has sealed them off, generation upon generation of the clan has grown inward, perpetuating “a seamless universe of self” (173). This parallelism between architectural and family structure literalizes the notion of corporate identity. The next stage of development for this old-style concentration of wealth and power are the multinational companies or zaibatsus ruling Case’s world. They represent still more complex ‘organisms’, which are even further beyond reach: Power, in Case’s world, meant corporate power. The zaibatsus, the multinationals that shaped the course of human history, had transcended old barriers. Viewed as organisms, they had attained a kind of immortality. You couldn’t kill a zaibatsu by assassinating a dozen key executives; there were others waiting to step up the ladder, assume the vacated position, access the vast banks of corporate memory. (203)

Unlike the Tessier–Ashpool clan, which forms a unit based on genetic family resemblance, the zaibatsus comprise a dispersed unit made up of socially engineered relations. Individuals are replaceable; their function can be taken over by others in the hive. The first goal is to ensure the survival of the species and the perpetuation of wealth and power. Case occupies a position outside of these power structures that seem to conspire against him. He perceives traces of their presence everywhere, even in his dreams – a fact expressed through his perception of their structural details in terms of a hive: Wintermute and the nest. Phobic vision of the hatching wasps, time-lapse machine gun of biology. But weren’t the zaibatsus more like that, or the Yakuza, hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms, their D N A coded in silicon? If Straylight was an expression of the corporate identity of Tessier–Ashpool, the T–A was crazy as the old man had been. The same ragged tangle of fears, the same strange sense of aimlessness. (203)

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The correspondence between patterns and structures on the microscopic and macroscopic levels creates a certain self-similarity or enantiomorphism (like the fractal representation of a coastline, where different iterations are based on the same mathematical formula or algorithm). This continual exchange between structural and semantic properties, between objects outside and inside cyberspace, is of utmost importance. The same structuring principle continues throughout the novel and thus helps to create the fictional architecture of cyberspace. Above all, a focus on complex patterns is constantly foregrounded. An example of cryptic clues can be found in graffiti “left at the junctions of grid lines,” which are interpreted as “neuroelectronic scrawls” resembling the “patchwork wooden tenements” of the Istanbul slums (81–82). Such similarities seem like coincidences at first, but they are crucial for deciphering the novel as a whole; they also lend structure to the brief paragraphs and narrative fragments that quickly switch between different persons. Thus the rhythmic repetition of structures, fabrics, and clusters creates a subtle form of organization and order based on association and resemblance. Near the end of the novel the eponymous Neuromancer announces the importance of this complexity: “I saw her death coming. In the patterns you sometimes imagined you could detect in the dance of the street. Those patterns are real” (259). Case’s sublime “flash of comprehension” during his near-death experience (268), his “single glimpse of the structure of information” (269), accords with his final impression of cyberspace at the end of the novel: “But all of this receding, as the cityscape recedes: city as Chiba, as the ranked data of Tessier–Ashpool S.A., as the roads and crossroads scribed on the face of a microchip, the sweat-stained pattern on a folded, knotted scarf” (262). He finally knows that these similarities are not paranoid delusions, and he spells out their connections for the reader, who must likewise have noticed these resemblances already. The virtual geography of cyberspace is thus gradually beginning to emerge. The space now has been structured, filled with virtual constructs and architectural objects. So far, Case has been mainly a passive observer. All he needs to do to enter Molly’s sensorium is to

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hit a switch or punch a few keys on his keyboard, and a computer program connects him with Molly’s body. The missions or “runs” in cyberspace are not quite so easy, since they involve many lifethreatening situations. Of course, in compliance with the rules of true adventure fiction, our hero masters them all and always escapes just in time. The action/adventure story is dominated by alternating episodes of extremely rapid movement. These “runs” in the matrix are juxtaposed with moments of absolute stasis, the “flatline” episodes during which the hero experiences virtual death. There are three major runs undertaken by Case and Molly in Neuromancer. The first test-run (so to speak) is the infiltration of the New York Public Library, where they steal Dixie Flatline,11 which consists of the stored memories and the personality of a dead cyber-cowboy. A run here signifies both the natural movement of the body and the virtual movement in cyberspace, because the meaning of pedestrian speed in changing is sustained simultaneously alongside the meaning of ‘stealing’ data. During the first run, the obstacles are mainly walls of ice. These can be dissolved, penetrated, cut, and entered into by means of a virus program, which destroys the “fabric” of the ice and creates a gap through which the information can be smuggled. For instance, “Case’s virus [...] bored a window through the library’s command ice” (63). Then, once he has injected the virus program, “he began to glide through the spheres as if he were on invisible tracks” (63). “Punching his way into the sphere” means that he is typing commands on the remote keyboard, telling the computer to execute the required program sequences. The deletion of the word “keyboard” implies that Case is “punching” his way toward physical victory in virtual battle. Once Case obtains the coveted piece of software, he reverses “the virus reknitting the fabric of the window” (63).

Dixie assists Case and provides comic relief with his wisecracks. Such comic asides are not only devised to be entertaining but to draw attention to the technical limitations of the construct’s existence. A cybernetic ‘ghost in the machine’ named Colin who can be called up like a holographic projection serves a similar function in Mona Lisa Overdrive. 11

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The second run is more dangerous because it involves stealing the Kuang military virus, required for the final run. The goal of this third run is to access a mysterious black-box computer terminal located in the Tessier–Ashpool stronghold. Since it is not hooked up to a computer network that can be accessed remotely, Case has to hook up his computer directly to the terminal in order to extract the information. By providing the code word at the very last minute, he releases the two powerful artificial intelligences, which then merge and become one entity. Case thus completes the project begun by the Tessier–Ashpool clan, since they designed these two artificial intelligences as two halves of one personality. The moment of their fusion represents the point of emergence of true artificial intelligence in the matrix, and the point of departure for Gibson’s sequels to Neuromancer. Flatline episodes are introduced by a freeze-frame. There is a cut in the narrative, sometimes even in mid-sentence or mid-word, and a new paragraph begins without transition. The virtual environment appears frozen or static for a moment, until Case experiences an enormous weight descending upon him: “The dark came down like a hammer” (116). Then he finds himself in the tangles of junk outside the Finn’s office – except not in the framing urban reality but in a simulated dream memory of the same place. Another near-death state is introduced in a similar fashion. There “was a click, deep at the very center of things, and the world was frozen. […] a still frame” (185). A similar sequence introduces all subsequent flatlining episodes. First, Case experiences darkness as a concrete force, then his perception of the environment freezes until it finally stops. The action comes to a terrifying halt: “Nothing. Gray void. No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace [...] leagues of black mirror” (233). Clock time stands still and subjective time reaches toward infinity. Run episodes and flatline states correspond to two modes of narration: speed and stasis. Fast-paced movement through cyberspace leaves no time for reflection, while flatline episodes remain mired in stagnant pools of Proustian involuntary memory. During these moments of virtual death, Case finds himself trapped in a feedback loop of his own memories, which Wintermute and, later,

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Neuromancer can access, manipulate, and re-order into new episodes. These mental experiences seem just as real as his other experiences in and beyond cyberspace – if not more real. They are almost indistinguishable, except for their telltale repetition, which signals “none of this was real” (235). Despite his knowledge of being manipulated, Case cannot find the energy to escape. The virtual rebirth of his girlfriend makes him continually relive her death, cruelly forcing him to wallow in feelings of guilt for her murder. He finally breaks out of this memory loop when he becomes aware of music playing on the Rastafarian spaceship where his real body and computer terminal are situated. At first the music seems like the soundtrack from a movie, but he succeeds in concentrating on the tune and thus escaping from the feedback loop. After this Robinsonesque episode, Case carries the memory of his girlfriend’s brutal death as fuel for his anger, guilt, and self-hatred. These emotions raise his adrenaline level, sharpen his senses, and ultimately allow him to beat the killer virus during his last run.

Gibson’s Cyberspace as a Point of Departure Once an alternative or parallel ‘universe’ of cyberspace is prefigured and mapped out, it can be extended as a familiar space for a new adventure and another story. The same universe in Neuromancer appears in Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. The continuity of cyberspace throughout these three texts justifies their being called a trilogy, since there is very little continuity in terms of plot or characters. Molly briefly reappears in Mona Lisa Overdrive, Case is mentioned once as a legend, and Bobby from Count Zero is the dead body on the stretcher in Mona Lisa Overdrive. Neither the second nor the third volume adds anything significantly new to the invention of cyberspace. Count Zero features a character trying to find the overall shape or Gestalt of cyberspace, but this quest ultimately eludes him. The same novel also elaborates on the connection between bioengineering and the enhancement and manipulation of human

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memories. Mona Lisa Overdrive, for its part, focusses on the notion of simstim. Following the Sprawl trilogy, Gibson has written another loosely connected trilogy consisting of Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999). These proceed from an accepted notion of virtual reality, practically taking it for granted. Virtual reality is now simply accessed with a set of special glasses, while the computer as interface has almost completely disappeared. The connection to virtual reality is instantaneous, with no transition or travel required. But a sense of post-apocalyptic urban architecture still remains important. Social, political, and housing structures are all teetering in the wake of a big earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area. A motley band of survivors has stayed behind to build a patchwork community on what seems to be the Golden Gate Bridge, proclaiming a free zone ruled by no apparent government. Virtual-reality glasses offer a game universe with dungeons and dragons as well as a range of virtual celebrities. Virtual reality has thus become a broad commercial zone, no longer the secret domain of the adept cyber-cowboys. Nonetheless, the universe inside virtual reality has grown more complex thanks to an internal proliferation of environments, some of which are very difficult to access without knowing (stealing or hacking) the password. Although the importance of the body is downplayed in Gibson’s novels, certain limits apply and cannot be ignored, such as the catheter which prevents the cyber-cowboy from soiling himself or the slowly dissolving toxin implants which threaten to terminate Case’s body. Case is also very aware of bodily pain, especially when he is linked to Molly’s unedited sensations shortly after she has broken a leg. This unedited version of simstim is preferred to the edited variety, sold for entertainment and star-worship, which a macho-cyber hero disdains as inferior. Despite the fact that Gibson invented cyberspace, he makes very little use of its potential as a plot device. Detailed descriptions and richly textured environments are foregrounded in his fiction, alternating with the speed of the action narrative. His version of cyberspace is an amalgam of cultural, architectural, racial, and linguistic

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fragments that he skillfully weaves into a new world. Intersecting narrative strands and rapidly shifting perspectives all combine to produce the impression of breakneck speed. The new final frontier is not to be found in outer space, just as it is not to be found in the subjective inner space of an individual. Cyberspace explores a hybrid between the two. In a new computer-generated space, the immense distances of outer space are posited as projections behind the mind’s eye. These are consensual, accessible to more than one person at a time and produced by all of the human senses. We will now turn to a consideration of what Pat Cadigan and Neal Stephenson have made of the Gibsonian legacy in their own creative terms.

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To that end, I leave you with the two thoughts that drive me, and have always driven me: from Kurt Vonnegut – “We become what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be.” And from e.e. cummings: “Listen – there’s a hell of a good universe next door – let’s go.” (Cadigan “Seduced and Abandoned”)

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C A D I G A N H A S C O N T R I B U T E D T H R E E N O V E L S to the cyberpunk sub-genre: Mindplayers, Synners, and Fools. Each explores different fictional possibilities of the emerging topos of cyberspace or virtual reality, although it is never named as such. Cadigan’s virtual worlds highlight the psychological implications of the new media, particularly their impact on human formations of self, identity, and individuality. These concerns lead to questions about the limits of reproduction, storage, and transfer of memories between different human bodies. The science-fictional universes created in all three novels are based on the same cyberpunk assumption: the existence of a continuum between man and machine. Thus human eyes can be removed temporarily, in order to be replaced with artificial ones (such as Allie’s cat’s-eye in Mindplayers). These eyes then become gateways to the cyber-soul, enabling a direct exchange between computer system and human brain. A virtual space opens where human minds are now capable of projecting AT

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images, both remembered and imaginary.1 Cadigan’s trilogy thus preserves the central tenet of all cyberpunk science fiction: that humans and machines share the same basic code. Cyberpunk treats as concrete fact in its fictions what cybernetic theory accepted as a common model or metaphor. As a result, human beings are troublingly reduced to “an informational pattern” (Hayles Posthuman 61). Cadigan imagines the interaction of minds as mediated through a system. It provides a “medium for the meeting of our minds. It works, but only as well as we do. You know how it is with machines” (Mindplayers 243). These environments are similar to the computer-generated graphic environments of virtual worlds, except that they are not bound by machine algorithms and hardware limitations. Instead, they proceed as a negotiation reached by consensus between two or more minds. They appear to be just as real as “the real world” (i.e., the framing narrative world). But the transitions between scenes follow the surreal logic found in dreams. Mindplayers is Cadigan’s first novel, whose protagonist is a streetwise character with the nickname Deadpan Allie. Following her arrest for illegal mindplay, she is offered the chance to learn the art of mindplay as a legitimate form of livelihood. Allie accepts the offer and explores many alternate states of mind and reality which she can enter through mind-to-mind contact. A computer system, simply referred to as “the system,” mediates all of these encounters. Altered states here are partly the conscious creation of the mind, and partly projections of the unconscious. In order to enter into contact with one another, participants must first consent to remove their eyes – for only then can they connect their optical nerves to the system. Cadigan emphasizes the non-intrusive and voluntary nature of this act by underlining the creative and therapeutic dimension of these encounters. All mental projections are actively imagined and collaboratively sustained by each of the participants. Thanks to these shared visualizations, the Schwab, in her discussion of the psychohistorical dynamic of cyborg technology, refers to this type of projection as “cathexis, an imaginary screen onto which psychic energies from the most archaic to the most current may be projected” (194). 1

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trained mindplayer develops guidance strategies to help solve the other person’s psychological problems. Symbols and objects in this virtual space explicitly enact Gibson’s definition of a consensual hallucination, since they can be read as emblematic traces of the theories of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. On the story level they can be manipulated like tangible concrete objects, because they are visible and have material properties. Allie learns to manipulate and control these symbols in a professionally therapeutic capacity. Cadigan clearly distinguishes the healing aspects of mindplay from criminal uses such as “mindrape” or “mindsuck.” The healing and the criminal potentialities of mindplay are represented by Allie and Jerry Wirerammer respectively. While Allie is training to become a licensed mindplayer and “pathosfinder” who specializes in restoring artists’ lost creativity, Jerry sinks deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld. What begins as an illegal but innocent experiment with altered states of consciousness soon gets out of control and results in random cloning or bootlegging of Jerry’s personality. Once a couple of copies have been illegally circulated, these multiple selves compete in clamoring for more memories from the ‘real’ Jerry. Original and templates become hopelessly confused: Jerry can no longer be located in a specific human body. As his cloned and copied personas search for their original, Jerry literally becomes a threat to himself. Such confusion is not implausible in the context of Cadigan’s fictional world, since most personas or personalities can be stored and rented out to different people like video tapes. Thus one can literally become one’s favorite movie star or any character one desires by buying such a franchised personality from a branch of Power People, a legal outlet for this merchandise. The novel as a whole follows Allie’s apprenticeship as a mindplayer and the increasingly difficult assignments that she has to solve through mind-to-mind encounters. In the course of her training, she discovers that each mind-to-mind episode leaves traces in her mind which increasingly dilute her sense of self. She learns to come to terms with this phenomenon by finding ways to turn it to her advantage. She begins to understand that personality and identity are not static characteristics, set in stone, but dynamic states that are

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changed by each interaction. The only constant feature that Allie preserves is her deadpan expression, which is a combination of streetwise awareness and poker-faced emotional detachment. This ability to mask her emotions marks her as an outstanding pathosfinder; for in order to help other people find their creative vein, it is necessary for the pathosfinder to join with other minds without imposing her own views on them. Although the environments created during mindplay resemble states of consciousness induced by drugs, a crucial difference lies in the former’s requirement of skill to control these scenarios, visions, or projections. Guided by a trained mindplayer, the subject eventually finds his or her own solution to a problem – and at the end of the process, both mindplay participants are changed by it. Every episode leaves its traces, so “that we’re made up of all the lives we’ve ever touched. Even before mindplay” (273). As experts, both Allie and Jerry learn to relinquish their ‘original’ sense of self. They replace a fixed, static notion of subjectivity with an interactive, dynamic model which is more than the sum of its parts (275). However, some characteristics or personality traits always persist to betray an individual’s style of speech or behavior, such as Allie’s deadpan expression and Jerry’s criminal tendency. Synners is Cadigan’s second novel, and the most cyberpunkinflected of the three. It develops the relationship between rock music and virtual reality, thus dramatizing the tensions between artistic and commercial uses of virtual technology. This novel is more complex in narrative terms than the first, since it features three principal protagonists: Visual Mark, a video producer; Gabe, a frustrated artist turned advertising producer; and Gabe’s daughter Sam, the emancipated hacker with friends from the “electronic underground” (48). The mindplay system of mentally projected images is now commercially employed by the music and advertising industry. A new type of brain-socket implant is pioneered and sold to the rock music video clientele, which is supposed to simulate something “less like a video, more like a waking dream” (67). The implant dispenses with the more cumbersome hotsuit for access and interaction with virtual reality scenarios, because it affords direct

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communication between the neurological pathways of the human brain and the wires of the electronic computer. However, the implant’s convenience comes at a price: viral attacks may ensue after use, even brain death through seizure. The direct link between human and computer enables the immediate exchange of both information and disease. And this exchange can occur in both directions: a computer virus can spread to the human body and a human stroke can induce the collapse of the computer system. Fools is Cadigan’s third and the most complex novel. It draws on the mindplay universe of Mindplayers but experiments further with its role-playing potential. It also demonstrates that virtual reality is “inextricably intertwined with identity.”2 Virtual reality becomes a technique for role-playing, self-discovery, and experimentation. The Power People stores sell personas of famous people as well as crooks. “Why buy designer clothes L I K E Cindy Crawford?” Cadigan’s narrator asks rhetorically, “Why not just B E Cindy Crawford?” She suggests that media personalities are little more than clothes, subject to the same whims of fashion or desire – interchangeable shells into which we all can slip. Cadigan takes star worship to its logical extreme, far beyond Gibson’s simstim experience of famous people’s lives. The novel consists of three first-person narrative strands differentiated by various typefaces. Each of the voices is equally believable and self-sustaining, although they all seem to reside in the same body. Like Pirandello’s characters in search of an author, these voices are searching for their original body, a quest that remains ultimately unresolved. There is no means by which the reader can determine the original inhabitant of the body, because each voice reveals more and more layers of different identities. The actress, Marva, turns out to be a brain-police officer working deep undercover. Then the police officer, Mersine, slips into the role of the actress in order to investigate an illegal personality-bootlegging Cadigan made this pronouncement during a speech at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London on 12 March 1994. Fools was awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel in 1995, as was her second novel Synners in 1992. 2

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operation. While Mersine is undercover in the personality of Marva, she has no conscious control over the other personality. Marva thus discovers the hidden persona of the police officer and ends up believing that she is real. Marva tries to have the police persona removed by hiring a memory junkie, Marceline, who is supposed to push the unwanted persona off a virtual cliff. Marceline is told that she is to “escort” Mersine – a euphemism for accompanying a persona to her own suicide – because the persona allegedly is an unwanted, residual character from a theater performance. While trying to kill the excess character, Marceline discovers that the figure is in fact real; Mersine, the police officer, rescues herself by hiding her personality in Marceline’s personality. There is no omniscient narrator of any kind to help the reader evaluate each voice’s veracity, and neither the first nor the last voice encountered in the novel provides any clues as to which enjoys definitive precedence. The structure of the book resembles a whodunit mystery circling around the recurring cliff-incident that allegedly killed one of the personalities in a virtual mind-to-mind scenario. But the story really develops into a psychological quest for identity, complicated by each voice intruding into the other’s thoughts like a bad conscience or a schizophrenic tic. Voices can be separated according to typefaces, mind styles, and some linguistic markers, such as Marva’s recurring interjection “Migod” and Marceline’s filler “ha, and ha.” But bodies can be bewilderingly altered as a result of mindplay, via surgery, or through adaptation over time. Memories of the respective person actually determine physical appearance. Because so many different personas, roles, and identities are mixed here and overlaid, the original body has effectively disappeared. Reconstruction of neither the original mind nor the original body is possible.

Words into Worlds: “Change for the Machines” Cadigan’s fictional world is based on the literalization of puns and the refiguralization of dead metaphors, especially from colloquial language. These plays on words may seem like a source of low humor, but they actually serve a higher narrative purpose as

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moments of revelation and insight. In the same way that Freudian slips tend to betray the workings of the unconscious or the repressed, the ‘mistakes’ made by Cadigan’s characters open a gateway between various levels of meaning. Wordplay occasions doubleedged shifts between the literal and figurative and back again, depending on the context. Recurring instances of this rhetorical strategy can be isolated in each of her novels, and examined as the keys to unlocking the narrative’s underlying logic. Such literalized figurative expressions can also be said to contain and condense the entire novel. A closer analysis of each of the three novels will show how far Cadigan follows Gibson, as well as the extent to which she significantly departs from him.

Mindplayers The expression ‘changing your mind’ becomes literalized right at the outset of the novel. Allie first engages in mindplay illegally when Jerry Wirerammer offers her a madcap, a device that induces a temporary state of psychosis. The madcap thus performs the same function as a recreational drug, since both provide a means of escape from external reality. But the skilled practise and experience with mindplay can provide a way of coming to terms with reality, as a tool for increasing self-awareness: “Madcaps aren’t thinking; limbo isn’t thinking; you don’t engage anything, you just lie there and have it done to you. Altered state of consciousness. You might as well alter your ear for all the good it’s done your consciousness” (23). After Allie’s madcap experiment goes awry, she opts to literally ‘change her mind’ by dedicating herself to the study of serious mindplay. The novel is divided into three parts, each corresponding to a stage in the main character’s development. The first section (“Altered States of Consciousness”) begins with the illegal mindplay experiment followed by an apprenticeship period. While training to become a licensed mindplayer, Allie focusses on learning how to control her mental projections and her interactions with others within the mindplay system: “If I have to dream my life away, I

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might as well be in the pilot’s seat. Or at least the navigator’s” (91). She then literally has her consciousness altered by McFloy during one educational session. McFloy plays an “eye-trick” on Allie, which indelibly appends part of his personality to Allie’s own memory and personality. In the second part of the novel (“Altering States of Consciousness”), Allie progresses from a largely passive role as a mindplayer to a more active level of mastery. She completes her introductory training and specializes in becoming a pathosfinder.3 This field of expertise involves working with artists and “helping them find what was basically the soul in their work” or providing “some kind of therapy,” by fostering a recovery of “the creative On button” in their work (50; 199). The novel’s final section (“Alerted Snakes of Consequence”) finds Allie grappling with her most difficult and dangerous assignments to date. Each crisis teaches her another new insight into her self, which is continually adapting to these new challenges and encounters. The recurring image of the snake serves as a protective talisman in her quest to understand the consequences of achieving altered states of consciousness. When Allie’s teacher initially explains that “the mind’s symbolism is often simplistically literal,” we can see a clue to the broader strategy of the novel (24). The alliteration and parallelism of the novel’s three sub-headings point to an interplay of snakes and states, consciousness and consequence. The snake first appears when Allie encounters McFloy in the training pool. The pool is a representation of a swimming pool through which other scenarios can be negotiated, developed, and projected by participants plugged into the virtual universe. Thanks to McFloy, Allie learns how to “dream lucidly” – a technique that paradoxically permits free association at the same time as control of one’s dreams. While Allie is still learning how to mindplay with her “mind’s eye” (37), she has trouble visualizing a face for herself in the virtual scenario. This “blind spot” is her weak point (64). She finds out that McFloy has In the afterword to Mindplayers, Cadigan states that she adapted the term pathosfinder from “neurosis-peddler,” a word she once heard Gardner Dozois use as an example of two “unrelated words, jammed together, meant to evoke the image of a future” (277). 3

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been cloning other people’s memories and that he is capable of “appropriating other people’s points of view” (65). Allie understands that “people traded points of view all the time in real reality – figuratively, of course” – but she is worried by the way this habit “translated so literally into the eye trick in the pool” (65). This “exchange of vision” through the literal exchange of the image of the eye in the pool results in her receiving McFloy’s cat’s eye (69). This becomes her virtual eye and, in a sense, a part of her: “He’d added to me,” she observes (73). The exchange of virtual eyes has a consequence for Allie’s real life, because it leaves a trace in her memory. McFloy explains to her its own meaning for him: “I don’t know how to be real on my own. You take it. Make me real. Somewhere, then, I’ll live for real, even if it’s just in a dream. Your dream” (76). After his body dies in the real world, his virtual eye continues to exist as Allie’s “third eye,” which in Hinduism and Buddhism means the eye of insight and stands for a form of intuition (79). But before McFloy dies, another image appears in the pupil of this eye: a “snake in a perfect circle, mouth gripping its tail” (77). Allie has encountered this image once before during her desperate lesson in lucid dreaming, but she does not immediately grasp its humor. McFloy’s snake suggests in a playful congruence between altered states of consciousness and alerted snakes of consequence (53), whose self-consuming, ourobouros ring structure is an echo of infinity or “altered state without end” (89). As Allie moves from one mind-to-mind encounter to another, she finds it increasingly hard to maintain a sense of self, because that very “foundation” is continually being undermined or layered-over with other experiences of identity. The recurring snake–eye image serves as a mental anchor in moments of distress, rescuing her from two near-death experiences. The self here is not a matter of continuous, static, or essential identity but a “composite” along the lines of an artificial intelligence program (184). Allie’s trainer Jascha explains that she too is a “configuration” or “pattern” of accumulated events and memories which is constantly in flux. “Even though you alter yourself,” he tells Allie, “you alter as yourself” (271, emphasis mine). But it is Allie’s memory of her other encounter

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with McFloy that persists: his voice keeps periodically intruding as a kind of interior monologue, together with the image of the eye with the circle of snakes. This paradoxical state of experiencing doubleness in a single skin is neatly expressed by the image of a snake forming a Möbius strip toward the end of the novel: “And then there were just the Snakes, dancing in the air, cutting curlicues and Möbius strips with their perfect bodies” (272).4

Synners Cadigan’s second novel is set in a universe similar to the one found in Mindplayers. Mindplay has now become part of everyday life, and the implications of ‘changing your mind’ are pursued in the specific context of the entertainment industry. Rock music, music videos, computer games, advertising, film, and art installations are all part of the same fluid package. Musicians no longer concern themselves with live performances so much as with “visualizations” of threedimensionally recordable music videos in which the audience can now participate. Visualizations are literally projections of the musicians’ imagination with musical accompaniment. Real instruments are obsolete, since these can be summoned or synthesized by the mind instead. Persons performing his act of musical synthesis are thus known as synners (short for synthesizers). Synthesizers here are not machines simulating musical instruments, but individuals gene-

A Möbius strip represents a two-dimensional figure with only one side. Lacan used this image along with other mathematical symbols to describe the human psyche (Sarup 113). These “mathemes” or geometric symbols (mostly different types of knots) “gave him a means to represent forms without boundaries or simple separations” as an analogy for “the unconscious [as] a structure with neither an outside nor an inside” (Sarup 113). The visual images in Mindplayers work in a similar Lacanian fashion: they serve as analogies for a particular (albeit fictional) view of the human mind. Geometrical figures function as metaphors for the nature of personality in Cadigan, not only as metaphors of the unconscious as in Lacan (although opinions remain divided on whether Lacan’s mathemes serve as metaphors or not; see Sarup 117). 4

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rating sounds and images through a creative, associative process. While some musicians from the old school still play instruments, the new school of musicians play all of the notes (literally) in their heads.5 The homophone synner sheds some light on the novel’s central character, Visual Mark. Because of his outstanding talent as a musician, Mark is “bought” by the media conglomerate Diversifications. Unfortunately, his job description involves being a test subject for a new socket implant. His new employer shrewdly uses the music industry to introduce this implant, thereby procuring easy product acceptance and wide distribution. Mark is thus the guinea pig or ‘original sinner’. He is the first person to fully explore the liberating potential of the new technology, as well as the first to experience its detrimental effects. By transcending the limitations of his body, he expands his knowledge and increases his self-awareness. But this step proves to be fatally irreversible. He dies from a stroke, which ricochets across the entire computer network. Global disaster is only narrowly averted, thanks to a young woman hacker who finds a “vaccine” (i.e. an anti-virus program) for the computer disease and administers a sophisticated “serum.” The ‘sin’ of being a sinner refers to the transgression of the boundary between human and machine. Once humans have incorporated the neurological implant which alters their brains, they have stepped closer to becoming hybrid organisms or cyborgs. Gina calls her boyfriend Mark the original synner: “If a synner was someone who continually hallucinated, then Mark was the original” (109). After all, he had already hallucinated without the implant. “Burning

The Beater is one such old-style musician in the novel, who enjoys bonding with an audience through live performance. In some ways the new implants actually enhance this old-fashioned feeling of communion, because (as the Beater himself admits) the musician has “a better way to get the pictures he saw in his head out just the way he saw them, get them out and on video so everyone could see them the same way” (84–85). Surgically modified humans displace the need for playing musical instruments by “be[ing] the music” instead (83). But a certain nostalgia for drums and guitars is harder to eradicate. 5

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out,” from entropic “heat death” after the implant was perhaps inevitable: Mark’s body and brain became too small to contain all the information, forcing him to spill out across the data network. An artificial intelligence (Art Fish) then detected Mark’s presence in the net and absorbed him, transforming Mark into “Markt” (a homophone with ‘marked’ and the amalgam of Mark and Art). The original sin of eating from the tree of knowledge is thus punished, but only in a very abstract sense. The value of technology in Synners is deliberately ambivalent, neither all-good nor all-evil. But once any new technology has been unleashed, there is certainly no going back to an ‘innocent’ state without it. Several boundaries are transgressed: between human and machine, between natural and artificial intelligence, and between the use and the abuse of technology. These transgressions generally cut both ways. For instance, Mark extends his consciousness into the global network just as Art Fish consolidates its power through the addition of Mark. In contrast to earlier science fiction where humankind relentlessly uses robots and machines as tools for the advancement of the human race, Cadigan insists on a give-and-take on equal terms, which redefines the whole relationship. Gina states in the epilogue that “every technology has its original sin [...]. Makes us original synners. And we still got to live with what we made” (435). A biblical connotation of “sin” is further supported by references to “the fall” and “the pit.” However, such implications are secondary to the value of the new technological connotations being created. “The fall” in this context thus refers to a video recording of Gina jumping head-first off a high-rise building. Although she is actually attached to a bungee cord, the fall is recorded from her perspective; her fear, sense of vertigo, and intense adrenaline rush are also recorded alongside the visuals. While this episode is being taped, Gabe enters the scene and mistakes it for a genuine suicide attempt. In order to save her, he intrudes and ruins the film session. A ‘serious’ perception of a biblical term is thus playfully subverted and shown to be a mistake. The notion of synner also refers to synesthetic perception, where one sensory perception evokes the perception of another sense:

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He’d already been Visual Mark by then; it should have been Visualizing Mark. It was as if he had a pipeline to some primal dream spot, where music and image created each other, the pictures suggesting the music, the music generating the pictures, in a synesthetic frenzy. (109)

The resulting artificial environment creates the illusion of literally being immersed “in the sounds and the pictures [as a] real unreal experience” (197). This simulation can also provide very real emotional sensations, which are experienced the same way as those in the ‘real’ world. The only thing different about them is the way they are created. Synesthesia also enables new combinations of intelligence for sensory perception, both human and artificial. “We might actually have two species of humans now, synthesizing human and synthesized human, all of us being the former, and Art Fish being the latter” (386). Art Fish absorbs human qualities from Mark and becomes a new form of synthesis between human and machine, a cyborg who lives in the virtual world without a body. Here Cadigan goes much further than Gibson, whose heroes remain “chained” or “wired” to the computer. The idea of a synthesis between performer and audience is also sketched in one of Cadigan’s earlier short stories called “Rock On.” Gina professionally synthesizes music for performers such as ManO-War. She describes her work as “giving him the meat and bone that made him Man-O-War and the machines picking it up, sound and vision” (39). In this story, Gina is the true artist and the musician Man-O-War is only her instrument. It is the woman who is creatively responsible, masterminding a communally shared experience: ... the tapes weren’t as good as the stuff in the head, rock ’n’ roll visions straight from the brain [...] But you had to get everyone in the group dreaming the same way. You needed a synthesis, and for that you got a synthesizer, not the old kind, the musical instrument, but something – somebody – to channel your group through, to bump up their tube-fed little souls, to rock them and roll them.... (39)

As we saw with Mindplayers, Cadigan reiterates the active and interactive dimensions of technology here. She does not portray the

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universe from the perspective of the passive consumer but from the vantage point of the creative producer. Juxtapositions between freedom and constraint, use and abuse, active and passive are all thematized without arriving at any simple, one-sided conclusion. Becoming a synner or synthesizer in the novel Synners also means “changing for the machines,” or receiving a brain implant which is supposed to enhance the creative visions. One of the characters offers the following technical explanation of how this implant functions: ... sockets feeding into the temporal lobes will enhance whatever data come in. Interactivity again – the consumer can cooperate in the forming of the images. Useful for games of any level of sophistication. It will feel quite extraordinary. Mystical, if you like [...] Manipulation of the parietal lobes [...] will give the illusion of movement. Your people will no longer have to move about physically in hotsuits to produce effects like walking, climbing, and so forth. And the consumers will feel it without needing hotsuits of their own. (66)

Cyberpunk fiction typically seeks to minimize or even eliminate the interface or feed-back device between human body and computergenerated graphic environment, such as the hotsuit. It builds on the hypothesis that a direct information exchange between human brain and calculating machine is possible. Visions thus acquire the quality of a waking dream, their components drawn from reality but joined in a surreal logic of their own. Cadigan describes this uncanny illusion as a synthesis of both waking and dreaming states: … people should feel more creative [...] One socket each goes to the auditory and visual cortices. Technically your video people could use only those two sockets to produce a music video, but it will be a fuller experience using all the sockets. Less like a video, more like a waking dream. More like a real experience [...]. What we’ve done [...] is hardwired an out-of-body experience. (67)

These implants were originally developed to compensate for mental disabilities. Once the true size of the entertainment market was realized, however, all altruistic applications were abruptly discontinued. And as an extra convenience and incentive, entertainment products

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carry far fewer concerns about possible risks of the implant procedure than medical treatments do. The title of the novel is the key to its dominant theme: the rapprochement between human and machine which results in a new synthesis and a new form of existence. This theme finds a further echo in the phrase “change for the machines.” It initially appears as a banal sort of sentiment expressed by Gabe, who encounters Mark in front of the coffee machine and says to him: “I thought you looked like you needed, um, change for the machines” (97). Gabe literally refers to the coins required to operate the vending machine in front of them. However, Mark has just been bribed to work for Diversifications and is about to become a candidate for one of the new implants, so the imminent physical change in his body is predominantly on his mind. Owing to the different contexts in which the two characters are involved, they misunderstand each other. This miscommunication becomes one of the key themes of the novel and is strategically repeated at different occasions throughout.6 Another strategically employed misunderstanding involves the Beater.7 His experience of “getting wired” refers to the old hallucinogenic effect of drugs, but a new meaning for the same experience becomes gradually literalized. Sockets have rendered the drug trade obsolete, so that the same hallucinations or illusions can be produced by technological means (228).8 Once the brain implants have been adopted by large numbers of the population, Gina notices that it “hadn’t taken long for everything to change for the machines. Pretty soon it would all be happening at the speed of thought, before it could actually happen, so that nothing would ever have to happen again. You’d only think things had happened, and if anything ever did happen, you wouldn’t know the difference” (228). See pages 145, 200, 226, 246, and 334. His name stands metonymically for the entire Beat Generation. 8 Sterling describes the “old” counterculture of the 1960s as “rural, romanticized, anti-science, anti-tech” with the electric guitar as a “lurking contradiction”; cyberpunk, on the other hand, represents a new counterculture that integrates this apparent contradiction in an underground “garage-band aesthetic” (“Preface” to Mirrorshades xiii). 6 7

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Does this imply a criticism that people are too eager to change for the machines? Are the machines also changing for the humans? An interesting example of man–machine synthesis can be traced in the history of Cadigan’s ‘character’ Art Fish. This artificial intelligence originates in the manifestation of a virus named Dr. Fish. Its appearance is initially met with humor because it only seems to be jumbled sentences on public display boards. For instance, it scrambles and subverts a Surgeon General’s health warning displayed at a drive-through restaurant. It seems harmless enough, causing “almost no destructiveness, just unexpected messages taking up space and slowing things down” (29). The virus first emerges from a computer containing Dr. Fish’s answering machine, where the accumulated information has become so dense that it finally collapses. Catastrophe theory explains Dr. Fish’s emergence as a conscious entity, since “going over the brink of catastrophe was the first stage. The second was recovery – since it was programmed to accommodate” (174). Art Fish then emerges from a vaccine or antidote to the virus program Dr. Fish, which has been rapidly infecting the entire net under different “incarnations” (175). He subsequently becomes Artie Fish (homophone with the word-stem in ‘artificial’). He is conscious (176), he names himself, he speaks and interacts with humans – but he is not human. After Mark merges with Art, he becomes a “configuration” that only “remember[s] his old existence as meat” (330). He dimly feels that he has a “universe of knowledge within him” somewhere (331). For Mark, “the configuration identified as Art Fish was a wonder and a revelation to him, a synesthetic concert of intelligence in conscious mode” (380). During the big stroke that afflicts his body, Mark saves himself by hiding as a message on the Dr. Fish answering machine, which results in their fusion. He, or rather the new configuration, reasons that “if you can find the tiniest remnant of association, then you will know it again” (382). The old concepts of private property and individual were fast losing their importance to him as he and Art came closer to being two aspects of one consciousness rather than two separate intelligences. And at the same time his sense of identity intensified. He

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was approaching the state of essence, a balance point where the question of self had room for only one answer: yes or no. And the step following essence was implosion. The rabbit hole. (385)

Fools In the universe of Fools, memories, minds, and bodies can be sold, franchised, rented, superimposed and swapped – sometimes all at once. The question is, what provides a person with an identity or a sense of self? This novel leaves little room for objective description, because it is composed entirely of different voices or I-narrations. Even a supposedly objective perception of a character’s body in front of a mirror turns out to be misleading, since the mirror is shown to be cracked. Like many other cyberpunk works, Fools posits a universe where memories are treated as software that can be isolated and transferred to a different body or brain. This means that the mind is treated as an entity independent of its material signifier, the body. For Cadigan, however, the exchange of minds may also leave traces on the body. It can result in changes in gestures, body language, or physical appearance, just as it can lead the character to seek cosmetic surgery in order to resemble more closely a person whose identity and self-image has been acquired. The figure of speech ‘to change one’s mind’ has probably never been more extensively literalized than here. When Marceline casually states that she has “half a mind – ha, and ha – to forget the pawnshop and just run off,” this is literally true. The other half of her mind is taken up by the brain-police officer who is currently in deep undercover – that is to say, her memories are hidden in Marceline’s mind without her conscious awareness (26). Memories are objectified and can be traded for money at a pawnshop through mind-tomind contact. This includes Marceline’s own memories that she deposited earlier, as well as the memories sold by other people. At the beginning of the novel she finds herself completely disoriented: the pawnshop brings back some of her memories, but also traces of someone else. She hears a voice intruding suddenly (in subliminal

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italics): “Like a tapestry that’s become unraveled [...] You just have to wave [sic] them all back together the way they were. Or you could make an entirely different picture” (44). As it turns out, the original(s) are irrecuperably lost and it is indeed an entirely different picture that emerges during the course of the novel. There is no correct reading to unravel all the identities into separate beings: they all remain present in one body, if only as traces. A number of different devices are employed for breaking out of a character or narrative voice as well as for creating transitions between or intrusions into voices. Certain words signal the other persona’s existence, lending it temporary precedence. Often the last line of a previous paragraph is resumed as the first line of a new paragraph, now set in a different typeface. Thus Marva concludes with the question: “Had it just been that I hadn’t known the line? Or had I just changed my mind?” (emphasis added 137). Mersine, the brain-police officer, begins: “Change of heart, thus a change of mind; the things that can happen when someone catches you in a weak moment” (emphasis added 137). There is also a play-within-aplay preserved between the different personas, so that each can communicate with the other. A frequently repeated question, “do you want to check the line?,” announces and prepares this form of dialogue. ‘Checking the line’ carries different literal meanings for each of the three characters. For the actress it means checking the script; for the policewoman it means checking the computer dataline that has replaced traditional phone lines; and for the memory junkie it refers to a fishing line in the pool where she pushed the police officer off a cliff. It is the one phrase that all three characters share, and which marks the point at which they converge. Used as a mnemonic device, the reminder “check the line” is used to send a message from one character to another. The echo chamber of M’s (Marva/Marceline/Mersine and finally Marya, another persona used by the brain-police officer) is supported by a series of similar rhetorical strategies. Many metaphors concerning “impersonation” and “full costume” become literal for each narrative voice. Costume here refers to the mask or disguise of a character, rather than the literal assumption of different clothes.

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To be in full costume means that one has assumed the other character’s perception, role, and identity. While the theatrical context provides a skillful and artful form of illusion that can be controlled, the notion of an imprint involves a different power constellation and less conscious control. A printing metaphor is thus attached to the theatrical one with references to “embossing” and “debossing.” Embossing means foregrounding a certain persona, while debossing means removing that particular persona. But nothing is guaranteed to stick: personas tend to “leak through” or “break character,” shattering the illusion of a particular role. The more frequent these breaks become, the less discernible the individual personas. Any notion of a true or original persona is constantly eroded, so all the three dominant personas emerge as equally real. The actress has learned to control her roles through deliberate changes of “costume”; the police officer remains carefully undercover for the most part; and the memory junkie is addicted to new memories. If the police officer acts as the moral conscience or super-ego, the memory junkie appears to be the id, driven by instinctual needs largely beyond her control, while the actress is the ego that manages to mediate best between all the roles available. Fools demands the full attention of the reader, who must constantly shift perspectives in order to orient himself. A sense of closure or certainty is infinitely deferred, because all three competing voices are equally believable. “It was the type of confusion that spiraled inward. Follow it, and you’d chase your own tail until you imploded into a fugue state” (268). The actress has the last indecisive word, but: “I lost a lot of memory […] If that’s what makes any of us what we are, then I’m really not Marva at all. Not the original fake and not the original fake fake. A new fake” (279). In this mirror world of trickster characters, the copy is as good as the original, as long as it thinks of itself as real. Being fooled does not involve being stupid in this novel. Rather, it means being tricked into believing a certain persona. Fooling someone means creating a credible illusion or a convincing performance. The book’s three distinct sections thus reflect three bravura performances. The first part is called “Fool to Remember,” the

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second “Fool to Believe,” and the third “Nobody’s Fool.” In each section one persona succeeds in dominating the others: first the actress, then the brain-police officer, and finally the memory junkie. The sense of being a fool shifts from being an ignorant or deceived victim toward a more playful meaning of fooling around with different roles. Fools builds up a freight of oppositional meanings only to cancel them all out. Roles become real, while the real assumes different roles.

Cadigan’s Mindscapes: “Coming Soon to a Brain near You”9 As we have seen, literalized puns and the (re-)animation of dead metaphors play a key role in the construction of Cadigan’s fictional world. They represent the building blocks or presuppositions for these imagined mental spaces or mindscapes. Cadigan’s variation on the cyberpunk link between human and computer gives imaginative priority to the human brain. Her preference for first-person narration reflects this focus on individual cognitions, as opposed to Gibson’s reliance on third-person narration. Cadigan’s imaginary representations of psychological and emotional states tend to blur the distinction between inner and outer reality, subjective and objective experience. Although they resemble fragmented dream states, they are accepted and treated as concrete environments. They are ‘consensual’ events, control over which is negotiated by the participants. Cadigan does not present a case for forgetting, replacing, or deleting the real through simulation. Instead, she offers a vision that enhances the recovery of a sense of overarching meaning and reality.

Mindplayers Allie’s first experience with mindplay, the conscious manipulation of mental images, proceeds from the perception of abstract color 9

Synners (248).

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patterns without images or “a sense of environment or dimension” (20). She compares this experience to passively “watching patterns on the backs of your eyelids” (20), or watching television on the screen of the mind. Slowly, the colors become more complex and she perceives the presence of her teacher’s mind, a sensation which she describes as “bubbles touching” (20). At first she perceives herself as “the container that was me and the me the container contained [...] – it was the most powerful sense of identity I’d ever had in my life” (20). However, this is followed by a gradual “breakdown in [her] border condition,” allowing for a delicate balance to be struck between teacher and pupil to remain “separate, but […] in contact” (20). Allie then builds a landscape from the panoply of colors before her eyes, enlarging on remembered associations of smell to create a green field with a fence and a blue sky: “I smelled the memory, and knew that it was the memory, not the aroma itself” (18). Allie succeeds in projecting a complete picture, “unbounded, grass grown up freely, the land rolling, the horizon obscured by haze” (21). Her next step requires her to visualize an image of herself to insert into this picture, where she and her teacher can both interact with each other. Visualization here endows people and objects with pseudo-material existence in a shared virtual space. To see literally means to bring into virtual existence, by projecting a concrete object into the virtual mindscape: “As soon as the idea occurred to me, the colors came up” (18). This ‘conjuring trick’ fundamentally informs all three cyberpunk novelists, placing the protagonist in the ontological driving seat across treacherously shifting terrain. The meaning of the landscape as a representation of Allie’s mind, memories, and unconscious is explained as growing “out of some kind of personal metaphor you’re so accustomed to that you’re not even aware of it anymore. And metaphors do tend to propagate, if you don’t keep an eye on them. Since they have no discrimination, they’ll go on into the unimaginably absurd” (22). Metaphors thus produce new associations and re-animate old ones, rendering commonsense uncommon again. Once Allie has imagined a space, she further succeeds in imagining or projecting a cathedral

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within that space. This “architecture” of the mind reveals “souvenirs of things [she’d] done or seen,” including a portrait of her greatgrandmother and a copy of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (26). The interior of the cathedral leads to another apartment or room in her mind, built on an entirely different chain of associations. As she continues her exploration, Allie falls into a state of relaxation resembling the moment between waking and dreaming. This is the twilight state of virtual existence: like something you almost see but miss; like something you almost remember; like being almost asleep and almost awake; like thinking you’re awake and finding out you’re asleep; like thinking you’re asleep and finding out you’re awake; [...] like a figure that is in reality the ground; like the ground that comes forward as a figure;.... (30)

Within this concretized space, she receives a letter from another part of herself. The message is sent by her grandmother, a person Allie has retained in her memories, which, with additions from her unconscious, constitute the virtual realm. Images, symbols, and memories are all treated as concrete objects with which she can interact. They almost assume a life of their own, beyond her control. Allie can also talk to an animated painting of her grandmother who tells her: “Mostly you live out there in what you call ‘real reality’, in spite of the fact that this reality is just as real” (31 emphasis mine). Allie becomes increasingly fascinated with this first virtual exercise, and only very reluctantly returns to reality. She begins to realize that every experience leaves an indelible trace on her life: a residue, a memory, and an aftertaste. As her teacher Segretti explains, The aftertaste, as you put it, comes with the territory. You learn that any contact, face-to-face or mind-to-mind, leaves its mark on you. In mindplay, it’s a bit more profound [...]. but no less impermanent, really. The mind is a dynamic system. More information comes in, rearranges everything. Impressions fade. Unless, of course, you reinforce them with continued contact. Just like anything else. (42)

The real and the imaginary are thus connected, exerting a mutual impact through shared associations and a reorganization of experi-

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ence. Furthermore, all mindplay encounters are irreversible: they become an ineradicable part of life. To complete her training as a mindplayer, Allie must master the art of lucid dreaming because “if you can’t tell when you’re dreaming, it’s impossible to take control” (45). It is of utmost importance to learn control as a survival skill for dangerous or taxing assignments. As long as she is in control, the other mind cannot overpower her and “annex” her mental life. In order to practice this form of conscious hallucination, she spends a lot of time in the pool, a virtual reality scenario resembling Gibson’s consensual hallucination experience in cyberspace. Cadigan calls the pool experience “consensual reality” because her characters experience it as another equally compelling level of reality (45). The pool is a public space. Instead of water, it contains a simulated swimming pool: it holds electricity, not water. The pool is a highly appropriate image for full immersion in a virtual environment. The embedded swimming metaphor is further extended: people “float,” “dip into it,” or “drown” (that is to say, they die). Participants are hooked into the mindplay system through their optical nerves while their body stays in a so-called pod, a protective shell or holding tank for the physical body. The varieties of virtual objects and scenarios all depend on the participants’ imagination and negotiations among each other. The pool is a professional training facility for mindplayers seeking to perfect their powers as either pathosfinders, neurosis peddlers, or dream feeders. To complete the sense of verisimilitude, this training ground is already independently equipped to evoke the smell of chlorine. Here Allie learns to “dream lucidly” and progresses to her first assignments (44). Allie’s first call for help comes from an actor called Marty Oren. After a two-year absence from the stage, he is now trying to resume his acting career. Allie begins by trying to read his “Emotional Index” for clues toward establishing his current state of mind, but she encounters resistance. Only his interaction with his wife suggests some sort of lead, since their relationship seems like “sunlight reflected on water, as though one of them were wearing an amplifier” (128). They begin their first mind-to-mind session with a free-

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association exercise. His mind projects a “bare, sterile room” without windows or doors, “just smooth white walls” (130). He simply follows Allie’s suggestions and contributes nothing besides “mimicked appropriate responses” (132). This mimicry points to the root of his problem, which lies in his lack of self-possession. Marty cannot distinguish himself from his wife’s image of him, and only acts in conformity with her expectations. Allie finds all of the other rooms in his mind similarly empty because “his body was an instrument rather than a live thing, his face a device, his eyes windows where no curtains had ever hung” (133). In short, he is an “emotional cripple” (133). The landscape he labors to project is equally devastated: “bare earth under a colorless, sunless sky” (133). He is only a whole person when he comes to life on stage, a fact sorrowfully reflected in his next visualization exercise of an empty theater. For Marty, acting means mimesis in extremis; he simply mirrors others without any sense of self-identity. “I am as good a mirror out there as I am in here. The world is my oyster. I am the pearl” (134). Allie cannot restore his creativity, because it never existed in the first place. But at least she succeeds in identifying the core of the actor’s problem. She discovers a difference between his visualizations which enables her to draw a definitive conclusion – for only Marty’s image of the empty theater is marked by the absence of a blind spot. In this system, a blind spot always carries significance because it indicates a gap in which the analyst can hide and find an access point to the unconscious. In a reversal of the Cartesian maxim “I think, therefore I am,” the motto of the pathosfinder seems to be Lacan’s “I think where I am not, therefore I am where I do not think” (quoted by Sarup, 40).10 Allie thus zeroes in on Marty’s blind spot and hides in it, the better to observe him without being noticed. There is a connection with the workings of the fantasy genre, analyzed by Olsen in his doctoral dissertation Nameless Things and Thingless Names. He follows Rosemary Jackson’s argument in Fantasy: A Literature of Subversion that fantasy is concerned with absences, exploiting the “gap between signifier and signified” (quoted by Olsen 35). He also observes a priority of plot over character, also true for science fiction. Characters in the fantastic mode “are flat, insubstantial, unstable forms, neither abstract 10

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Allie’s next assignment is a postmortem analysis of the poet Kitta Wren, which requires her literally to enter Kitta’s mind in order to recuperate any unfinished manuscripts holding clues to the murder. Kitta’s brain is being kept artificially alive. Once Allie enters it, she encounters a very dangerous and hostile environment which almost kills her when Kitta’s mind desperately grasps for life and attacks her. Allie adroitly turns the situation to her advantage by marshalling Kitta’s own images against her, and relying on a secret weapon: the fact that Kitta’s mind “doesn’t know it’s dead” because it still “contains information”: that is to say, memories (161). Allie thus reinforces the cracks in the desert soil that Kitta projects at her, using these cracks to break up Kitta’s mind and finally kill her in self-defense. The image dominating Kitta’s mind is of a desert landscape, where a potentially deadly “brainstorm” is wreaking havoc. Unlike normal mind-to-mind contact, Allie finds herself perilously plunged “inside a mind” with “random pictures and arbitrary memories” (163), walking “barefoot through a dead lunatic’s mind” (156).11 By roaming through these memories – a collection of fragments always accompanied by rain – Allie involuntarily causes a new “combination of thoughts” juxtaposing Kitta’s “old fragments” (165). She experiences Kitta’s psychosis as a “highly localized storm” which literally appears as a force of nature (165). She realizes that Kitta’s source of poetic inspiration consisted of voluntarily inducing “localized psychotic episodes” (165). These manifest themselves as seizures that “produce not a physical convulsion but an altered state of consciousness” (166): The seizure tore into her ideas and images and they scattered in all directions, falling flat because there was no one to pick them up nor concrete. In a discourse of surfaces, identity is never fully established, the unity of self is abolished” (Olsen 36). Fantasy reveals what is repressed in society and culture. 11 This alludes to Brian Aldiss’s Barefoot in the Head written in what John Clute calls “punning style reminiscent of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake” (Encyclopedia of SF 11). Aldiss’s novel imagines psychedelic drugs deployed as weapons. It hints at the New Wave’s characteristic use of inner space which cyberpunk develops in a different way.

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and use them. The rest of the mind practically came to a standstill while the storm raged on. She’d been hoping for a literal brainstorm, a creative madness that would tear through her mind, stirring her thoughts into new and better patterns, giving her the stimulation she had refused to seek in the larger world outside herself. (166)

Once again, Allie finds herself struggling with a narcissistic and creatively blocked personality. She manages to escape the voracious mind bent on assimilating her by mirroring Kitta’s spiderwebbed, artificial eye. This causes a feedback-loop and proliferation of cracks, leading to the decisive “mindquake.” The cracks literally split the “clean slate” of her writing tablet, leaving nothing decipherable in its wake. As a final blow, Allie induces noise and randomness to further shatter Kitta’s memories. The violence of this dénouement is already prefigured by Allie’s first impression of Kitta’s eyes: Her eyes seemed to be shattered blue glass, as though someone had deliberately smashed the gems before putting them in. Her pupils were spiderwebbed with white cracks. I enlarged them for detail and then paused. Wrong again. Her eyes weren’t spiderwebbed with cracks – they were spiderwebbed with spider webs, thickened as though coated with dew or frost. Come into my lunatic parlor. (157)

The eyes here are truly windows to Kitta’s troubled soul: they betray the extent to which Kitta uses psychosis as her creative engine. In a sense, Allie fails her second ‘test’ as well because she does not in fact recover any of Kitta’s manuscripts. More importantly, however, she learns to re-affirm her own life by finding a crucial anchor: a “mental image of an eye with a shimmering gold-brown pupil rimmed with a very Alert Snake, a completely realized eye, marvelously detailed and absolutely unshatterable” (171). She comes away strengthened by the insight that subjectivity and identity are “altered state[s] without end” – infinite, dynamic processes – symbolized by the snake (171). Before proceeding to another assignment, Allie must first undergo a “reality affixing” to neutralize recent events and memories by placing them in perspective. She experiences a vision of a pearl necklace in the course of this corrective process. The necklace is

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“infinitely long,” and every pearl represents “self-contained events, touching each other but not really connected” (198). In response to her fear, first triggered by McFloy, that her life may be larger than the sum of its parts, Allie finds the image of the pearl necklace reassuring. The string of pearls suggests that even the deeply disorienting encounter with McFloy represents only one pearl, or one event in the sequence of events that make up her life. This image also serves as a mise en abyme for the entire novel, since it too is constructed of loosely strung-together episodes. Narrated segments are not related in terms of causation but increasing degrees of difficulty, which Allie rises to meet with an increasing mastery of skills. These series of challenges not only measure Allie’s growth as a mindplayer; they provide new insight into her character as well. Allie’s next assignment consists of helping a once promising and successful composer named Gladney,12 now a mindsuck victim. His memories have been stolen and erased (199); his regrown personality resembles his old self but he is “not the same person” (200). His barrier or “self-imposed handicap” is an image of his former, original self (218). He has “emerged from the blank brain” with a similar musical ability, but without the capacity to compose music (200). When he enters into mind-to-mind contact with Allie, she introduces a “mental fingerpainting” game instead of the usual association technique because Gladney has no past and therefore few memories to reveal anything (211). Allie then manifests “as another color, oozing in greenly and then revealing myself as a second consciousness” (211). Gladney visualizes his fear by using purple images of “traps snapping shut” and “closet doors slamming,” before he learns to accept “being in a realm where almost nothing is impossible” (211). Fragments or “confetti” gradually become more coherent as the “images [begin] to flow more continuously from him” (211). Finally a sense of space emerges from the “balance being established, as though two large masses floating in space were settling into orbit around each other” (212). His lack of a personal

Parts of this narrative segment appeared in Cadigan’s previously published short story “Variation on a Theme.” 12

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history manifests itself as a vast empty space with “fragmented sensations of movement” (212). He visualizes everything in terms of musical movement, vibration, and rhythm; he even pictures himself as a tuning fork (212). Allie finds that she literally “ha[s] to get into the music” and hide her presence “inside the music” (212). A single note produced by the vibration of a piano string provides a “universe” in which she can take cover (213). Gladney then visualizes his old self alongside his new self in his virtual mindscape. The old Gladney is in the music, but the new Gladney cannot “come in unless the old self leaves” (214). He must take a leap of faith by jumping across the vibrating string into the music, thus overcoming the barrier still oppressing his old sense of self (215). The “images beg[i]n to blend into each other, flickering and flapping” until there is only one Gladney left (217). The dream-Gladney vanishes “beyond the original end of the melody,” and the new Gladney takes over and composes the ending to the same piece of music (218). The instruments “playing together and opposite each other in complement” symbolize his having come to terms with his image of his former self (218). The principle on which his music is based is Bach’s variation on a theme, which Allie successfully assists Gladney in identifying and restoring as the cornerstone to his personality and identity. Allie’s final assignment involves a dysfunctional partnership between two composers known as Coor and Lam. After ten years of intense mind-to-mind association, they are now desperately trying to regain their individuality. Allie discovers that they have constructed a “lunatic bridge” between the two halves of their brains, uniting two distinct spheres of musical ability (243). But their skills complement each other so seamlessly that neither of them is capable any longer of working independently; only the artificial synthesis or “composite reality” enables true creativity between them.13 Even their names testify to a fundamental complementarity, since they are puns on the French cœur and l’âme (meaning heart and soul). Well The synthesis of music and image in this episode prefigures the notion of synthesizing that is used to create a new form of virtual reality in Synners, Cadigan’s subsequent novel. 13

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before they ever enter into mind-to-mind contact with one another, Allie discerns from old photographs of the men that “there was a definite similarity of expression around their eyes even then, as though they might have been looking at things in the same way, literally as well as figuratively” (237). Allie first engages Coor in a mind-to-mind interview. She begins with an attempt at visual associations, by confronting him with a René Magritte painting of an apple obscuring a man’s face. Coor responds only by producing chewing sounds, since he finds anything visual too difficult to reproduce. Anything aural is quite another matter: he excels at painting soundscapes, which are first drawn from natural sounds and later become musical compositions (246). The only physical image that he can project is of himself standing in the dark space listening to the music. Allie observes that his mind is “free of the overcompartmentalization and learned behavior that can […] cripple some artists” (247). However, his ideas and concepts lack order and definition, like “fragments wanting completion” (249). Coor’s artistic talent seems to lie entirely in his auditory and tactile imagination, waiting for Lam’s visual gifts to literally complete the creative picture. Finally, Coor manages to visualize a substantial landscape: a wasteland with a canyon, including an image of himself on the other side (252). A bridge forms with Coor standing on it, but only one half of his body is visible. He then tries to seize or “incorporate” Allie to compensate for this missing half (253). She escapes undamaged and decides to find Lam in order to obtain another view on the problem. Allie discovers that Lam dwells in a permanent state of aphasia with his corpus callosum severed, “completely divided. Right up the middle. Complete sep. Aration. Two brains from one” (261). Like Coor, Lam also visualizes an abyss with Allie “floating disembodied over it, like a dream observer” (263). But this time, Allie is astonished by an “image […] beyond absurdist, impossible. A chasm could not have just one side or a bridge that connected that side with itself. My inner eyes crossed, uncrossed, crossed again; the visual steadied down, translating into a Möbius strip. A composite of Coor and Lam was standing on it” (263). Suddenly the absurd

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vision is disrupted and the Möbius strip becomes a “real bridge across the chasm with three figures on it: the composite, Revien Lam, and Jord Coor” (264). Coor is the cause, having suddenly intruded on Allie and Lam by secretly introducing himself to the same mindplay system. Coor and Lam begin fighting over the composite, almost tearing it in half because each knows that his true genius resides in it alone. They ultimately resign themselves to reunion. Allie, for her part, emerges shaken but unscathed from the experience. A passerby tells her: “You’re transformed. You’re polluted, stained, dyed, altered. And you will never be the same” (266).

Synners Cadigan’s second novel expands the concept of mindplay from a private virtual space created by two people into an externalized public projection. In Mindplayers the virtual mindscapes are largely confined to representations of the unconscious, while in Synners the mindscapes become fused with performances of music, as “the next generation” of music videos in the entertainment industry. In this novel, entertainment has literally become a consciousness industry. But entertainment proves to be merely a front for the introduction and marketing of insidious new brain implants. These mediated visions seem “less like a video, more like a waking dream” by providing a “hardwired out-of-body experience” (67). This premise of a brave new medium launches a number of other scenarios and mindscapes in the novel. The central character Visual Mark experiences recurrent visions of a lake surrounded by a stony shore, while a more minor character called Gabe seeks refuge in a simulation game, House of the Headhunters. Gabe initially created this game as a means of avoiding his bossy and successful lawyer wife as well as his estranged daughter Sam. House of the Headhunters combines erotic elements with a hardboiled adventure narrative; all of the women in this fantasy world refer to Gabe as “hotwire.” This story universe within the story parodies some aspects of cyberpunk, since it clearly caters to male fantasies of domination and gratification. But Gabe is soon required by his employer to transform his

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fantasy game world into a commercial. In the process of rewriting the game program, Gabe discovers holes or black spots emerging from the graphics. These are at first attributed to a virus, although, as Gabe discovers later, they are produced by Keely, a hacker working in the same building. Keely uses these “glitches” in order to attract Gabe’s attention and communicate with him. Hence, the ‘writing on the wall’ is not so much a biblical injunction as a literal message from a fellow hacker (164). Profiting from Keely’s warning and advice, Gabe reprograms his game characters to assist him in confronting his evil boss, Manny. All in all, the Headhunter scenario provides comic and ironic commentary on the superman cliché from the pulp tradition. Mark’s virtual mindscape is more nuanced. His frequent visualizations of the lake with the stony shore date back to the days before the nefarious brain implant. After the implant, the same landscape grows in detail until it turns into what he calls “his context.” This landscape also becomes his gateway into the virtual realm. His girlfriend Gina explains: He’s in context. You understand? He’s in context, and we’re all out of context, because he’s the stranger on the stony shore. It was always him. But we’re all out of context, and everybody knows that when you take something out of context, it can’t make no fuckin’ sense. (287)

Mark enters the virtual realm by “taking the wire,” an expression which suggests some continuity between his experiment with the computer and his experiments with drugs. Plagued by self-doubt, he asks himself if he has not been deluding himself; only then does it begin to dawn on him that his transition into the global network is a one-way street. He will outgrow his body, which is the boundary condition of human existence. He knew the time was coming when he would try to slip back into the meat-jail and find out it was too small for him. Once he had been sure his brain held a rabbit hole, a pocket of infinity where no limits applied, no boundary conditions were enforced, and he could fly through the universe if he wanted to. (233)

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Mark tries to transcend his body and ends up exchanging his human life for a life inside the computer network. As Gina observes, he is incapable of living in the real world (232). The translation of his mind into the computer network provides him with a sense of empowerment and an “enhanced awareness” (233). He can now extend his vision by accessing all the cameras that are connected to his computer system. But his body has become obsolete and finally dies, since it is impossible for him to return to his outgrown shell. He may feel nothing but contempt for the “meat,” in keeping with the posture of Gibson’s male cyber-heroes. But this contempt exacts a price: his body succumbs to a viral attack which ends in a stroke. Then the shockwave of his stroke spreads throughout the net and almost annihilates it. Since many people have already received the new implants, they are all directly linked to the net, where the virus can easily spread and cause many fatalities. Mark’s recurrent vision of a stranger standing on the stony shore of a lake originally reflects a personal sense of failure. He readily accepts being a guinea pig for the socket implants because he still hopes to become a successful video artist. But the image of the lake also represents his self-imposed sense of loneliness. As a virtual scenario, the lake recurs at various key moments in the novel. One of these involves Gina trying to contact Mark after he has almost left his body and is about to move into the computer network. It also comforts Gabe when he comes looking for Gina in order to prevent her from suffering the same fate as Mark. He turns over the stones on the shore in the hope of finding the one that will open the door into Gina’s universe. The stones provide a door into other worlds, worlds within worlds. Each stone on the shore represents a dizzying discrimination task, like so many “Chinese fucking boxes, one in another in another in another. We been to the next box in, but now we gotta get to the next box out. That’s the context. And see, if you’re in the video, you’re not the video, you’re just in it” (288). Another analogy follows: “… you got a bottle, say, and the bottle’s got something in it. You’re either the bottle or you’re something in it, but you’re not both” (288). Of course, inside and outside both depend on a person’s position or point of view. The most important

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distinction here is that one is either subject or object, container or contained, depending on whether one adopts an active or a passive state. A further minor character, Fez, explains the history of the dataline, which provides another model for understanding the scientific concept behind the image of the stony lake shore: “The hackers […] made capacity where there technically wasn’t any by using the virtual spaces between bits, and then the spaces between those bits, and the spaces between those” (174). He goes on to show how information storage has to do with fractal geometry, which provides an algorithm for compressing information: “if you look several levels down into a fractal, you’ll find that a larger pattern’s been duplicated. Which means that the fractal several levels down from the area of the fractal you’re looking into contains all the information of the larger fractal. Worlds within worlds” (174). The self-similarity of the fractal algorithm is already echoed at the very beginning of the novel, when Rosa receives the fax of a tattoo containing another level of meaning. Encrypted in it is the map for the cranial implants that are about to be pioneered by the entertainment industry. Its meaning is only deciphered when it is placed in a different context. Mark’s stroke virus unleashes chaos on a grand scale. Both traffic grids and datalines are dysfunctional. Randomly flickering images on video screens induce the same chaotic rhythm in people’s brains. Just looking at the animated patterns is infectious, just as certain flickering lights can induce epileptic fits in susceptible subjects. Another stage in the evolution of artificial intelligence is about to emerge out of so much human pandemonium. This theme of a new order springing from destruction and chaos is frequently used to explain the emergence of artificial intelligence from complex computer networks, and thus implies a theory of autopoiesis.14 The same theory of emergence is present in Gibson’s novels. When the two AIs, Neuromancer and Wintermute, finally join toward the end of Neuromancer, their entity becomes so large and complex that it disintegrates into smaller, aware entities. One part becomes the 14

See, for instance, Varela’s article “Autonomie und Autopoiese.”

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boxmaker in Mona Lisa Overdrive, while other parts become the voodoo voices within the net. For Gibson and Cadigan, large corporations and giant networks are both doomed to implode once they reach a certain size. This ‘natural law’ may even be said to constitute cyberpunk’s battle-cry. After all, if small changes can induce chaos, then there is still hope for the individual as freedom fighter against the seemingly all-powerful corporation.

Fools In Cadigan’s third novel, the mind is a stage for the negotiation of identities. Each character has its own characteristic mindscape: first Marva, the actress; then Marceline, the memory junkie; and finally, Mersine, the brain-police officer. They all find a way to justify the gaps in their memory or their sudden changes in physical appearance. These gaps result whenever another character is dominant and the other two are suppressed. When Marva realizes that she is only playing a role in a play being directed by the brain-police officer, she becomes aware of a second voice intruding into her thoughts: The words were neither thought nor voice; more like something I was remembering, vivid but definitely in the past. Information at one remove; remembering my lines, except this time I had no lines [...] I was the stage [...] I was the whole damned theatre, including the stage. (95)

The observer becomes the observed; the object turns into the subject. It is around this point in the novel that the reader begins to suspect that there are three different voices and that they all accidentally reside in one body. There is very little overlap between the scenes that each character encounters, with a few significant exceptions. There is no mediating, omniscient narrator who can help the reader to decide which character originally belongs to which body. Since there is no objective frame of reference, nothing can be determined as real or beyond question. Every narrative strand may turn out to be an illusion. The multiplication of roles and personalities finds its echo in the stage, the funhouse mirror, and the holographic pool. Each of these settings represents a dis-

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tinct context or opportunity for role-playing and make-believe. Each setting is also narrated from different points of view: from both sides of the mirror, from within the play, and from the detached onlooker’s perspective. The novel opens in a holographic pool belonging to a club, Davy Jones’ Locker. Its name, with its marine personification, prefigures the tragic episode at the heart of the novel, which each of the characters reconstructs for herself. Marva, the actress, finds herself in this pool surrounded by familiar people who do not seem to recognize her, holographic fish who seem to have her face, as well as other people who also look like her. Neither can she remember how she arrived at the club, nor does she know why she seems to be wearing somebody else’s clothes. She begins to construe explanations for all of these disturbing anomalies. First of all, she thinks she may have become “Famous,” as a consequence of selling her personality to Some Very Nice People, an agency specializing in franchised personalities. It is more or less implied that the people who buy different personas also begin to look like them or that, sooner or later, they have themselves surgically modified to look like their new personas. Then Marva thinks of another possible explanation, this time to explain her memory loss: perhaps a “leak-through” occurred from a role that she recently played on stage. Gradually she realizes that she is merely a mask for the brain-police officer on a mission to uncover an illegal persona-bootlegging operation. She feels disoriented and thinks that she must surely be “back on the other side of the room, looking at a reflection in the funhouse mirror” (11). This is how the first section told by Marva ends, followed by Marceline’s story, set in a different typeface. Marceline explains her own disorientation by the fact that it is normal for a memory junkie to experience “side effects” (12). The last thing that she remembers is having pushed someone off a cliff. She also faces the funhouse mirror, which reflects and distorts people into likenesses of sharks and other fish. And she likewise finds her clothes to be strangely ragged and unfamiliar; she is actually thrown out of the club on this account. Much to her surprise, she discovers a wad of money in her pockets in payment for

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her services as an “escort” or contract killer, but she cannot remember anything about committing a murder. In a desperate effort to jog her memory, she seeks out a Memory Lane called “You Must Remember This” (echoing a line from the theme-song in the movie Casablanca). There she buys a new piece of memory and accidentally receives an old memory that she herself has previously sold. Thus she relives the episode in the holographic pool. She faces the mirror and is back where she started, while “some kind of time passes, hard to tell what. Time in the system is a stretchy old blob, thick and slow in some places, brittle and fast in others. That’s all subjective” (36). Then another person abruptly seems to be blocking the space between her and the mirror. She finds out that she has pushed someone off the edge of a cliff – the end of the line (44). Suddenly a memory of a man materializes in the pool, “stuck in my mind like a fish hook, like he’s really there, too, dangling, one more filament among all those loose ends“ (43). His voice speaks to her, trying to explain that “Like a tapestry that’s become unraveled […] All the threads are still there, but the picture is gone. You just have to wave [sic] them all back together the way they were. Or you could make an entirely different picture” (44). He is in fact “someone else’s memory of someone else’s man” (44). But he provides a crucial clue to Marceline (and the reader) by reminding her that “the truth is what you make it” (44). On one level, the story is about an attempt to recover the original murdered and drowned self. On another level, the story is about the construction of a new identity from all of the fragmented and mixed-up parts. Marceline struggles to sort out her sense of self from another’s: “My reality doesn’t fit hers, or hers doesn’t fit with mine” (45). It seems that the brain-police officer realized that she was about to be pushed off a cliff, and shrewdly offered up some of her own memories as a survival tactic. Being a memory junkie, Marceline found her captive’s offer impossible to refuse. The transition back to Marva’s voice is introduced by “Just before it happens, I finally understand that I’m not standing in front of the mirror anymore, but in it,” which hints at her false belief in herself (45). Although her narration is very convincing, she is only a character from a play who believes that she is a real person. The

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mirror image gives no true representation, hence it does not help her or the reader to judge who is real and who is not. It is a magic mirror which distorts and alters the truth, dramatizing the untrustworthy capacity of virtual reality to blend fact with fiction. The stage functions as a meta-dramatic device and entails a number of extended theatrical metaphors. Thus the actor can “break character,” experience “character leak through” from a different role, or appear to be “in full costume.” Acting involves making the audience believe in the artificial reality created on stage. In order to achieve this effect, the actor has to first make him- or herself believe in the character being portrayed. The actor then sustains this illusion by adopting the character’s costume and mindset for the length of the play. Within Cadigan’s universe, there is always the danger of an actor becoming so involved in a role that it achieves “escape velocity.” This loss of control is “one of the hazards of being a [Stanislavski] Method actor. Without warning, you could fall into character and run off” (46). Escape velocity is one possible explanation for Marva’s memories of having pushed someone off a cliff, since the “damnedest associations can trigger leak-through from a character” (47). She is convinced that she is Marva “and the character is Marceline. Got it? Marceline is a character in a play” (58). Another possible explanation is that she is suffering from “characterization amnesia”: she cannot remember the moment of taking on Marceline’s character or the title of the play she was rehearsing (66). Mersine, the brain-police officer, compares the possibility of switching bodies and minds with traditional acting techniques: In the old days, Method acting had nothing to do with multiple personalities. Not so overtly anyway. In the old days, there were two kinds of actors: the ones who disappeared into their roles, and the ones whose roles disappeared into them. But maybe in the end, it was just as hard to tell which was which. (93)

Both approaches are represented by Marva and Sovay. The latter is another actor driven by “an ego that swallowed other people” to go mind-to-mind with Marva and retrieve more of the image of himself that he sees reflected in her (280). But it is Marva (or the composite of all her personalities) who realizes that “who we are depends on

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who we’re with” (281). Other people’s perceptions are “not a true reflection” of self but a “funhouse mirror”: in other words, a distortion (281). And this mirror explodes, fragments, and is gradually reassembled into some sort of whole: “The voice in my head faded as the mirror fragments fell into place. The mirror wasn’t completely reassembled yet but there were plenty of pictures running on it, from all of us, Marceline, both Marvas, the one with all the memory and the one Sovay forced to existence. And me. Whoever I was” (286). The theater stage becomes a metaphor for the mind, a virtual environment where the three characters and their versions of reality jostle to get into the foreground: “I was the stage [...] the whole damned theatre” (95). Marva begins to realize that the play is in fact reality and what she assumed was reality is the left-over from a play: Marceline began to fade in on the stage, the image of how I looked now in full costume. Except if she wasn’t a character, how could this be a costume? She was materializing in response to the movements of the woman with my face, I realized. Like a conjuring trick [...] Or like the creation of a character for a play, except the character was someone who really existed and play was my life [...] my new life [...] I hadn’t been franchised – I’d been bodysnatched. (96–7)

As Marceline slowly regains control of the narrative, her voice resurfaces: “I get the oddest damned sensation, this damned feeling that I’m not moving. More like I’m being steered. Used” (103). Therefore she does not feel responsible for the murder that she allegedly committed. She had no choice in the matter, because she was hired under false pretenses. Instead of being the killer, she believes that she has ended up being the victim. Fools closes with each of the three different personas jockeying for position. None of them succeeds in usurping the place of the other, although the last line of the novel (like the first) falls to Marva. And it is she who expresses the most poignant yearning for certainty, in a world where all certainty is gone: Most people thought artificial reality was just one of those fantastic environments manufactured by companies like Realityville

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and Mindscape, [...] Sometimes it was, but sometimes, it was your life. My life.... (143)

Cadigan’s Images of the Imagination The one thing that all of these forms of sf have in common with each other, and with every other form of literature is, they’re all primitive virtual reality. (Cadigan, “Seduced and Abandoned: The Virtual Body in the Real World” no pagination)

Cadigan’s main contribution to the cyberpunk sub-genre is her insistence on the transformative power of the individual imagination. Her vision of virtual reality rests on the general assumption that all fiction creates some form of virtual reality, which technology only aids and abets. She accepts the basic cyberpunk assumption that human data and computer data are mutually and directly translatable. But Cadigan also departs from this same premise by envisioning a kinder and gentler link between human brain and computer than Gibson does. The mental projections of her characters create a virtual space for both verbal and visual styles of communication. These projections are not experienced in a passive mode, as they are for Gibson’s characters; they are negotiated in an active spirit instead, so that they can be shared with other mindplayers connected to the same system. Graphic representations in Gibson’s version of cyberspace are rendered by computer, and the environments are based on programmed algorithms. Cadigan’s mindplay, on the other hand, draws on images and symbols from the sub- and unconscious. She keeps the computer’s role confined to a springboard or dramatic cause more or less off-stage, whereas Gibson grants it a more prominent place as a force or presence in its own right. Gibson’s cyber-cowboys are constantly chasing after the latest and most powerful computer hard- and software, so that they can remain one step ahead of their competitors. But Cadigan’s various mindplayers are more interested in pursuing the values of negotiation and consensus.

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The objects produced within Cadigan’s virtual space frequently operate on two levels: figurative-symbolic and literal. These in turn often correspond to the representations of the unconscious mind and their re-organizations in the conscious mind. Cadigan’s predilection for wordplay encourages the exploration of new chains of association between two seemingly unrelated fields of reference. Seemingly accidental slips or malapropisms thus offer a key to navigating her fictional worlds, since they introduce new means for making sense of puzzling images or situations. Cadigan’s virtual geographies are mindscapes made up of symbols, icons, and mathemes (like the Möbius strip) which follow the surreal logic of dreams. A matheme is Lacan’s term for a geometric figure representing a certain state of mind. The image of the snake in Mindplayers is one example of a matheme. Similarly, the reference to fractal geometry in Synners functions as a model of identity based on self-similarity. Both the snake and the fractal express a complex idea in the compact but more easily comprehensible terms of an image. On the same strength of analogy, they may even furnish clues to the reading of the novel as a whole. The mindplay universes are a theater for the imagination, a space for acting out scenarios which help solve problems in the ‘real’ world. The illegal uses of technology are always contrasted with the legal ones, but only as a form of counterpoint or tension within the novel. The ‘underground’ aspect of technology conveys an ambiguity of value typically associated with cyberpunk fiction. Cadigan is one of the few writers to emphasize the therapeutic potential of new technology. Its abuses by the techno-criminal underworld are often juxtaposed to it. Cadigan’s and Gibson’s versions of cyberspace perhaps differ most in terms of dramatic place. Different time-scales are implied by each author’s style of narration. For Cadigan, real time (the time rooted in the primary narrative) is suspended during mind-to-mind contact. During mindplay, there is no objective temporal measurement available, only the subjective experience of time. This leads to the dominance of a descriptive mode, with only occasional insets of dialogue or action. But for Gibson, subjective time in cyberspace is

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always held hostage by objective time ticking elsewhere. Molly thus wears a time read-out chip implanted in her eyes, or mirrorshades which constantly remind her (and Case) that they are working against the clock. The precise elapsed time is constantly mentioned in the narrative as a means of generating excitement and suspense. Time stands dramatically still only when Case is “flatlined,” and the fast-paced drama more or less seizes up, coming to a sudden halt. For Cadigan’s characters, however, the whole dramatic point may be said to lie in the cultivation of a certain stillness. The true drama unfolds in their interacting minds: they are torn between disintegration into fragments and incorporation by other life-forms or intelligences. Unity is frequently denied. They begin to understand themselves as construction sites: dynamic, multiple, and always in flux as a result of their exchanges with others. Furthermore, Cadigan and Gibson differ on issues of (dis) embodiment. Cadigan does not accept the throw-away attitude toward the body that Gibson appears to promote. Deadpan Allie, for instance, fears the black hole in the wall into which she must insert her head to make contact with the mindplay system. She is also very reluctant to part with her natural eye before exchanging it for an artificial replacement. Artificial elements are considered secondary to a biological sense of self. Similarly, Visual Mark may cheerfully abandon the “meat” of his physical body, but he unhappily loses both his life and his love for Gina. He thus pays for choosing a point of no return. Finally, in Fools the physical body becomes a vessel of increasingly complex proportions. Different personas can become trapped in the wrong body (“bodysnatched”), a condition which nonetheless represents their only chance of survival, because the original host body has been killed. Cadigan consistently and radically questions the Cartesian mind–body split. In sum: whereas Gibson’s virtual world of cyberspace primarily provides a form of escape from the constraints of the real world, denying the boundaries and limitations of human “meat,” Cadigan’s virtual scenarios are a means of empowerment, a way of developing strategies for a better life in the real world, even if the distinction between real and virtual is not all that important.

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Finally, Cadigan and Gibson imagine different relationships between perceiving character and virtual reality. Cadigan’s virtual realms are mindscapes (landscapes projected from the unconscious) resembling the surreal syntax of dreams. The mind is treated as an active and creative tool with which characters can project ideas and thoughts onto the ‘screen’ of the mind. These scenarios can be controlled by the skilled mindplayer in contrast to the environments encountered by Gibson’s characters. In Gibson’s novels, cyberspace is constructed on the basis of mathematical algorithms. Although it comes into existence (in the narrative) when it is perceived by the protagonist, the act of perception only determines the perspective on but not the fundamental architecture of that space. Similarly, Case’s immersion in cyberspace is an effect of the speed with which his view traverses it. During this apparent fusion of his body with the virtual environment, his physical body reaches the very limit of its existence, reaching the threshold of immaterial transcendence. Modification of Gibson’s cyberspace is only possible by means of a virus set free by the cyber-cowboy. As far as character development is concerned, Gibson’s heroes usually end up where they started without any significant gain in terms of money, insight, or information, because they live simply for the adventure, the risk-taking, and the adrenaline rush. The rules governing interaction and interface are givens, over which the character has no influence. Cadigan’s characters follow an entirely different trajectory. Their development resembles the growth encountered in a Bildungsroman: they may not find the final answers to their questions but they gain deeper insight, more knowledge, and better skills. Their creativity does not consist of a trial-and-error-based acquisition of tools, so much as an active approach to imaginative problem-solving techniques. In short, Gibson inserts his rather flat characters into a complex geometric environment, while the same geometric figures function as symbols for complex personalities, much like the Lacanian mathemes in Cadigan’s fiction. Cadigan does not neatly conform to the label cyberpunk. She shares some of its themes, but she chooses to explore them in a different direction. As a lone woman cyberpunk writer, she implicitly

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engages with issues close to feminism.15 All three novels also deliberately feature women as protagonists, with men consigned to the roles of fools or parodies of the male cyberpunk hero. Male characters are often weak, “clever but inconsequential,” and victims of precisely the same crimes as women. It is generally up to Cadigan’s female characters to take the initiative and save the day, with their superior strength of both emotion and intellect. Women do not fare nearly so well with Gibson. Molly in Neuromancer is a physically strong cyborg or fighting machine. A former prostitute, she primarily serves as an object of desire for Case. Her body provides a vehicle for him during the simstim link, extending his range of perception and granting him access to a different location. In general, Gibson’s fictional universes do not allow much room for individual free will. All agents (both male and female) tend to act on impulse or resort to trial and error, in a desperate bid to preserve the last vestiges of individuality against the ever-encroaching clutches of the corporation. Because the actions of all of Gibson’s characters are largely dictated by instinctive gut-reactions, other alternatives appear as irrelevant luxuries. After all, fast-paced narratives are not conducive to much cogitation or reflection. The virtual landscapes projected by Cadigan’s characters when interacting with the system show a relative emphasis on character, which is unusual among cyberpunk writers. However, the complexity of their characters is expressed through the concrete symbols produced by their minds. The intricate resonance between inner and outer world, framing or framed narrative, on which the construction of virtual reality depends, is also a clue to the psyche of the character described.16 Here it becomes apparent that the boundaries

McClellan, in an Observer interview, June 30, 1996, remarks that Cadigan’s works could be “celebrated as feminist critiques which point out the macho limitations of the cyberpunk genre.” Cadigan replies that she sees her work as close to cyberpunk and feminist concerns but does not fully endorse either label. 16 See Grabes’s “Wie aus Sätzen Personen werden ...” about the construction and interpretation of literary characters in fiction as well as the 15

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between environment and character are fluent; to some extent they even depend on one another (as Bal’s concept of the narrative focus illustrates). Landscapes or environments are never neutral; they are always observed, perceived, or narrated by someone. In Tea from an Empty Cup (1998), Cadigan continues to distance herself from an identifiably cyberpunk attitude or style. Like Gibson’s second trilogy, Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999), Cadigan’s latest novel uses virtual reality as the exclusive setting for the story; all action in the world outside is kept to a minimum. Tea from an Empty Cup still draws on the same cyberpunk hypothesis. It is still feasible to translate the human mind into a storable program, independent of both the hardware and the body, thus ensuring immortality and transcendence – but not without exacting a price. Cadigan frames the story with a murder investigation, which neatly necessitates some didactic explications of the inner workings of the virtual world. By the early 1990s, the punk elements had been largely identified, copied, and parodied as stylistic elements and perhaps relegated to the status of a science fiction fashion. However, the virtual worlds are becoming more complex and their potential for many new plot schemes and explorations of character are still being experimented with – an aspect hardly explored by Gibson, the hardcore cyberpunk writer.

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reader’s application of certain presuppositions leading to the correlation between outer appearance and ‘inner’ characteristics (416).

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Neal Stephenson’s Metaspace ½¾

P A T C A D I G A N is definitely a science fiction writer who identifies with the genre, Neal Stephenson only occasionally contributes to science fiction. Sometimes he uses the pseudonym Stephen Bury, as for the novel Interface (1994). His novel Snow Crash can perhaps be regarded as one of the first to parody the cyberpunk formula, and thus marks the boundary between original and derivative contributions to the sub-genre. By the early 1990s, cyberpunk was already stale: nothing appeared to both adhere to the sub-genre any longer and contribute something significantly new. The novelty value of cyberpunk may have been rapidly fading, but the cyberpunk plot device of virtual reality has been permanently added to the pool of science fiction themes. Many writers who do not produce cyberpunk as such still employ the idea. For example, Catherine Asaro, in her Skolian saga, Primary Inversion (1995) and Catch the Lightning (1996), invents a new virtual space called psiberspace, which is based on telepathic lineages between humans and computer networks. Stephenson alone explores a new dimension of the virtual reality trope (called the Metaverse), which displays metafictional tendencies much less explicit in other cyberpunk writers. He therefore represents an interesting case of overlap between the mainstream in general and the science fiction genre in particular. Why is the metafictional tendency of cyberspace strongest in Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which marks the waning of cyberpunk? Perhaps metafiction is rarely exploited by core cyberpunk writers HILE

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such as Gibson, Bruce Sterling, or Jon Williams, because the laws of science fiction do not easily accommodate such writing strategies. Science fiction is a genre which relies heavily on realistic narrative conventions for the portrayal of its invented worlds. Perhaps it is exactly Snow Crash’s peculiar position between science fiction and the mainstream that allows it to best exploit the metafictional potential. Stephenson’s Metaverse is foregrounded by frequent references to the algorithms underlying this secondary fictional universe. The rules and algorithms by which the Metaverse operates are the work of Hiro Protagonist, “last of the freelance hackers,” one of the pioneers of Metaverse code and programming (327). By writing the code for the virtual places and characters embedded within the novel, Hiro mirrors Stevenson’s role as the author of a parallel fiction. The notion of the Metaverse does not break with the illusion of the story universe so much as it renders the rules of construction humorously explicit. As the plot develops, language is treated as an encrypted code that can transmit potentially dangerous “memes,” a form of death to both humans and computers. But language is also the common denominator for communication between humans and machines. Moreover, the very concept of a common language or code between man and machine is a fundamentally cyberpunk notion. Stephenson then rewrites the entire history of human language, starting with its dispersal over many cultures and languages. He casts this “confusion of tongues” or “Infocalypse” in a new light: the diversity of languages actually impedes the spreading of bad “memes.” In any culture with a common language, the transmission of memes becomes more rapid and highly infectious. The villainous and powerful Bob L. Rife plots to re-create the universal ur-language, believed to exist before man’s fall from the tower of Babel. He pursues a double strategy: first he infects the alliterate and illiterate population with subliminal television messages and religious cults; then he infects the information elite (or hackers) with the Snow Crash virus in the Metaverse. His goal is simple: world domination. Hackers become infected merely by looking at the program code of the virus and begin to speak in tongues,

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uttering incomprehensible babble. The Snow Crash virus next proceeds to re-program their brains, commanding all victims in hypnotic fashion to move onto the Raft owned by Rife. There they are implanted with antennas grafted onto their skulls, and controlled by Rife as his slaves.

Stephenson’s Rhetorical Strategy: The Babble in Babel Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash showcases his detailed knowledge of the computing industry. He adopts computing terms like BIOS, virus, daemon, port, or scrolling, and re-inscribes them with new meaning, thus reviving their metaphorical roots. Computer jargon abounds with catachreses, constantly naming new objects into existence. Stephenson’s key nouns and concepts are capitalized, in a nod to Gibson’s penchant for employing trade names. “Metaverse” when capitalized acquires the quality of a brand name as well as a proper name, the linguistic equivalent of an independent country or nationstate. Interestingly, “Reality” is also capitalized and thus becomes just another state among many, conferring the same ontological status on both the Metaverse and Reality. The “Snow Crash” virus is similarly capitalized, together with “Library” and, last but not least, the gun “Reason” (now reduced from an instrument of enlightenment to an instrument of death). Abstract proper names have long been the province of allegory, but here they function as both abstract concepts and specific names. Allegorical structure is adapted to include a more contemporary and secular range of meaning. Both of these currents inform different episodes of the novel, but other layers are also carried along simultaneously, which sometimes resonate or interfere with yet other levels of meaning.

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References to philosophy, religious myth, linguistics, technology, and biology all weave their way throughout the text.1 Hiro Protagonist is the secularized pilgrim searching for his redemption from the mafia, whose pizza delivery truck he crashes at the beginning of the novel. He pursues his journey from the framing fictional universe of “Burbclaves” out into the virtual Metaverse, which resembles a typical city with streets, city blocks, and houses in various architectural styles. In keeping with cyberpunk conventions, both the material and the immaterial worlds are intricately interrelated. Hiro then embraces the battle against evil, even if the definition of evil is less than clear-cut. Such moral ambiguity is again typical of most cyberpunk fiction. The multilayered concept of the virus is the novel’s central metaphor. This plague to both humans and computers throws everything into question: languages (371), ideas (373), ideologies (327), and religions (214) all become prey to the chaos. Like their biological counterparts, viruses wreak havoc in the computing world through self-replicating programs which infect and overcome the host system. This notion of physical disease is then increasingly writ large and applied to language, which degenerates into meaningless and unintelligible noise. But Stephenson remains reluctant to pronounce judgment on this pathology, which may or may not prove beneficial in the long run. The reader first encounters the Snow Crash virus when Hiro is approached by a street vendor outside his club. The stranger attempts to foist on him a sample of the virus embedded in a hyper-

Cuddon, in his Dictionary of Literary Terms, summarizes the function of scriptural allegory and the way that it presents its vision of the universe: “There were two worlds: the spiritual and the physical. These corresponded because they had been made by God. The visible world was a revelation of the invisible, but the revelation could only be brought about by divine action.” A similar principle is at work behind the fictional universe created in Snow Crash: the organization of correspondences between ‘real world’ and Metaverse proceeds along identical lines, except that it is no longer divine but secular. 1

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card disguised as a business card.2 But Hiro is suspicious enough to refrain from touching it, knowing that it might transfer a viral program to his computer. His friend Da5id, by contrast, is not so prudent. The program then holographically projects a stripper who whispers something into Da5id’s ear, unfolding a scroll from which “a living wall of light [emerges] like a flexible, flat-screened television set, […] Just static. White noise. Snow” (67). The only protection or immunization against the virus is the possession of the antidote, or the nam-shub of Enki, which is encoded on an elusive clay tablet. Once its message is retrieved and broadcast, the effect of the virus will be reversed and normal language restored. Snow Crash turns out to be both a drug and a computer virus, spreading on two fronts at once. But its specific meaning in the novel applies to the field of computing: “snow crash” is computer lingo. It means a system crash – a bug – at such a fundamental level that it frags the part of the computer that controls the electron beam in the monitor, making it spray wildly across the screen, turning the perfect gridwork of pixels into a gyrating blizzard. (39–40).

The name “Snow Crash” captures the virus’s detrimental effect, and evokes an image similar to the “dead channel” in Gibson’s Neuromancer. Both novels accept the hypothesis that a virus contracted in the virtual world can also kill you in the real world, because human and computer are directly linked. The name of the drug thus stands for its effect; it is a metonym. It causes the breakdown of structure and order in human language, as well as in machine code. Disorder is received as noise by the human brain, just as static on a screen is produced by random signals. What makes the concept of virus a metavirus? “There is an informational entity known as the metavirus,” Hiro learns,

HyperCard™ is the brand name for a “multimedia authoring system in which a programmer can define cards” and include images, text, graphics, sounds and hypertextual links to other cards. HyperCard™ is part of a Macintosh computer program called Storyspace, one of the first widely used hypertext programs (Dictionary of Information Technology). 2

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which causes information systems to infect themselves with customized viruses. This may be just a basic principle of nature, like Darwinian selection, or it may be an actual piece of information that floats around the universe [...] In any case, what it comes down to is this: Any information system of sufficient complexity will inevitably become infected with viruses – viruses generated from within itself. (371)

Transmission of information becomes a meta-concept in the area of technology, biology, and ideas. The system of correspondences only works once is has been sufficiently abstracted. All viral infections effect a breakdown in communication between parts of a system, leaving a wake of disorder behind them. However, this phenomenon is not always perceived in negative terms. Viewed as an impetus for sudden changes and new ideas, a virus can also produce unforeseen benefits. These tend to occur largely in the realm of language and ideas, where a viral concept may explain the creation of new images (or metaphors) of culture. For instance, “Sumerian culture […] was another manifestation of the metavirus. Except that in this case, it was in a linguistic form rather than DNA ” (371). Here Stephenson playfully rewrites the history of language and culture from the vantage point of information theory. Thus the me (one of the Sumerian meta-concepts) contains “self-sustaining” information on how to perform an activity (such as baking bread), which enables the Sumerian culture to survive and achieve progress through a more or less passive transmission of acquired skills. The en, on the other hand, contains more active information required for inventing a new me. The latter is compared to the skills of a hacker who can write an antidote to a virus in order to protect himself against the effects of the Snow Crash virus, which is exactly what Hiro does to save the population from becoming babbling servants of Bob L. Rife. Stephenson’s slightly forced pun of babble and Babel lends an important historical dimension to Snow Crash. The biblical fall from linguistic unity into linguistic chaos provides a mirror image of the mayhem envisioned in this novel. The debilitating virus becomes the Black Death of the Information Age, striking down and hopelessly scrambling both biochemical and electronically encoded informa-

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tion. Stephenson thus re-invests the dead metaphor of the computer virus with new meaning, simply by reversing the direction of the semantic exchange from technology to biology. The more often a figurative meaning is used, the closer it comes to being accepted as literalized common sense. It needs to be estranged and defamiliarized afresh to be noticed for what it is or once was. The significance of Babel is spelled out by the Librarian, an information retrieval persona in the Metaverse: “Babel is a biblical term for Babylon” and refers to “the gate of God” (100). The alliteration and onomatopoeia of Babel/babble seem to hint at a common etymology. This suspicion is confirmed when the librarian observes that “the Bible is full of puns” (100). In Stephenson’s rewritten history, God did not destroy the tower of Babel as a humbling lesson to mankind; this punitive aspect of the myth is omitted. However, the consequences of destruction are the same: God “confused the language of all the earth” creating an “informational disaster,” so that people could no longer talk to each other (101). The resulting diversity is not so much a punishment as a form of protection against the transmission of viruses and virulent ideas: “The only thing that keeps these things from taking over the world is the Babel factor – the walls of mutual incomprehension that compartmentalize the human race and stop the spread of viruses” (374). Rife’s plan for world domination actually undercuts this protective assumption. He predicts that the Snow Crash virus will work because of linguistic alienation, not in spite of it. He perceives a new divide opening between modern culture and Sumerian. We have a huge workforce that is illiterate or aliterate and relies on T V – which is sort of an oral tradition. And we have a small, extremely literate power elite – the people who go into the Metaverse, basically – who understand that information is power, and who control society because they have this semimystical ability to speak magic computer languages.” (379)

Rife exploits this state of affairs by widening the pre-existent chasm. Spreading the Snow Crash virus aggravates this social division and controls it to his advantage.

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Knowledge in Stephenson’s universe is conceived afresh as the storage and retrieval of abstract information. It is no longer humanized as individual instances of cognition and memory; now it expands to include larger and more complex meanings and relationships between things. Individual instances can be easily absorbed into vast computer networks, and Snow Crash assumes that there is no shortage of available hard-disk space. The organization of all these stockpiles of information in the Metaverse is contained in the library metaphor. This metaphor includes an artificial intelligence or librarian who searches and sifts through a staggering abundance of information. Access to information is just as important as the capacity to distinguish it from the noise of insignificance. There are no universal laws that determine which pieces of information are useful and which are not. The library contains all kinds of resources: old film, photo, sound, newsprint, and broadcast media, in addition to the latest digital and electronic media. Information is organized into hypercard stacks, which are cross-referenced to other hypercards, much like an old-fashioned card catalogue. But these cards can also be used to create non- or multilinear narratives. Regarded as the collection of all virtual paths and all possible readings, the library’s hypercard system represents a non-linear network or labyrinth which can also be represented as a diagram.3 Knowledge is thus reformulated as the meaningful organization of information, even though ‘meaning’ remains open and devoid of consensus. The Librarian himself becomes part of the knowledge debate, since he possesses a degree of self-consciousness: “For the most part I write myself,” he says. “But this ability was originally coded into me by my creator” (101). The analogies between writing history, writing stories from the stock of information in the Library, and writing computer code all contribute to a distinctly postmodern flavor. Hiro succinctly defines his ‘self-made’ solution to all dilemmas: “If you need a tool, you just sit down and write it” (329). Hiro explicitly sets up correspondences

See Landow’s Hypertext for examples of hypercard and Aarseth’s Cybertext for a discussion of hypertext. 3

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between different levels of meaning, especially during his conversations with the Librarian. He compares the functioning of a society to the programming of a computer, since both rely on a similar collection of operating rules (240). He also discovers the crucial correspondence between the story of Enki and the Snow Crash phenomenon: “The story has to be a metaphor for something else. I think it is a metaphor for some kind of recursive informational process” (241). And by this insight, he literally saves the world.

The Metaverse A speech with magical force. Nowadays, people don’t believe in these kinds of things. Except in the Metaverse, that is, where magic is possible. The Metaverse is a fictional structure made out of code. And code is just a form of speech – the form that computers understand. (Snow Crash 197)

As with Gibson and Cadigan, Stephenson’s framing urban reality forms a critical contrast to the virtual reality of the Metaverse. One of the few things that America excels in apart from “music, media and microcode” is high-speed pizza delivery. Being a “Deliverator” is Hiro Protagonist’s job when the novel begins (3). On his first delivery of the day, Hiro travels through Burbclaves, small postnational states the size of neighborhoods that have formed so-called “franchulates,” like Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong. These tiny enclaves are like McDonald’s restaurants competing with Wendy’s and Burger King, and they each possess their own corporate image and security systems, delineating their identification as military zones. Uncle Enzo is the head of the mafia that owns the Cosa Nostra pizza delivery chain and thus determines the balance of power between a loose association of “little Italies.” His power is rivaled only by the media mogul L. Bob Rife, who owns most of the cable television stations, through which he disseminates and “creates his

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own events to create information flow” (11).4 He has bought the Metaverse from hacker pioneers and inventors like Hiro and Da5id. Together with his chain of churches, the Pearly Gates, Rife has strategically occupied all of the institutions required for disseminating his dangerous Snow Crash virus. Now all that remains to be perfected is the Raft, a collection of human “biomass” where people infected with the Snow Crash virus gather to form a new community under his rule. The urban environment here is an unimaginably vast and fragmented conglomerate akin to Gibson’s Sprawl. Urban enclaves are depicted in an exaggerated comic book mode. Political governments in these cities are less important than the dictates of commerce, at least when it comes to the true globalization of markets.5 Speed is the urban rule. Pizza has to be delivered on time, or the messenger becomes indentured by Uncle Enzo. Speed is also crucial to Y.T.’s job. Y.T. – or Yours Truly – is a teenaged woman skater who works as a courier in the interstices of clogged traffic. Getting the delivery made on time is as important for her as it is for Hiro, whom she literally meets by accident. She sports an electronically enhanced skateboard, which announces her affiliation with the youth culture life-style. It has a suction device which she can temporarily attach to other moving vehicles, parasitically “leeching” speed and energy. The race through the urban neighborhoods at the beginning of the novel prefigures the chase through the Metaverse later on. As with Gibson, speed is practically an addictive end in itself. The contrast between Reality and Metaverse is particularly striking with regard to Hiro’s social status in each world. In Reality, Hiro The parallel to the television series Max Headroom is unmistakable. The series features a television journalist who has become a cybernetic entity after a fatal car accident. Together with Carter, a human journalist, he unveils crimes and conspiracies produced by the falsifying reality machine of the monopolized television broadcasts. 5 A similar satiric tone characterizes Marc Laidlaw’s Dad’s Nuke. The whole novel elaborates the pun of the nuclear family, where each home has a nuclear device to protect its members. However, this novel is only marginally related to the cyberpunk genre, because its version of virtual reality is confined to a plug-in world of holiday destination options, etc. 4

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slaves at a poorly paid job and lives in a cargo container which he shares with Vitaly Chernobyl, a rock musician. In the Metaverse, by contrast, he owns a prime piece of real estate on the Street. His life in the Metaverse richly compensates for his miserable existence in Reality: “When you live in a shithole, there’s always the Metaverse, and in the Metaverse, Hiro Protagonist is a warrior prince,” explains the narrator (58). He owes his prominent status in the Metaverse to the fact that he was one of its earliest settlers. Together with his girlfriend Juanita and a group of skilled computer programmers, he invented the virtual world’s initial operating rules and avatars. Hiro’s first entry into the Metaverse requires goggles or eyephones. These function as a screen for displaying images generated by the computer, as well as speakers to provide sound. The first glimpse of the Metaverse reveals that The sky and the ground are black, like a computer screen that hasn’t had anything drawn into it yet; it is always nighttime in the Metaverse, and the Street is always garish and brilliant like Las Vegas freed from constraints of physics and finance. (24)

The phrasing and mood very closely resemble the urban environment described at the beginning of Neuromancer. The similarity with the nighttime city neon lights is unmistakable. The comparison of sky and computer screen also has a very familiar ring as one of the commonplaces of cyberpunk fiction. The semantic exchange between these terms makes each a complete and self-sufficient environment. Finally, Stephenson’s description of the urban Metaverse evokes the same atmosphere as Gibson’s Chiba, almost to the point of parody. However, Snow Crash does not represent an explicit parody; it borrows elements from Gibson only to create another original view of virtual reality. Since the noir style is an important element of all cyberpunk fiction, some overlap in mood and atmosphere is inevitable and not necessarily parodic. The next view of the Metaverse focusses on the Street, a “brilliantly lit boulevard that stretches off into an infinite blackness. This boulevard does not really exist; it is a computer-rendered view of an imaginary place” (19). Like Gibson, Stephenson describes a vast borderless space appealing to the frontier spirit. Since Earth and

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even outer space no longer represent uncharted territory, the only frontier left is between Reality and Metaverse – a purely imaginary final frontier. Stephenson also uses the Street in a generic sense that is reminiscent of Gibson’s criminal subculture hustling on the street. But Gibson rarely refers to any element of cyberspace as an illusion; he consistently conveys a painstaking sense of realism, even in the most patently imaginary of places. Stephenson’s Street and Metaverse, by contrast, quite openly acknowledge their own artifice. Things here “do not exist in Reality,” thanks to zones “where the rules of three-dimensional space-time are ignored” (23). Stephenson’s most original contribution to cyberspace is his concept of the avatar. People in the Metaverse are “pieces of software called avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with each other” (33).6 An avatar, according to Hayles, “both is and is not present, just as the user both is and is not inside the screen” (Posthuman 27). Avatars are subject to flexible rules of representation; their appearance and behavior can be changed either by writing new programs or by choosing among new ready-made elements. They are also governed by pragmatics, depending on a given virtual situation. Avatars, in a tight configuration of data such as the Street, just walk right through each other. So when Hiro cuts through the crowd, headed for the entrance, he is really cutting through the crowd. When things get this jammed together, the computer simplifies things by drawing all of the avatars ghostly and translucent so you can see where you’re going. Hiro appears solid to himself, but everyone else looks like a ghost. (37)

Avatars are thus programmed according to practical constraints, saving disk space or computing power when it is not really needed. Keeping it simple also helps Hiro navigate through the street without being overwhelmed by a bewildering array of detail representing information that he does not really need. ‘Avatar’ itself is a term borrowed from Hindu religion, which means the incarnation of a deity. In a more abstract sense it also describes an “incarnation in human form” or an “embodiment (as of a concept of a philosophy) often in a person” (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). 6

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Another public place besides the Street is the “Black Sun,” a bar designed by Hiro and Da5id during the pioneer days of the Metaverse. From the outside it looks like a “squat black pyramid with the top cut off,” and access to it is permitted only by prior invitation (37). It is a restricted zone with different rules from the Street: here “everything is solid and opaque and realistic [...]. The avatars look like real people” (51). The high degree of detail or realism is due to Hiro’s programming skills and computing power, since “solid appearances” stand as proofs of wealth in the Metaverse. “Cheap” avatars are betrayed by their limitation to black and white; talking to them feels like “talking to a person who has his face stuck in a xerox machine” (38). Such differences in status emphasize the Metaverse’s comic book dimensions, since avatars, like comic book characters, can be instantly revived, bent, and transformed according to the resourcefulness of their animators. Because Hiro has written the rules structuring the Black Sun, his avatar in this place is naturally capable of triumphing over anything that transpires there, including a virtual sword fight. He wins easily because he already knows the limitations of his opponent’s moves. Hiro’s fantasy of invincibility can be seen as another kind of wish fulfillment, since Hiro inherited a sword in Reality from his father, who died while escaping from a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The true power of the Metaverse lies in those moments when it most clearly departs from Reality. Theoretically, anything is possible: there is no reason why cows cannot fly, monsters cannot mingle with people, or mountains cannot talk. The only limit in this virtual space is the imagination. However, Stephenson still carries over certain laws of gravity and coherence from the framing narrative world. One is the affirmation that people and therefore avatars “can’t exist in two places at once” (96). Another is the regulation of entry into the Metaverse: You can’t just materialize [...] like Captain Kirk beaming down from on high. This would be confusing and irritating to the people around you. It would break the metaphor. Materializing out of nowhere (or vanishing back into Reality) is considered to be a private function best done in the confines of your own House. (34)

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What metaphor might the sudden appearance of an avatar break? It seems that the metaphor of the avatar is supposed to stand for only one real person at a time. But since it is an electronic entity, there is no compelling reason to constrict its range of voluntary motion. This rule of having to enter the Metaverse at specified, prearranged entry ports shows that the framing narrative world comes first: it determines the etiquette of the Metaverse and not vice versa. Avatars are thus expected to avail themselves of “ports, [which] serve a function analogous to airports: This is where you drop into the Metaverse from somewhere else. Once you have materialized in a Port, you can walk down the Street or hop on the monorail or whatever” (34). The term “port” here carries several resonances. It originally described a safe haven for ships discharging cargo, before it became associated with planes docking at an airport. The whole semantic field around “airport” is full of shipping metaphors, which reflects a certain progression in means of transportation. The continuity of language suggests that they were considered true successors to each other. A port is also metaphorically understood as a computer hardware interface “by which a computer communicates with another device or system,” such as a printer (Webster’s Collegiate). The Metaverse port is a combination of all these meanings: a safe haven where an avatar can manifest itself; a busy airport lounge where people enter and leave; and a place where data between two computer systems is exchanged. Those who can determine the rules of the Metaverse are the most powerful. Since Hiro can write and invent new characters as well as modify the initial code from which the Metaverse is built, he possesses the ability to conquer all enemies within that space. While his challengers are bound by the realistic conventions inscribed in virtual life, Hiro can write an invisible avatar for himself. Once his presence is disguised, he is able to overcome all obstacles and intrude into any space (329). As the Librarian points out, “in the Metaverse, [...] magic is possible. The Metaverse is a fictional structure made out of code” (197). Stephenson takes pains to ‘explain’ all this magic with reference to how the Metaverse is programmed, written, and encoded in both human language and computer code.

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He also deliberately includes many fantastic elements from other genres (such as comics) known for their unrealistic conventions and translates themes from chivalry and romance into high-tech terms. A colorful carnival of Samurai sword fights, high-speed motorcycle chases, Sumerian culture, biblical history, and pop-cultural references is assembled from diverse genres and historical periods, thus producing a lively postmodern narrative.

Stephenson’s Postmodern Strengths Although Snow Crash documents the last throes of cyberpunk, it also reinvents the genre with an invigorating postmodern twist. Stephenson’s Metaverse is no longer simply a cyberpunk invention but a larger abstraction of all fiction – a self-consciously postmodern metanarrative device. The rules of this universe are first carefully inscribed, only to be gleefully subverted; a system of correspondences between meanings is thus simultaneously foregrounded and undermined. By breaking the illusion of a coherent virtual universe, Stephenson points to the principles of construction underlying any kind of virtual world, as well as its limitations. This postmodern gesture then precipitates a feedback effect which reflects on the framing narrative, or primary fictional world. As a result, both the Metaverse and Reality become equally untrustworthy sites of reference, throwing into radical question the cyberpunk/science fiction reliance on realism. Snow Crash can be read as a sustained and calculated riff on Gibsonian themes and obsessions. This playful sense of homage is perhaps best seen in a comparison between the two authors’ choice of leading character. At first glance, Stephenson’s Hiro Protagonist and Gibson’s Case certainly seem to resemble one another. Both are techno whizzkids operating on the fringes of society: Hiro is a freelance hacker, and Case a mercenary-cowboy. One specializes in pizza delivery as a front for programming microcode and collecting information for resale, while the other runs courier errands as a means of obtaining access to cyberspace. Finally, both men are driven by a similar race against time to save their skins: the first

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must discharge a debt owed to the Mafia, while the second must dispose of toxins accumulating in his body. But on a deeper level, differences emerge between them. Whereas Case’s raison d’être is the adrenaline rush of death-defying adventure in cyberspace, Hiro’s pursuit is of a more intellectual nature. Hiro’s problem-solving involves the drawing of complex analogies between linguistics, biology, and computers whereas Case’s problem-solving is much more confined to intuitive, hands-on action. Hiro actually writes the program that protects the world from the spreading of the Snow Crash virus; Case only steals the program that cracks the black box and unites the artificial intelligences, Wintermute and Neuromancer. There are also clear parallels in the description of the two heroes’ first plunge into cyberspace. Stephenson’s initial panoramic view of the Metaverse resembles the coming-into-existence of Gibson’s matrix, since the one virtual ‘downtown’ is describes as “a dozen Manhattans, embroidered with neon and stacked on top of each other” (Snow Crash 24), while the other is described in terms of the “frequency of data exchange, every thousand megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn solid white” (Neuromancer 43). Both virtual worlds here are stylized miniatures of ‘real’ cities in neon. Gibson’s matrix derives from a logic of correspondence between an abstract density of information glowing bright on a map, and actual information flows (traffic, people, and money) in a real geographical location (such as Manhattan or Atlanta). However, Stephenson’s Metaverse relies less on analogies to pre-existing geography; it acknowledges a more arbitrary and unmotivated sense of imaginative space instead. The street is another important element employed by both Gibson and Stephenson to entirely different effects. The “street find[ing] its own uses for things” in Gibson signifies a creative abstraction: a criminal subculture intent on surviving by all and any means in the urban jungle. It also personifies the debris discarded onto the street as the unlikely but promising stuff of new life. Stephenson’s Street, conversely, serves as the main traffic artery in the Metaverse. It connects various virtual establishments as a literal channel or throughfare. Whereas Gibson’s street is an underground

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element from the primary framing universe, Stephenson transposes this same sense of the street into his own secondary or framed universe. Thus Gibson’s urban environment finds its mirror in Stephenson’s virtual environment. The Librarian who guides Hiro through the thicket of information in the Babel/Infocalypse hypercard stacks is the structural equivalent of Dixie Flatline in Gibson’s Neuromancer. Both are artificial intelligence programs who provide guidance to the hero. While Dixie’s personality construct bemoans its limitations of read-onlymemory for more comic relief, the Librarian is more seriously capable of organizing information as well as creating new associations between related semantic fields. The Librarian accordingly plays a larger role, actively re-writing cultural history and unveiling Bob L. Rife’s evil plan. Since the drug Snow Crash has infiltrated the Metaverse, it has become a potentially lethal space for its inhabitants. Before, “death” was merely simulated by disconnection from the Metaverse. Now the added risk of real death heightens the tension of the adventure narrative, the long stretches of explanatory dialogue between Hiro and the Librarian notwithstanding. Other minor details further underscore the parallels between Gibson’s Neuromancer and Stephenson’s Snow Crash. For example, Gibson’s trendy mirrorshades become “mirrorspecs” in Snow Crash (290). Gibson’s blending of names with numbers for cloned characters (such as Lady 3Jane) is recuperated by Stephenson for ‘regular’ folks (like Da5id), with the number no longer representing the place in a series of cloned copies so much as a phonetic “hacker handle.” Many computer-based passwords require a combination of letters and numbers, as a guarantee of privacy and/or anonymity. Virtual pseudonyms thus install a cryptic buffer against the discovery of ‘true’ identity. In cyberpunk terms of preference for activities on the fringes of legality, such as pseudonyms conveniently distance ‘the originals’ from any legal consequences. Such separation between virtual and real identity also accounts for the phenomenon of “switching” declarations of age, gender, race, role, etc. Furthermore, Gibson uses an assortment of real product names (such as Hitachi, Nikon, and Mercedes) to give the impression of a global

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economy. Prominent ‘product placement’ here attests to the homogeneity of multinational corporations as a commercial tidal wave sweeping over the human world. Pat Cadigan refers to a similarly disturbing corporate trend of franchising human personalities. Stephenson identifies this cyberpunk suspicion of brand names, and reverses it: he invents new entities and treats them as if they are already real product names (e.g. Metaverse, Reality, Snow Crash). The greatest difference between Stephenson and Gibson can probably be found in the approach to dramatic resolution. Neuromancer and Snow Crash end on entirely different notes: Hiro saves the world from universal destruction, while Case merely saves himself from extinction. However, neither gains any material wealth for all their troubles; both of them are strictly in it for the adventure. Cadigan’s protagonists chart a more subtle course which is less overtly heroic: their reward by the novel’s end can only be assessed in terms of personality growth, insight, and understanding. Stephenson’s greatest cyberpunk-specific innovation is the avatar. This stand-in for the real body in the Metaverse is manipulated in appearance and movement by remote control. It represents a direct but distant interface between a character in the framing narrative or Reality, and his or her virtual counterpart in the framed narrative or Metaverse. Gibson’s Case has no such interface: he can only perceive the cyberspace that surrounds him and the movement therein thanks to a visual illusion. Molly is an approximation of an avatar when she is linked to Case via simstim; but even then, he is only the passive passenger behind her eyes. On the other hand, Gibson’s hero experiences cyberspace much more directly than Hiro experiences the Metaverse, since he virtually merges with the environment. Case is so fully immersed in cyberspace that he mentally loses contact with the external world; his only physical links are through the electrodes connecting his brain to the computer, and a catheter discharging bodily fluids. Because Stephenson uses an avatar as an intermediary, the distance between real and virtual body is much greater. Stephenson consistently draws attention to the constructed nature of the artificial universe, whereas Gibson insists on its seam-

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less “second nature.” In Snow Crash the illusion of the Metaverse is often broken to comical effect. For instance, Hiro wins the sword fight because he programmed the rules for it. When the rival avatar “dies,” it is described as a thin shell of epidermis, an incredibly complex inflatable doll. But the air does not rush out of him, he fails to collapse, and you can look into the aperture of a sword cut and see, instead of bones and meat, the back of the skin on the other side. It breaks the metaphor. The avatar is not acting like a real body. It reminds all The Black Sun’s patrons that they are living in a fantasy world. People hate to be reminded of this. (95)

By drawing attention to the rupture of realistic illusion, the omniscient narrator simultaneously reveals the Metaverse’s nuts-andbolts construction, i.e. its programming. Stephenson’s Metaverse is meta-fictional and self-referential previsely through such continual references to writing, even if they generally refer to the writing of computer code. Lacking a tool to conquer a specific challenge, Hiro writes a program to fill the gap. Hiro may not beget himself as narrator, but he certainly controls the design of his stand-in in the Metaverse. All of these elements are motivated by the science fiction plot and do not break with the narrative to the same degree as a purely postmodern novel, which explicitly addresses or challenges the reader (such as Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller). Stephenson’s creation of the Metaverse and his introduction of avatars as interfaces show that he is unquestionably part of the cyberpunk discussion. The punk aspect is represented by Hiro’s hacker ability, Y.T.’s allegiance to the skater slang/subculture, and other minor points of color such as the shock value attached to rock music (sometimes by the evocation of a name like Vitaly Chernobyl). The Metaverse unites parodic and borrowed elements from Gibson’s Sprawl and cyberspace, but it also contributes a unique understanding of virtual reality’s power as a plot device. By exposing the scaffolding holding up one fictional world, Stephenson effectively shows the same tenuousness at work in all fictions – virtual and realist alike.

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Consanguinities of Cyberspace

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H I S S T U D Y has taken Lyotard’s theory of the postmodern as its general point of departure, then supplemented it with the related architectural debate. On the one hand, the questions raised by architecture have contributed to refining a more useful definition of the postmodern based on double coding, complexity, and irony; on the other, the relationship between urban cityscape and the architecture of virtual cyberspace has critically informed the invention of a whole new field of fictional possibility. While the mainstream often borrows themes from science fiction – the virtual-reality worlds are no exception – they are often deployed in a different context and stripped of their genre conventions, thus changing their meaning and significance entirely. Mainstream use of science fiction themes or tropes only imparts a science fiction ‘flavor’ to texts that are ultimately governed by a different esthetic. Genres may certainly persist in postmodernism, but the science fiction genre in particular tends to suffer disproportionately more ‘disfigurement’ (in every sense) in the process. Perhaps this phenomenon is not so much a sign of blurred distinctions as a sign of the evolution of genres while providing a pertinent example of cross-fertilization between popular and high culture. While Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 uses concrete examples to convey the ab-

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stract on a figurative, almost allegorical level, cyberpunk uses the opposite strategy: it concretizes the abstract. Thus the “apparent convergence of cyberpunk and mainstream postmodernism in the 1980s” turns out to be a blatant misconception (McHale “P O S T cyberM ODERN punkISM ” 318). Moreover, cyberpunk operates “at the interface of science fiction and what is called mainstream literature,” meaning that as a literary current cyberpunk stays inside science fiction boundaries while also interacting with the mainstream (Suvin “Pukallus Interview” 259). The cybernetic inheritance and a defiant ‘punk’ attitude are the key components of cyberpunk. Detailed descriptions of these universes by no means indulge in superficial detail, decoration, or gadgetry. Instead, they show that the construction of new fictional spaces is the prime focus of this type of science fiction. Characters are thus often stereotypical, cardboard cut-outs resembling comic book figures. Expectations of complexity or credibility in character are inappropriate for determining cyberpunk’s value, because characters serve principally as focalizors for the new environment. The three cyberpunk writers’ visions of cyberspace discussed here reveal a constant and critical interplay at work between primary and secondary levels of meaning. This interaction relies on the fluid exchange of semantic properties induced by a number of key metaphors. Gibson, Cadigan, and Stephenson each appeal to metaphoric expression as the creative core of their virtual universes. Such figurative expressions entail some incompatible notion which is gradually reconciled, thereby engendering a universe in which such notions cohere and coexist. They do not stay figurative for long and gradually become literalized in the course of the story. Sometimes the metaphoric origin has to be reconstructed as a conscious interpretive effort. And the same strategy sometimes works in reverse: literal expressions or dead metaphors are revived and their figurative sense is refreshed. Cyberpunk texts work their peculiar spell through the exchange of semantic fields between primary and secondary spheres of reference. They also operate on the basis of common generic presuppositions. One such assumption is that humans and machines can

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communicate with one another directly via a common digital code. Personalities and memories are thus considered to be transferable between humans and computer systems. The boundary breaks down between human and machine, while the strictly human qualities of matter and spirit, body and mind become parceled out and directly plugged into computers. The next step along this man– machine continuum leads to the posthuman hybrid or cyborg. Cyborgs and cyberspace are the products of the same process: both emerge from a semantic exchange between the field of nature and the field of technology, merging man-made with artificial, material with immaterial. Cyberspace or virtual reality is a much richer fictional source than its progenitor Gibson may have realized. Cadigan certainly makes far better use of the new plot possibilities, while Stephenson points toward their metafictional potential. Yet, as important as the cyberpunk family resemblances may be, it is the individual differences between works that account for the sub-genre’s novelty. Without a certain degree of innovation, the metaphor and the universe construed from it rapidly become trite. Cyberpunk is particularly prone to flattening into formula if a certain degree of innovation is not introduced. However, a certain amount of familiarity and repetition is also necessary simply to render the fictional form intelligible. This applies to metaphors, too, which often become incomprehensible when the distance between semantic fields is too great (as in the case of surrealism). Cyberpunk has strong affinities with the science fiction genre – even if it claims to re-invent and revolutionize it, it does so from within the genre’s conventions. Cyberpunk uses many postmodern techniques similar to those found in the mainstream, but it does so without disrupting the story level or breaking the illusion of a coherent narrative with selfreferential comments on the process of writing itself. Cyberpunk tends to introduce self-conscious references as concrete story elements in and of themselves. For example, narrative voices are represented by different personalities trapped in one body; the construction processes of all fiction are revealed when the foundations of a particular virtual universe are laid bare; and the metafictional

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potential of virtual reality emerges when it is used as a plot device, as part of a stage setting, or as a virtual dream state. Cyberspace as plot device enables role-switching (Cadigan) and slipping into other characters’ points of view (Gibson). Stephenson is most explicit about the metafictional aspects of cyberspace, which sets Snow Crash at a remove from genre roots in science fiction but in closer proximity to the mainstream. Cyberpunk will undoubtedly be remembered as an important moment within the development of science fiction, as well as an important step in the evolution of the postmodern. Cyberpunk shows close connections with postmodern issues through its punk attitude, which imported a new self-consciousness into science fiction. Its postmodern features can be traced to its innovations in plot device, which promise to provide a source of cross-fertilization between many other genres and media in years to come. Last but not least, cyberpunk shares semantic fields, images, and models with recent scientific theories as well as postmodern thinking. They coincide around the notion of non-linear, dynamic, and complex structures which emerge as a metanarrative of the postmodern, no matter how fervently Lyotard may try to deny the existence of such a common denominator. The notion is embedded in different discourses, contexts, and disciplines, pointing to the value of complexity and new concepts of order arising out of chaos and disorder. Non-linear complexity is part of a different conceptualization of our environment, its interdependencies, and the more humble role we humans must learn to play within it. The sudden appearance of order in a new perception of pattern and structure is also the dominant discourse underlying the emergence of artificial intelligence.

Virtual Reality as Plot Device: Cyberspace to Metaverse [...] the genre of science fiction must be defined by its unique fictional world or worlds. (Malmgren 2)

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“Despite its many shortcomings [...], ‘cyberspace’ was unsurpassed as a narrative device tailored to the needs of sf,” writes Ross Farness in his evaluation of Gibson, and he is one of the very few critics to state explicitly this important contribution of cyberpunk to the genre of science fiction (461).1 Inset virtual worlds can in turn contain other worlds.2 Drawing attention to the rules and processes involved in the creation of these worlds implicitly reflects the construction of science fiction worlds in general.3 If one agrees with Malmgren, who also sees science fiction’s “generic distinctiveness [...] not in its story but in its world, the constant reference to the construction of worlds also reflects on the genre as a whole” (7). The absence of explicit self-referentiality should not be interpreted as a lack of quality or as a weaker version of postmodern fiction but should prompt consideration of science fiction’s changing selfunderstanding as a genre. Dominated by the goal to entertain, by action and adventure plots, science fiction cannot be neatly fitted into concepts like extrapolation, subjunctivity or fabulation. These critical concepts may account for a certain group of works within science fiction but not for the genre as a whole. The peculiarities of science fiction are threefold: semantic processes of construction, and inventions of new fictional worlds are only two elements, which the reader must synthesize into a coherent whole. In most discussions of science fiction the critical role of the reader is neglected. Others who have talked about Gibson’s cyberspace have used it as a symptom of “postmodern spatiality” in the same way that Jameson has raised hyperreality to the trope for postmodernity (Johnston American Fiction 250). In this sense, cyberspace exemplifies postmodernity and reflects the world that we live in. In my analysis, cyberspace is discussed as figurative space, since it emerges from the interaction of metaphors forming semantic networks. 2 John Johnston has also singled out the importance of “spatial multiplicity” or the “heterogeneity of the spaces depicted” in Neuromancer as one of its most interesting aspects (190). 3 Kerman argues the same for the representation of virtual reality in film where the “synthetic images suggest viscerally the possibility that the space inside the computer might contain a model of the world, or even a separate real world operating by its own laws” (192). 1

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What begins as metaphor or figure of speech often ends up as the reverse – a literalized story element. Or, put another way: the construction of the fictional worlds entailed in science fiction can be illuminated by finding the key metaphors from which the universe is constructed. The metaphors then provide clues to the absent paradigms and hidden assumptions on which the universe is built. The moment of estrangement, the mismatch between semantic fields entailed in the metaphor, contains the seeds for the elaboration of the entire fictional universe. This is extended through the continuation of these metaphors, which become increasingly literal and concrete. That is to say, what initially functioned as discrepancy or deviance gradually becomes logically extended and thereby possible in the emerging fictional world until it is no longer perceived as metaphor. Through realistic narrative conventions, the deviance (also conceptualized as invention or Suvin’s cognitive novum) becomes literal truth on the story level. While not making self-referential statements about the text itself, the writing is first and foremost concerned with surface detail which creates and fleshes out the fictional worlds that lie dormant in the metaphoric kernel. Last but not least, the construction of the virtual-reality worlds can also be read as having meta-fictional implications, although this interpretation is not foregrounded to the same extent as it is in the mainstream postmodern novel. The dominant cliché for foregrounding the construction process and the nature of fiction is the way in which the writing process is itself thematized in the novel by inscribing the narrator, author, and reader, each continually chasing his own self-creation. The theme of writing finds a parallel in the topos of computer programming, which encodes the rules and algorithms of the virtual world: “computers typically serve the function of literalizing and updating traditional literary elements – ancient topoi, for instance, or conventions of narrative structure” (McHale “P O S T cyberMO D ERN punkISM ” 319). Rather than highlighting the writing process, Stephenson and the other cyberpunk writers focus on the writing of software, the encryption and decryption of digital code. Thus they convey a sense of fundamental artificiality, which is equated “with the constructedness of artificial

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intelligences” (Hicks 88). Reference to the creation of program code has the same denaturalizing effect on fiction writing as the reference to writing and reading in postmodern fiction.4 This particular notion of writing leads to more general notions of encoding and decoding as encountered in the theory of semiotics. The more frequently these construction algorithms are stressed, the more clearly one comes to think of these virtual reality worlds as constructed. While Gibson tends to avoid such references, with the exception of a few instances that function mainly as comic relief (i.e. when showing up the limitations of an artificial intelligence construct), Cadigan and Stephenson make more explicit use of this possibility. The constructedness of ultimately all universes feeds into a theme of conspiracy, the suspicion that everything is mysteriously pre-arranged and the outcome predetermined. Not by a divine entity but by a superhuman secular agency – the no less almighty corporations. The result is a denaturalization displacing the opposition between natural and artificial, as the cyborg has displaced the opposition between man and machine. The same happens when science fiction is appropriated by postmodernist fiction. It tends to “become integrated into an esthetic and a worldview” whose central tenets are based on uncertainty and an indeterminacy which call into questions the “causal interpretation of the universe” and the reliance on a “rhetoric of believability” (Hollinger 204). Another equally important ‘crossover’ characteristic between cyberpunk and postmodern fiction is the use of specific genre references. Rather than drawing the reader’s attention to the writing process and the coming into being of the fiction (the fictionalized author or narrator), cyberpunk frequently subverts themes, images, and tropes associated with science fiction’s specific history. The man-made monster à la Frankenstein resurges in the figure of the cyborg, the adventure narrative of many space operas becomes a journey into the inner space of the computer, time travel is disHuntington concurs with Hicks when he observes that “just as the cyberspace deck renders all experience equally artificial, the novel itself, while narrating this artificial experience from a realistic perspective, has become, by a backdoor, a narrative about narrative” (138). 4

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placed into a parallel dimension, and the visionary artifacts of modernity’s dream of the future become the ruins cluttering the framing universes of cyberpunk worlds. The icons of modernity are thrown on the trash heap of history – a tendency which accounts for the association of cyberpunk with the portrayal of a ‘retrofuture’ that can be understood as the critique of a previous vision of the future. In a similar fashion, the representation of synchronic memory is literalized and “cyberspace replaces literacy and personal memory with travels through the raw data representations themselves” (Porush “Frothing” 253). Cyberspace is described as a space projected inside the computer as much as a space inside the mind. It partially attempts to reify and materialize the ‘immaterial material’ that makes up its essence: the alternating current which underlies the binary code, its language, software, program. The architecture of cyberspace is derived from the framing fictional world but also from abstract mathematical symbols and geometrical objects (cubes, pyramids, rings, spindles, spirals). Cyberspace does not exist as a material extension in space beyond the computer. As an artificial, computergenerated world it is ‘internalized’ by the user, the fictional character, the cyber-cowboy, who feels as if s/he is immersed in that environment. By means of an interface (goggles, helmet, sockets, electrodes) one ‘enters’ cyberspace, which process equals a forgetting of the framing narrative space: i.e., the ‘real’ world. Although cyberspace is generally the preferred space, the body in the real world imposes some limitations. When the body dies, it is expelled from cyberspace. Since cyberspace is created by perception, the interaction with the neurological processes of the brain, it cannot exist without the body. Near-death resembles an infinite feedback loop, such as the flatline episodes in Gibson’s novels or the looping memories in Kitta Wren’s dead brain (Mindplayers). The architecture of cyberspace also functions as a mnemonic device. The symbols and shapes stand for complex constellations of data which are easily navigable and manipulable, not only by cyberheroes but also by the reader’s imagination. In addition, they also carry additional semantic charges as symbols of power. Their sym-

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metry signifies the strength and wealth of the all-dominating, selfpropagating multinational enterprises. Part of their power resides in the fact that they exist beyond national boundaries, beyond governments and legislatures. Their structures in cyberspace are made up of data, which stands for information. Information comprises money, knowledge, people’s memories (such as the Dixie Flatline R O M construct). This is less relevant for Cadigan’s fiction; she refrains from these universals and absolutes as much as possible. Her version of cyberspace is an intrapersonal space that has to be actively imagined. To imagine by the rules of her fictional universe means to concretize – to create and project – a visualization of a symbolic space. Within this space the character also needs to imagine and project an image of his or her body. Without such an image, he or she cannot interact with others in the virtual space, nor perceive it in the first place. This psychological inner space is merely facilitated and mediated by a computer system. The inset fictional spaces or virtual realities also entail many possibilities as role-playing devices. Not only can they call up and incorporate a number of different scenarios – in theory, any science fictional or generic setting – but sometimes they also present a stage for the exploration of identity. On this stage, the character can choose and construct his or her appearance – what Stephenson calls an avatar. This virtual stand-in for the body is an interface for the interaction with other avatars, with the virtual environment, and with the body in the framing universe. The choice of avatar can be wholly arbitrary and unmotivated; it need not have an iconic relationship to the real body. The role-playing aspects are doubly complicated in Cadigan’s Fools, because the worlds of both virtual reality and the theatrical stage become so entwined that it is ultimately impossible for the reader to determine which is the framing fictional world and which is the virtual stage. Framing and framed world create an infinite regression, like a hall of mirrors. A sense of insecurity ensues from the suggestion that all worlds are virtual worlds with identical (or identically tenuous) claims to reality. They are all true as long as they are presented as such, and as long as the I-narrator believes in the world. Fools comes very close to conveying

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postmodern uncertainty while also distancing itself from the cyberpunk idiom. This raises the question of the relationship of framing world to framed world. It is hazardous to assume that the framing world is more real than the virtual world, since both, after all, are equally fictions. There is constant interaction between the worlds, which rely on similar semantic networks that define, resonate, and interact with each other. The role-playing aspect of the virtual-reality environments has ambiguous consequences. On the one hand, it is a means of empowerment for the individual character. He or she can freely choose a new ‘fictional’ identity, clothes, gender, race and so forth.5 On the other hand, this re-invention of the self also poses the threat of ‘losing’ one’s sense of self, of substituting another identity, of succumbing to the temptations of disembodiment (Mark in Synners), or of ‘losing’ the original (Jerry in Mindplayers). Roleplaying means assuming other guises and characters. These are often masks provided by computer hard- and software such as Effinger’s personality modules, which enhance the user’s skills (languages, physical skills, memories) or make him believe that he is someone else. The narrative consequences resulting from all the possibilities inherent in the virtual-reality worlds are manifold. Many resemble postmodern narrative conventions which are realized on a concrete, literal level to conform with the genre conventions inscribed in science fiction. Description plays an important role for the construction of the fictional worlds. The surface detail creates the universe. Description is not necessarily pause for reflection; it creates the spatial coordinates of both fictional worlds. Most cyberpunk authors intersect short paragraphs of several fictional strands which create the impression of quick, scenic shifts. Neither the framing nor the framed world is static. Dynamism rules. Everything changes fast, whether it is the decaying ruins of modernity, art becoming a living fungus that develops into new biomatter, or the protean

Turkle describes several examples in Life on the Screen found in virtual chat rooms on the internet and not in fiction. 5

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shapes in cyberspace that create the illusion of rapid movement from the point-of-view character. The body, after all, is static in front of a remote computer keyboard. The narrative shift between locations through intersecting narrative strands or a switching device (simstim, “jack in,” “plug in”) makes sudden changes plausible. Seeing through someone else’s eyes is also possible: Case sees through Molly’s eyes, Allie can see other people’s memories, Mark can extend his vision through cameras connected to the net. In cyberpunk this is facilitated by the strict separation of body and mind: the physical/material body is stuck in front of a terminal, locked in a room, while at the same time the mind is liberated into cyberspace. Thus memories can be treated as software and on the same level with computer programs, which are allegedly independent of the material information carrier; they can be downloaded, uploaded, stored, edited, erased, and stolen. As a result, realities are confused and ontological uncertainty prevails. Although virtual reality as a plot device has many connections to postmodern narrative technique, it is more of a side-effect in cyberpunk fiction. With the possible exception of Fools and Snow Crash, virtual reality as a plot device is not especially foregrounded and problematized. Both these novels are situated on the margins of the cyberpunk sub-genre. Drawing too much attention to these fictional devices would interfere with the prime entertainment directive of the science fiction genre. Too much reflection and narrative discourse would distract the reader from the primary goal, the exploration of new and alien universes. Finally, the often used argument that simulation (Baudrillard) or hyperreality (Jameson) displaces reality can be refuted. While the cyber-heroes may momentarily not know in which reality (fictional world) he or she is, the uncertainty is normally resolved, with the exception of Fools. However, what is important is the cyber-hero’s experience in cyberspace or virtual reality, which ‘feels’ just as real. The emotions experienced are the same as outside virtual reality: anger, pain, joy, hate, and fear. The resolution of the crisis which leads toward the conclusion of the plot often involves a sublime experience. The characteristic

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experience of the hero in cyberspace I would call the virtual sublime. This link with the sublime is not to be understood as an esthetic criterion for the quality of art. It is an emotive effect. The emotional response to the dangers of cyberspace indicates the intensity of the experience. Novelty of experience, suspension of bodily functions in moments of extreme awe – often expressed as a failure of communication between the will to move and the movements of the body – represent a characteristic stage in what Weiskel has called the romantic sublime, with which the virtual sublime has certain affinities. This state of shock is frequently resolved by means of an emotively fuelled action, with the immediate goal of ensuring survival. Hand in hand with heightened physical awareness is an increased mental alertness – also related to the increase of adrenaline in the human body – which can lead to new insights and a clearer grasp of difficult and complex situations. Hence the character’s true understanding of the nature of cyberspace resides in these moments of sublime resolution. Whereas, in his ‘hyper-quotidian’, the actant will be engrossed in detail, a close-up view of cyberspace, the sublime experience frequently opens the door to a larger perspective. It helps the cyber-pilot arrive at an understanding of the nature of cyberspace – wildness that would be wellnigh untamable, were it not for his superior strength and ability. He remains in awe of these vast untrammeled spaces, which appeal so greatly to his pioneering sense of adventure.

The Virtual Sublime The postmodern would be that which in the modern invokes the unpresentable in presentation itself, that which refuses the consolation of correct forms, refuses the consensus of taste permitting a common experience of nostalgia for the impossible, and inquires into new presentations – not to take pleasure in them, but to better produce the feeling that there is something unpresentable [...] The artist and the writer therefore work without rules and in order to establish the rules for what will have been made. This is why the work and the text can take on the properties of an

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event; [...] it is not up to us to provide reality, but to invent allusions to what is conceivable but not presentable. (Lyotard, “Answer” Postmodern Explained 15)6

The sublime can be regarded as a key notion in Lyotard’s thought about the postmodern. It relates to his persistent emphasis on incommensurability in different domains of investigation: rhetoric (see Discours, Figure), time (see his notion of anachronism as a typical mode of postmodern temporality), and esthetics (see his notion of the sublime).7 His idiosyncratic revision of the sublime is an attempt to divorce it from Kant’s idealist horizon of totality and transcendental reason. In contrast to Kant, Lyotard believes in local determinism, skepticism toward metanarratives, and, above all, dissent as a creative force. The incommensurability of the Kantian faculties of the presentable and the conceivable determines Lyotard’s revised notion of the avant-garde, a concept from which

The same article by Lyotard, “An Answer to the Question, What Is the Postmodern?,” was included in The Postmodern Condition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) in a translation by Régis Durand. There are significant divergences between the two translations and I am giving preference to the revised translation by Don Barry in The Postmodern Explained. 7 Lyotard presents a short history of the sublime in “The Sublime and the Avant-Garde,” where he traces the rhetorical tradition of the sublime from Longinus to Boileau. In addition, he borrows some features of the sublime from Kant: namely, the emphasis on incommensurability and the failure of the imagination. He also borrows from Edmund Burke, whom he sees as departing from the sublime as “a matter of elevation” and endorsing sublimity as a “matter of intensification” (100). “Intensity is associated with an ontological dislocation. The art-object no longer bends itself to models, but tries to present the fact that there is an unpresentable; it no longer imitates nature, but is, in Burke, the actualization of a figure potentially there in language” (101). Lyotard also resumes his discussion of the sublime with reference to the abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman in “Newman: The Instant.” The Postmodern Explained contains the “Postscript to Terror and the Sublime,” where Lyotard refers to “different reasons” in the sense of Adorno’s micrologies (73). These essays can be understood as elaborations of the enigmatic statements on the sublime in “An Answer to the Question, What Is the Postmodern?” 6

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many critics have distanced themselves within the context of postmodernism.8 The peculiar postmodern brand of temporality based on anachronistic principles sets great store by the simultaneous presence of modern and postmodern traits in one work. This anachronism has led to the misunderstanding that the postmodern is ahistorical (see Jameson). Incommensurability implies the distinction between different discourses, temporalities and esthetics without substituting one for the other. By retaining disparate elements which can be “blocked together,” Lyotard finds a major source for the creation of dissent, which he perceives as the driving force that ensures the continuation of discourse generally and art in particular. Bill Readings, in his book Introducing Lyotard, sums up Lyotard’s notion of “blocking together” as a “mode characteristic of the figural, in which two incommensurable elements (such as the visible and the textual) are held together, impossibly, in the ‘same’ space: a kind of superimposition without privilege)” (xxx).9 Lyotard has taken the fundamental principle of metaphor, which consists in the incompatibility of semantic fields, a perceived clash and incongruity of meaning, and has elevated it to a philosophical principle. One crucial element of the sublime is the allusion to infinity, which in its absolute form can only be an idea in Kant’s philosophy – like the idea of freedom, it can only be experienced as negative presentation.10 Kant refers to the sublime, opposing it to the beautiEngström argues that Lyotard’s concern with the sublime can be understood as “an apologetics of the avant-garde” as well as a shift from the eighteenth-century German Enlightenment toward “non-narratizable extremes” in the postmodern (191). In contrast to Lyotard, Engström correctly states that Jameson, Jencks and Richard Rorty assume a different position, because they reject this defense of an avant-garde esthetic. 9 This key notion of “blocking together” is derived from figural analysis in Lyotard’s Discours, Figure and is later merged with psychoanalytical ideas. It is a phenomenon. first observed by Lyotard in metaphoricity, that becomes increasingly abstracted in his later works and is extended to embrace such larger concepts as his notion of dissent. 10 Kant’s exact words in Kritik der Urteilskraft are “negative Darstellung des Unendlichen” (201–202). Lyotard uses this notion in “Newman: The Instant”: “One cannot, [Kant] writes, represent the power of infinite might 8

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ful, as focussing on quantity as opposed to quality. In nature, quantity is linked above all to the notion of limitlessness or Unbegrenztheit (165). Infinity is ultimately not present in nature itself but in the ideas we bring to it, “im Gemüte des Urteilenden, nicht in dem Naturobjekte” (179). This Kantian irreconcilability with the presentable and conceivable leads to Lyotard’s emphasis on the incommensurable; he has shifted it from the rhetorical level onto an esthetic level and a political stance – what Engström calls the “political metaphorics of the sublime” (193).11 Infinity is a concept in Kant’s mathematical sublime that relies on vastness, a concept which he recognizes as relative, not absolute. The negative presentation of infinity ultimately enlarges the soul in Kant’s system of thinking (201). Kant’s dynamic sublime, resulting from our awareness of nature’s being awe-inspiring and beyond our control, involves the failure of the imagination, which, when ultimately conquered, produces a sense of superiority over nature. This is not an end in itself but is motivated by a drive for self-preservation in the face of mortal fear. Burke concurs with Kant’s emphasis on infinity when he remarks that “the ideas of eternity, and infinity, are among the most affecting we have” (57). Cyberspace can be considered to be a new way of alluding to this infinity. It combines Kant’s mathematical sublime with the wild, chaotic aspects of the dynamic sublime. As far as cyberpunk is concerned, one can only speak of a sublime effect on the main characters of the cyberpunk universes, usually the cyber-cowboys. Here the sublime is an effect which is not transferable to the reader except in a weakened, second degree. Herbert Grabes, with reference to postmodern fiction, calls this the “aesthetics of the strange” and not of the sublime, because it results from a “sequence of minor shocks” where “it is as if the momentary character of the sublime, its suddenness, had been dissolved into an or absolute magnitude within space and time because they are pure Ideas. But one can at least allude to them, or ‘evoke’ them by means of what he baptizes a ‘negative presentation’ ” (85). 11 Kant’s analysis of the sublime focusses on this incommensurability as an “Unangemessenheit der Einbildungskraft” leading to the limits of the imagination, i.e. “Grenze des Vermögens der Einbildungskraft” (174; 176).

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ongoing process” (“Inversion of the Sublime” 597). This may be true for the postmodern mainstream novel, but within the fastpaced action and adventure narratives of cyberpunk science fiction, greater shocks are created and fit well into this particular genre of discourse. The very imperfections, the distortions of taste, even ugliness, have their share in the shock-effect. Art does not imitate nature, it creates a world apart, eine Zwischenwelt […] eine Nebenwelt […], one might say in which the monstrous and the formless have their rights because they can be sublime. (Lyotard, “Sublime and the Avant-Garde” 97)

In fact, the ‘punk’ element in cyberpunk has often been characterized as being concerned with producing an esthetic ‘shock effect’ which results from the clash of high technology and low life.12 This conjunction is quite unusual for pulp science fiction, where hightech gloss and gadgets have traditionally been associated with nonsubversive elements, such as scientists and inventors working toward the emancipation and betterment of mankind.13 Whether this intense emotion is transferred to the reader is another issue, but it is certainly a valid aspect of the hero’s experience within the fictional universe of cyberspace. It results in the experience of Burke’s “delightful horror” after one has survived a life-threatening situation.14 See, for instance, Istvan Csicsery–Ronay in “Cyberpunk and Neuromanticism”: “The oxymoronic conceit in ‘cyberpunk’ is so slick and global it fuses the high and the low, the complex and the simple, the governor and the savage, the techno-sublime and rock and roll slime. The only thing left out is a place to stand. So one must move, always move” (183). 13 The portrayal of high tech was not always embedded in utopian, positive terms. Dystopias about nuclear disasters and other apocalyptic scenarios ensuing from advances in technology abound in the 1970s, for instance. But technology was always figured as part of scientific institutions and laboratories, not as the portable, personal computers available to the man on the street as in the cyberpunk universe. 14 “Infinity has a tendency to fill the mind with that sort of delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect, and truest test of the sublime” (Burke 67). 12

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Burke – as opposed to Kant – also refers to the sublime in art and architecture as creating an illusion of “artificial infinity” involving “the sense to impress the imagination with an idea of their progress beyond their actual limits” (68). Furthermore, Burke observes that “to the sublime in building, greatness of dimension seems requisite” (69). This artificial infinity is evoked by the liquid architecture of cyberspace in cyberpunk fiction. The illusion is achieved through the character’s immersion in that space, which eliminates the boundaries of vision still apparent in the movie theater screen or the edge of a picture frame. The body, sometimes referred to as the “meat” or “flesh” (see Neuromancer, Hardwired, Synners), is left behind. The character is immersed in his mindscape, which extends into the virtual space through a direct link between his nervous system and the digital realm. This is not only a direct link represented by plugging into a socket but a verbal link reinforced through metaphoric interaction. Cyberspace remains related to architecture with its new immaterial building blocks of data and energy, or its “immaterialist materialism, if it is true that matter is energy and mind is contained vibration” (Lyotard, “Matter and Time” 45). To return to the element of infinity, Weiskel correctly points out that there are hardly any infinite spaces left in the natural world that can induce astonishment (6). Cyberpunk toys with the temptation or promise of transcendence, the quasi-religious experience within cyberspace; it has found a new final frontier, an unexplored territory where the sublime encounter with virtually infinite spaces is still possible.15 The illusion of infinity in cyberspace is created through reference to a system of coordinates, a grid or lattice of logic. The latter projects the spatial features of cyberspace onto the structure of thinking and expands the mental space by metaphoric transfer. Thus we have come full circle in a metaphoric exchange which has Glenn Grant also remarks that “technological transcendence of human limits, and detourned technology, are pivotal concepts in most cyberpunk works” (“Transcendence Through Detournement” 45). “If technology is to be our method of transcendence, Gibson seems to be saying, then we should not be surprised to discover that our technology might have a greater potentiality for transcendence than we do” (49). 15

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superimposed the features of mathematical, geometrical, computergenerated space onto the very domain of humanness, that of conscious thought. This technique is not limited to fiction. It is also the principle behind Lyotard’s transposition of the concrete term “abyss,” a sublime element in Burke’s natural sublime, and its application to Lyotard’s theory of the sublime, where the abyss describes the gap between the faculties of the presentable and the conceivable. The same notion of an abyss, now become figure, stands between Lyotard’s heterogeneous language games and genres of discourse: The ethical genre and, before it, the dialectical genre (in the first Critique) are heterogeneous with respect to the cognitive genre, whose transcendental conditions are laid out in the first Analytic. The Transcendental Deduction demonstrates that prescription and knowledge (or dialectical disputation – dispute – and knowledge) obey entirely different rules. But the abyss is not of a kind that would make transcendental appearance impossible or suspicion ill founded. On the contrary (and this is described in the discussion of the third Antinomy, for example), they are both inevitable if the same object “accepts” being caught within two heterogeneous genres [...]. For Ideas, there are no presentable objects – there are only analoga, signs, hypotyposes. (“Postscript to Terror and the Sublime” 69–70)

Weiskel, who has outlined his project in The Romantic Sublime as an attempt to de-idealize Kant, also picks up on the conversion of the abyss in relation to the sublime.16 Weiskel abstracts three stages from Kant’s analysis of the sublime, mapping these stages onto semiotic processes. He translates Kant’s notion of incommensurability into semiotic terms that designate the relationship between signifier and signified. This relation is established by habit, then “The sublime moment establishes depth because the presentation of unattainability is phenomenologically a negation, a falling away from what might be seized, perceived, known, as an image, it is the abyss. When the intervention of the transcendent becomes specific, however, the image is converted into a symbol, and height takes over as the valorizing perspective. Here we see, at the level of theme or imagery, one of several differences between the idealist and naturalized versions of the sublime” (Weiskel 24–25). 16

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suddenly breaks down before it is finally recovered through a new relation very similar to the process of predication involved in metaphoric construal (23–24). In addition, Weiskel introduces into the process of the sublime the psychoanalytical notion of sublimation. Weiskel’s analysis of the notion of depth (see his comparison between the rhetorical and natural sublime) is interesting, particularly with regard to the question of value that they imply. He arrives at a fusion of the natural and rhetorical sublime through his horizon of semiotics. Weiskel demonstrates this by showing the correspondence between infinity in landscape and the emptiness of the romantic inner mind envisaged as a receptacle waiting to be filled.17 As Nye’s study of The American Technological Sublime has shown, “sublimity is not inherent” in nature or any object; it is “a social construction” (27). The mediatization of the urban landscape via the screen and other cinematic metaphors in cyberpunk fiction results in a “revisualization of landscape” comparable to the transformation projected onto the urban cityscape by new effects of electrification, which rendered it a seemingly “dematerialized [...] built environment” (143; 150). According to Nye, the electrical sublime is a distinct phenomenon within the technological sublime, because it represents “a third kind of experience, as it dissolved the distinction between natural and artificial sites” (152). This process is continued in the virtual sublime, where natural and artificial have become interwoven beyond distinction. Nye also observes a contradiction at the heart of the technological sublime that invites the observer to interpret a sudden expansion of perceptual experience as the corollary to an expansion of human power and yet

Weiskel states: “The metaphorical moment of the sublime would be understood as an internalization or sublimation of the imagination’s relation to the object. The “unattainability” of the object with respect to the mind would be duplicated as an inner structure, so that in the sublime moment the mind would discover or posit an undefinable (ungraspable) domain within” (23). Burke also explicitly refers to the connection between body and mind, mind and body, when discussing the emotions of “pain and terror” associated with the sublime, calling the sublime an “emotion of mind” (120, 117). 17

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simultaneously evokes the sense of individual insignificance and powerlessness. (286)

This paradox is also present in the cyberpunks’ experience in cyberspace, where “technology can be perceived as an extension and affirmation of reason or as the expression of a crushing, omnipotent force outside the self” (Nye 186). The dark, monstrous viruses in cyberspace are conquered by technological knowhow and by navigating the “edge” or abyss of cyberspace.18 The notion of a virtual sublime merges ideas from Lyotard’s theory of the sublime and Nye’s more pragmatic, consensual experience of a sublime. The technological space drafted in The American Technological Sublime is closer to the sublime experience in fictional cyberspace undergone by the typical male adolescent hero of cyberpunk fiction,19 who is “jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix” (Neuromancer 5). The virtual sublime can be considered as a special case of Nye’s technological sublime. It combines the Kantian mathematical sublime with its emphasis on vastness and infinitude with the Kantian dynamic sublime. The latter emerges from the encounter with the elements of chaos and wilderness in nature, which overwhelm the senses at first but ultimately elevate them.20 Nye’s study treats the sublime as The notion of “the edge” appears on different levels of meaning in connection with cyberpunk. It is frequently found within the works as a colloquial metaphor which stands for “living on the edge” and taking maximum risks, even when the outcome is unpredictable. It is responsible for the thrill experienced by the cyber-hero. 19 Olsen has also made reference to the sublime and cyberpunk in Gibson’s novels, finding there a form of “cybernetic sublime” (“Shadow” 284). Wolmark also sees the link between cyberspace and the “celebration of the technological sublime” (119). 20 Nye rejected the invention of the term “virtual sublime” when it was suggested to him in response to a lecture given at the annual convention of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien in Freiburg, 1997. He feared that it might lead to an inflation of the original concept. However, I believe it remains a viable construct which is helpful in illuminating the effect of cyberspace. It is also helpful for explaining the unique esthetic signature of 18

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a popular, consensual experience of urban, man-made landscapes, which, according to him, represent an American version of the sublime. Examples are the Grand Canyon as well as architectural monuments such as Brooklyn Bridge and the New York World Fair, which were also accompanied by spectacular inaugural events and the illumination of the immediate surroundings. Nonetheless, the consensual experience allows for individually distinct attributions of meaning to be made as a result of this sublime event. Nye shows how the shared sublime experience has remained a constant in American culture. Furthermore, the objects and contexts that can produce the sublime have shifted from sources in the natural world to the urban environment. All these forms of the sublime flow into the presentation of the virtual sublime in cyberspace on a purely fictional and semantic level. They provide a new source of the sublime experience appropriate to the new media and the disappearance of natural phenomena that could provoke an analogous sense of surprise or shock. The virtual sublime is a new manifestation of the technological sublime, which originates from an experience in a virtual landscape generated from the mapping of semantic fields associated with natural landscapes onto those associated with urban cityscapes. It incorporates features of the electrical sublime, which is no longer perceived as sublime, because it belongs to the ordinary, everyday environment. The projected fictional landscape and vertiginous abyss of cyberspace are the key to the virtual sublime that displaces the relationship between natural and artificial landscape. Cyberspace, with its suggested infinity and the life-threatening danger ensuing from the encounter with deadly viruses (e.g. the cyberpunk fiction, which can only produce this sublime effect so long as the space that it portrays remains foreign to the reader’s imagination. With increased acquaintance with the topos of cyberspace and its degeneration into formula, it loses that force. This also explains why Gibson’s trilogy, particularly his first novel, Neuromancer, stands out among cyberpunk fiction as a whole. Furthermore, if it is justifiable to introduce an electrical sublime and a consumer’s sublime as Nye does, the virtual sublime can be justified as the manifestation of the technological sublime that supersedes and incorporates these forms of the sublime while continuing to have significant symbolic force in American public experience.

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“black ice” in Gibson’s cyberspace or the “metavirus” in Stephenson’s Metaverse), can be understood as an allusion “to what is conceivable but not presentable” (Lyotard “What is the Postmodern?” The Postmodern Explained 15). The sublime, with regard to cyberspace, can also result from the immense speed of traveling through cyberspace and the concurrent feeling of disembodiment which is an important feature of Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, Jon Williams’ Hardwired, Cadigan’s loosely connected trilogy, and Stephenson’s highspeed motorcycle chase in the Metaverse. The experience of speed produces an adrenaline high that cannot be matched by druginduced hallucination. Survival is the prime objective. The thrill of imminent death gives the sublime experience in cyberspace its edge and attraction. The greater the sense of danger, the greater the exhilaration and sense of power gained by the cyber-cowboy in conquering these unnatural threats. In a sense, he also experiences a form of social – not moral – elevation in the universe, expressed as a gain in overall perspective, which converts into more power and knowledge. He becomes part of cyber-legend. The faculty of reason plays no role in this process, because there is no time for reflection within the fast-paced action-adventure narrative. The key moment of the virtual sublime brings about a break in ordinary perception. The body is temporarily immobilized, the brain is “flatlined” or virtually dead. In that state, the hero is in limbo between life and death. His immobilization corresponds to the Burkean notion of privation that represents a distinct moment in the sublime experience (65). It produces a feeling of pleasure mixed with pain, also referred to as “delightful horror.” This contradictory emotion perfectly captures Case’s experience in cyberspace. The flatline episodes are literally moments of privation, while the mind lives on and is divorced from the suspended body. The totality of cyberspace always remains beyond the character’s reach; it exists only as an idea. In its extreme form, the virtual sublime represents that excess which, according to Burke, serves to overpower “the soul, to suspend its action, and to fill it with terror” (75). Burke uses the example of noise, which overwhelms all other senses.

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Nye emphasizes a popular sublime concerned with explaining a consensual experience. The imaginary of cyberspace is a precursor of the domestication of virtual reality in the public imagination, which can only have a sublime effect for as long as it is unfamiliar and unconventional to its audience. As we have seen in the examples of the technological sublime, “the perception of what is immense and infinite changes over time and across cultures” (Nye 16). Even the virtual sublime as it first captured the imagination through the depiction of cyberspace in cyberpunk science fiction has slowly been domesticated in the real world, in the form of virtual-reality equipment on sale for home computers and video games. Television and cinema have created ever more representations of virtual-reality systems. With the increased degree of familiarity, the device less often achieves a “break in ordinary perception” (Nye, quoting Weiskel 13). The fascination with virtual spaces and their new fictional landscapes is one of the central defining features of cyberpunk. It represents the key innovative moment with regard to the science fiction genre. In this fictional space, the new media are a synthesis of all ‘old’ media combined and united through digital code.21 Elements of the mathematical sublime (vastness, infinity), the dynamic sublime (chaos, data out of control), and the technological sublime coincide semantically in the virtual sublime with its new, telematic consensual experience.

Posthuman Encounters Cyborgs do not stay still. Already in the few decades that they have existed, they have mutated in fact and fiction, into secondorder entities like genomic and electronic databases and the other denizens of the zone called cyberspace. (Haraway “Foreword: Cyborgs and Symbionts” xix)

Laurel, in Computers as Theaters, states the same thing: “The emergence of a new medium is a dance between the evolutionary pattern or recapitulation, and the force of new creative visions” (193). 21

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Much has been written about the cyborg in recent essays about cyber-culture and cyber-theory. The cyborg is situated at the point of convergence between theory and fiction, the sciences and the humanities. It has been appropriated from science fiction by Haraway in her seminal essay “Cyborg Manifesto,” republished in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, as a powerful metaphor for her feminist critique of the natural sciences, politics, and economics. Subtitled “The Reinvention of Nature,” her book uses the image of the cyborg as a means to displace and deconstruct the long-standing opposition between nature and culture, man and machine, man and woman. The figure of the cyborg in science fiction has evolved out of other images at the human–machine interface; it is a close relative to the robot and the automaton. Its roots in the world of science are related to the development of cybernetics, which was initially concerned with issues of control, input–output, and feedback in closed systems. The cyborg has meanwhile become emancipated, freed from human domination. As an electronically enhanced human being, it is a fighting machine or a working tool in environments either hostile or inaccessible to humans. As the movie Terminator shows, cyborgs are capable of insurrection, tearing out their remotecontrol centers and fighting against humanity for their own interests. The image of the cyborg has more frequently dominated theoretical discourse than cyberpunk or science fiction.22 Although cyberpunk universes frequently include cyborgs, they do not necessarily play a central role in the story.23 Molly in Neuromancer is merely a complement to Case – more of a bodyguard than a partner; Ratz, the bartender in the same novel, wears a prosthetic arm; Mark and Gabe in Synners opt for cyborg existence by getting neuro-electronic brain implants; the gargoyles in Snow Crash wear continuous computer technology throughout their bodies, turning them into perfect surveillance instruments against intruders from both inside and outside the Metaverse. However, they are important as an extension See, for example, Balsamo, Bukatmann, Schwab, Springer, and Stone. In a very general sense, people who wear contact lenses or carry heart pacemakers may be seen as cyborgs. 22 23

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of and connection to cyberspace. Other characters only become cyborgs when interacting with cyberspace. Once Case puts on the electrodes connecting him to cyberspace, he is an electronically enhanced organism. In contrast to Johnny in Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic,” who uses the hard disk in his head to transport information, Allie in Mindplayers becomes a cyborg when she swaps her human eye for the wires connecting her to the system. Her transition is very gradual. Once she has accepted this change, she has her natural eyes replaced with artificial ones. These are an expression of her newly gained self-confidence as well as an artistic statement. Hiro in Snow Crash wears eyephones with plug-in earphones to access the Metaverse. Interference noise from Reality is suppressed, which enhances the illusion of being truly immersed in the virtual world. Cyber-heroes thus appear very eager to connect with and immerse themselves in the virtual universe, but they are considerably more reluctant to part permanently with their humanity. They only opt for electronic enhancements out of life-or-death necessity. Regardless of the precise extent to which cyberpunk cyborgs assimilate, the underlying presupposition remains the same: humans can directly interface with computers so that both can process digital information, in an increasingly ambiguous blurring of boundaries between human and machine. The cyborg as a hybrid image merges semantic fields into a new entity. It operates on the literal level of the science fiction story. The cyborg is the “object of complex semiotic performances and the locus of postmodern phantasms of body and mind” (Schwab 195). It is postmodern also because of its posthuman status.24 Posthuman creatures play an important role in Bruce Sterling’s fiction, particularly the Shaper/Mechanist stories, a recurring theme in his novel Schismatrix.25 The Shaper species bases its existence on genetic engineering, the Mechanist species on the incorporation of technology Hayles, in Chaos Bound, also argues that the postmodern “anticipates and implies the posthuman” as a result of the denaturing of the human subject being reconstructed (266). 25 Springer, in Electronic Eros, also discusses Sterling’s short stories and their posthuman aspects (36). 24

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– an opposition that is blurred and then effaced in the course of the novel because the two dynasties cross-breed and mix. Along the same lines, Greg Bear explores life beyond the human boundary. He writes a form of ‘biopunk’, which is more concerned with genetic engineering and nanotechnology, a sub-theme of cyberpunk.26 Bear’s Blood Music is also marginally related to cyberpunk and arrives at an equally interesting interpretation of the posthuman. The people in his universe gradually disappear and dissolve, only to reorganize as cells forming a greater being, which incorporates all the former human “souls.” It is not quite appropriate to call cyberpunk an “anti-humanist deconstruction of the subject,” even if the science fiction community dramatizes the emergence of the cyberpunk in opposition to the so-called humanists (Hollinger, “Cybernetic Deconstructions” 30). As used by Haraway and Schwab, the figure of the cyborg is a powerful image for re-imagining and re-inscribing humankind. Its critique of humanism consists in providing a powerful image for the reconstruction of the human as an interdisciplinary network, a hybrid constructed from organic and machine parts. Cyberpunk’s critique is at best implicit; it invents posthuman life by redrawing the boundaries between technology and nature, machine and organism. Within cyberpunk fiction, the figure of the cyborg is not a metaphor but a concrete, literal element on the story level. Nor is it symptomatic of a “collapse between reality and fiction,” as Springer claims (Electronic Eros 33). This alleged collapse is produced by literary and cultural theory itself, which fails to make sufficiently cogent distinctions between fiction and critical discourse. The cyborg image ‘borrowed’ from science fiction provides “a positive model for a changing subjectivity” (Schwab 207). This subjectivity is also indicative of a shift toward postmodern subjectivity, where the subject is a node in a distributed, relational network of complex, constantly shifting relations.

By ‘biopunk’ I mean works that convey the same punk attitude toward genetics and the human body as cyberpunks employ toward computers. 26

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Ironically, while the cyborg provides such a powerful metaphor for feminist and cultural discourse, the cyborgs in cyberpunk are interpreted as ambiguous figures “confined within the framework of masculinist assumptions” or as symptoms of an “unresolved anxiety about gender relations” (Wolmark, Aliens 126). These critiques of the cyborg are then easily projected onto the evaluation of cyberpunk as a whole. While many women writing about cyberpunk criticize its tendency to “privilege disembodiment over embodiment,” others use it as a point of departure for a new approach to gender studies and the female body, because it provides an alternative image to the “essentialist identity for sexed bodies” (Balsamo 157). Donna Haraway manages to walk the tightrope between fiction and theory quite well. She situates the cyborg in the arena of fiction as well as in the arena of body politics, arguing for its utopian potential as a figure of embodiment. Rosanne Allucquere Stone also convincingly demonstrates that “no matter how virtual the subject may become, there is always a body attached” (“Will the Real Body” 111). She means here the new interactive spaces emerging through virtual technologies, not fiction. However, her observations about technology also apply to cyberpunk fiction, insofar as “bodies in cyberspace are constituted by descriptive codes that ‘embody’ expectations of appearance” (103). Vision and perception in cyberspace crucially depend on the physical body, even when such experiences seem to occur in another, distant world. The body is still needed for all perceptions of and navigations in cyberspace, since only the body can process all sensory information acquired there. This sensory input can include emotions like anger and fear, as well as simple cognitive shifts in perspective. Haraway insists on the importance of the “embodied nature of all vision,” which she sees as part of reclaiming the “sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere” (Simians 188). The frequently voiced criticism of the god-like vantage from which the cyber-heroes perceive cyberspace is thus justified to a certain extent, particularly with regard to Gibson. Gibson’s female characters are hardly vouchsafed a panoramic view from a position of freedom

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and power. The warrior-cyborg Molly in Neuromancer serves as the vehicle for Case’s perception, since he can see through her eyes by means of a special one-to-one connection in cyberspace called simstim. Molly’s visual field is limited to her real-life locale, while Case can switch his perspective between her view and the global view of cyberspace. However, these god-like views of cyberspace tend to be limited to very brief glimpses. Moreover, Molly is by no means a merely passive character. “The ‘eyes’ made available in modern technological sciences,” explains Haraway, “shatter any idea of passive vision; these prosthetic devices show us that all eyes, including our own organic ones, are active perceptual systems, building in translations and specific ways of seeing, that is, ways of life” (Simians 190). Molly thus represents a knot of complexities, both ontological and sexual. The only way that she can afford to buy enhanced visual instruments is through prostitution. During the act of prostitution, her body is literally separated while her mind is virtually disabled, disconnected, or switched off. But this technologically induced separation of body and mind ultimately fails, because memories of the sexual encounters – often of a violent nature – seep up into her consciousness. While the real body may be temporarily forgotten in cyberspace, its limitations in the real world still painfully apply. For the female characters in Cadigan’s fiction, the body always plays a more important role. Cadigan’s characters project representations of their bodies onto the virtual space. They literally have to imagine themselves before they can interact with other characters or the virtual environment. Disembodiment is a more desirable state for Case in Neuromancer than for Visual Mark in Synners. Mark’s merger with the artificial intelligence Artie Fish only represents a mental enlargement. The real body dies and its loss is irreversible. As a result, Mark loses his friends and his girlfriend. He can no longer share physical affection. Finally, the juxtaposition between the memories of one’s body and the actual appearance of one’s body is the cause of much confusion in Fools. The characters’ memories are superimposed, removed, and mixed up, a fact which they slowly discover because their physical image of themselves in a

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mirror does not conform to the mental image of themselves from their memories. The body has become a much-fought-over territory for the posthuman. Cyborgs integrate and incorporate part of the machine. Most commonly, the central nervous system or the brain incorporates a computer chip that enables direct access to a machine. The human brain becomes the central processing unit, a storage device on a more abstract level for information which is readable and writable by both humans and machines. Memories in the cyberpunk universe are by definition posthuman. They are independent of the material unit which stores them. As digital information they can be transmitted and transferred without significant loss between disks, chips, or brains. Characters can physically acquire skills or other people’s memories by means of chips which they plug into brain sockets. These devices complete the literalization of the metaphor “change for the machines.” Memories are equated with computer software and are treated as virtually independent of the storage medium. They have the same status as data and information that can be downloaded, stored, edited, transferred from one storage device to the next: human body to human body, human body to computer, even computer to human body. This is one of the central tenets and presuppositions on which the cyberpunk genre is founded and which is entailed in the use of metaphors and their semantic interactions. This special type of cyborgized memory can be a source of empowerment providing a short-cut to enhanced skills, such as foreign languages, military tactics, or superior reflexes, which become instantly available through a special chip plugged into the brain (see Effinger). But these enhancements may also come with disadvantages. Because of the shared language of the digital code, men and machines also become susceptible to the same diseases, infections, and malfunctions. Travel in cyberspace becomes dangerous, even potentially lethal. One needs to look at the cyborg from two angles. Not only does the human incorporate the machine; the machine also incorporates aspects of the human. When threatened by a human stroke, Artie Fish in Synners saves his existence by merging with the human

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memory still attached to Visual Mark’s body. Mark’s disembodied consciousness is added to his own, thus significantly enlarging the machine’s range of powers. Mark, for his part, incorporates Artie Fish and becomes Markt. The disintegrating AIs in Gibson’s Count Zero become creative. They produce art, which has traditionally been used as a criterion to distinguish humans from animals and machines. Machines also become hostile and usurp the human for their own “artificial evolution” as in Tom Maddox’ short story “Snake-Eyes” or Rudy Rucker’s Software, Wetware and Freeware. The exact boundary between human and machine is impossible to delineate in their hybrid coexistence as cyborgs. In fact, the similarities between them are equally important. In her essay “Prosthetic Emotion,” Kathleen Woodward lists a number of examples where feelings and emotions are attributed to the “behavior” of machines. She argues that if man and machine seem to share the same emotions – whether they are simulated or real – then the effect that they produce is equally real. The image of the cyborg stands at the crossroads of postmodern theory, literature, and science. It has emerged from the deconstruction of liberal humanist notions of a whole, autonomous individual self. “Cyborg politics” mirrors the anarchic esthetic derived from punk because it “insist[s] on noise and advocate[s] pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine” (Haraway Simians 176). Punk and the postmodern follow an esthetic of fragmentation, encouraging a clash between cultures in order to expose the arbitrary underpinnings of myth. Like Haraway, Anne Balsamo appropriates the image of the cyborg for a new gender debate that successfully avoids the essentialist oppositions dominating feminism in the early 1970s. Cyborgs are “definitionally transgressive of a dominant culture order,” claims Balsamo, because their hybrid nature is “neither wholly technological nor completely organic” (11). She explains that “the cyborg has the potential not only to disrupt persistent dualisms that set the natural body in opposition to the technologically recrafted body, but also to refashion our thinking about the theoretical construction of the body as both a material entity and a discursive process” (11). This dual

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emphasis on the body and language also provides a “framework for studying gender identity as it is technologically crafted simultaneously from the matter of material bodies and cultural fictions” (11). The image of the cyborg illustrates the circulation of concepts between fiction and theory. It shows how postmodern themes are used concretely in science fiction while also providing new images for postmodern theories. However, this process of interaction can only be perceived if we distinguish between different discursive spheres – fiction and theory – rather than claiming the collapse of all distinctions.27 Cadigan is one of the few cyberpunk writers to explicitly acknowledge an interest in postmodern theory, and her fiction uses many of Lacan’s concepts (McClellan “Interview”). Her writing can easily be read as an interpretation of Lacan’s distinction between ideal ego and ego ideal, or the “projected image with which the subject identifies and is related to the mirror phase” and the “secondary introjection,” which is narcissistic and belongs to the Imaginary emerging from the mirror phase (Sarup 124). Lacan’s theory also implies a “critique of oneness,” a theme which also surfaces in the notion of the split subject symbolized by the condition of schizophrenia on which Deleuze and Guattari have built their theories. Neither Cadigan nor the other cyberpunk writers highlight the postmodern motives on a stylistic or self-referential level. Nor do cyberpunk works introduce a diegetic level of narration. However, they express concepts related to the postmodern in concrete terms, through their choice of images, mathemes, or other symbols, rather than the foregrounding of the process of narration. These images function as a mise-en-abyme for balancing two science fiction conventions at once: realist narrative expectations are preserved while illusion-creating and illusion-sustaining conventions are simultaneously permitted to flower. The image of the cyborg as a character in cyberpunk fiction and as a metaphor for a new materiality in feminist thought touches on many issues related to scientific theory and their reconceptualization See my argument in the Introduction regarding the dominant flaws in cyber-criticism and its failure to distinguish clearly between theory and fiction. 27

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through postmodern thought. For instance, the refutation of the claim to scientific objectivity has been launched from a feminist standpoint as much as from within the scientific community. The result is a focus on situated knowledge, or an awareness of how our perceptions and observations actually influence our scientific hypotheses and frame our discoveries. The hybrid cyborg is an emblem of interdisciplinarity, of indeterminacy and uncertain, shifting boundaries. It represents one node at the intersection of the discourses of science, culture, and literature. It is “one site within the culture where the premises characteristic of postmodernism are inscribed” (Hayles Chaos and Order 5). These concepts are further refined through scientific discussions of non-linear dynamic systems, fractal scales, and outcomes depending on initial conditions, which in turn have provided new descriptive systems for new levels of complexity. What has previously been seen as chaos can now be explained as a stage in a dynamic process, revealing another level of order.

Dominant Networks: Postmodern Science Postmodern science – by concerning itself with such things as undecidables, the limits of precise control, conflicts characterized by incomplete information, “fracta,” catastrophes, and pragmatic paradoxes – is theorizing its own evolution as discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable, and paradoxical. (Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition 60). An important turning point in the science of chaos occurred when complex systems were conceptualized as systems rich in information rather than poor in order. (Hayles, Complex Dynamics 6)

Fractal geometry serves as the dominant image for complexity; it symbolizes a new concept of order that emerges from the new science of non-linear dynamics, more popularly known as “chaos theory.”28 The so-called new science which has become loosely “Fractal geometry is emerging as an important area of research because it is one way of conceptualizing and understanding postmodern space” (Hayles Chaos Bound 289). It organizes and orders space on the basis 28

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identified with postmodern science includes a consideration of “multiple interacting elements” in far-from-equilibrium systems (Prigogine 203). More importantly, this new science investigates the change from a state of order to a state of disorder and vice versa. Chaos theory also explains how small causes can have large effects. Ilya Prigogine speculates about the analogies of these mechanisms with cosmology and social systems, although he first discovered them in chemical reactions. The same process can serve as a model for the working of metaphors and the dynamic interrelation of semantic fields and their meaning within a given text. Cyberpunk fiction is built on a foundation of figurative assumptions which emerge from complex, dynamic, semantic networks negotiating the exchange of data between humans and computers. One node of meaning within this network of interaction is the emergence of cyberspace, while another is the figure of the cyborg.29 But these are not fixed or stable relations which can be plotted like coordinate points on a map. Instead, these networks of meaning tend to change in the course of the novels: they disintegrate, dissolve, or reorganize to form new affiliations. The interaction between semantic fields – like the interplay between framing and framed fictional worlds within a given novel, or cross-references to other cyberpunk texts – all work to erode the boundaries between categories, worlds, and works within the genre. Cyberpunk texts acknowledge each other as much as they salute and subvert the larger science fiction tradition. This latter tendency can be seen in cyberpunk’s references to artifacts from the history of American science fiction. For instance, the framing urban worlds of cyberpunk universes often refer to the failed experiments of modernity, such as of “self-similar shapes generated through recursive iterations” (Hayles Chaos Bound 289). 29 See Haraway’s Second Witness, which investigates the cyborg as a “network being” (Csicsery–Ronay, “The Cyborg and the Kitchen Sink” 511). She starts from the hypothesis that “technoscience is the story of such globalization; it is the travelogue of distributed, heterogeneous, linked, sociotechnical circulations that craft the world as a net called the global” within which the cyborg is the dominant life forms (12).

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the visionary Fuller domes now lying in ruins. They are at once a reference to modernity’s linear projection of progress into a better future for mankind, and the manifestation of scientific theories that still believe in the possibility of projection. Cyberpunk as postmodern fiction radically undermines the whole scientific project of ‘progress’ and questions this possibility of projection, which is why its worlds are all projected closer to home: either in the very near future or in the parallel dimension of cyberspace.30 The new science has also become the dominant model for the postmodern, despite its claim to avoid any notion of dominance.31 Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition similarly invests a lot of effort in disclaiming any leanings toward dominant models: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives” (“Introduction” xxxiv).32 By metanarrative, Lyotard As Heise has observed, postmodern fiction cannot be exclusively concerned with a new concept of space. Since space and time are interdependent categories, there is also a peculiar postmodern temporality at work expressed by “shortened temporal horizons at the expense of longterm planning and coherence” (6). Another example of this phenomenon is the intersecting voices and narrative paragraphs that make up most cyberpunk novels. Heise also sees the “demise of character [...] as the central organizing parameter of narrative” resulting from this changed temporality (7). 31 Hayles, in Chaos Bound, observes that the postmodern’s privileging of local knowledge has failed to abolish global concepts such as power and totalization (288). She argues that the science of chaos “shares with other postmodernisms a deeply ingrained ambivalence toward totalizing structures” because “it both resists and contributes to globalizing structures” (291). The notion of network is especially suspect, since it is supposed to conceive of structures beyond the local simply as a formative principle, without any claims to totality. The new science has effectively introduced and refined an awareness of levels and hierarchies, reinstating the value of scale-dependency. 32 “The classical dividing lines between the various fields of science are thus called into question – disciplines disappear, overlappings occur at the borders between sciences, and from these new territories are born. The speculative hierarchy of learning gives way to an immanent and, as it were, ‘flat’ network of areas of inquiry, the respective frontiers of which are in constant flux” (Lyotard The Postmodern Condition 39). 30

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means concepts such as reason, which explain and organize the discourses of an entire epoch: We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives – we can resort neither to the dialectic of Spirit nor even to the emancipation of humanity as a validation for postmodern scientific discourse. But as we have just seen, the little narrative [petit récit] remains the quintessential form of imaginative invention, most particularly in science. (60)

Lyotard distances himself from the global view of universals and instead focusses on local, situated knowledges. His notion of metanarrative is not to be confused with the notion of metalanguage, which means a level of language used to explain or talk about language. Metalanguages differ from discipline to discipline, because there is no “universal metalanguage” to cover them all (41): “The principle of a universal metalanguage is replaced by the principles of a plurality of formal and axiomatic systems capable of arguing the truth of denotative statements” (43). The plurality of discourses leads up to Lyotard’s notion of paralogy, which he opposes to Habermas’s ideal horizon of consensus (60). The model for his idea of paralogy, interestingly enough, is catastrophe theory. The revaluation of complexity questions the “validity of the notion of a stable system” (58). Lyotard’s esthetic is reflected in his choice of a scientific model. His esthetic emphasizes difference and incommensurability, which he sees as crucial elements in the evolution of art and science, because the “blocking together” of incompatible notions makes possible the invention of new models. Lyotard “depends on the perpetuation of dissensus, that is, on a permanent crisis in representation” (Bertens, Idea 127). Perhaps the postmodern helped to catalyze “the formation of the new science by providing a cultural and technological milieu in which the component parts came together and mutually reinforced each other until they were no longer isolated events but an emergent awareness of the constructive roles that disorder, nonlinearity, and noise play in complex systems” (Hayles, Chaos and Disorder 5). These complex systems portrayed by language also explain the very mechanisms of semantic associations encoded in the new fields

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of meaning, which are induced by novel metaphors. Their recognition as metaphors requires some detective work, as they are quickly literalized on the story level. Inscribed within them are absent paradigms that are gradually taken for granted by the reader, who – according to the generic protocols of science fiction – continually imagines a universe based on these notions. Whether it is the fusion of artificial intelligences to form a greater net-wide intelligence (Neuromancer), their subsequent fragmentation (Count Zero), or the formation and dissolution of larger-than-life corporations, all these developments follow a similar pattern. Order is temporary and fragile, leaving behind fragments that recombine into new entities. This notion of contingent order is explicitly foregrounded in Bruce Sterling’s 1985 novel Schismatrix, a saga following two branches of posthuman life across several generations. Prigogine’s “dissipative structures” inform Sterling’s conception of shaper and mechanist society here as well as in his earlier short stories.33 Both forms of societies alternately gain dominance over the course of generations. Each social crisis leads to a new adaptation and reorganization, resulting in a higher level of complexity. Sterling is only one example of the intersection of postmodern science with science fiction; other fictions from the mid-1980s abound with similar references to non-linear organization and new models of complexity, even if the theme is not explicitly announced. Non-linear complex dynamics also suggest a model for metaphor itself. Quantum physics, the theory of relativity, and the incompleteness theorem all join chaos theory in the investigation of assumptions underlying all knowledge. They collectively discover and affirm how the process of construction is implicated in scientific theory building; how the point of departure and the observer both determine the outcome of an experiment; and how the choice of variables determines the resulting model. According to Stephen Toulmin, the natural sciences are “in the business of ‘constructing’ reality” because scientific ‘facts’ are no less subject and indebted to

Heise also discusses Sterling’s reference to non-linear mathematics and chaos theory in Chronoschisms (258). 33

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interpretations than those of any other discipline (94). More importantly, Toulmin challenges the role of the detached observer (the scientist playing God) and concludes that “the interaction between scientists and their objects of study is always a two-way affair” (97). Since postmodern science can no longer arrive at a single truth, it challenges science’s claim to neutral objectivity. As Eric Rabkin observes, “science is not simply knowledge but the construction of knowledge, a construction accomplished in large measure by acts of language” (“Undecidability and Oxymoronism” 266). He expresses the opinion common among many science fiction writers and scientists that both discourses share an emphasis on “propositional assertions.” These are an exploration of possible constructs from ‘what if’ thought experiments. We now generally accept the limitations of science, whose explanations can be proven wrong by a better model of description adopted by consensus. The postmodern in science thus shares fiction’s emphasis on the construction process, with a similar degree of self-reflexivity and an increasing awareness of its own limits.34 Science has also made use of heuristic devices, an analogous type of fiction used to redescribe a problem by means of another context. Despite (or perhaps because of) their status as fictions, these models can generate valuable new explanations and insights.35 Of course, science is more constrained by concerns for institutional legitimation than fiction, which is left considerably more free to indulge in the creation of virtual worlds. Lyotard points out that both modes of legitimation rely on two separate, irreconcilable discourses: that of the sciences and that of the humanities. To be of any use, the heuristic fictions or virtual

Hayles is one of the few writers to analyze the common traits in postmodern science and cultural postmodernism, while still affirming the need for literature and science to be viewed as separate disciplines. See especially the final chapter of Chaos Bound, “Chaos and Culture: Postmodernism(s) and the Denaturing of Experience.” 35 Malmgren quotes Gary Wolfe’s thoughts on the similarity between science and science fiction. He regards the “codification of the scientific method itself, a kind of systematized speculation” as one of science fiction’s key structures (34). 34

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realities of science must eventually carry a burden or proof – and, unlike fiction, they also require a certain degree of consensus among the scientific community. Science shares with science fiction the capacity to invent and create models of thought for the development of theories (Malmgren 24). Black considers these models to be systematic extended metaphors. By redescribing the world or a semantic domain in terms of another, models and metaphors can produce new approaches and solutions to old problems. Until such a mode of redescription has been found, issues often remain inconceivable and unrepresentable. Cyberspace is a case in point: following Gibson’s coining of the term and its initial incarnation in his fiction, the concept rapidly became not only graspable but also more broadly applicable. The creative invention of cyberspace proceeds from a purely text-based networking of hypertextual spaces and environments to the multimedial world wide web and the computer-generated artificial spaces of three-dimensional virtual reality. Heuristic fictions in science are required to conform to a discourse and institution for verification. But science-fictional worlds are not subject to the same laws of proof, repetition, or verification; they need only to show loose obedience to the dictates of the genre, which are themselves open to alteration. The greatest imperative is a creative one: bringing into being a believable world with enough richness of detail and texture for the reader to be able to fill the gaps and discern the “absent paradigms,” in a move strikingly similar to the construal of scientific hypotheses (Angenot).36 However, Ihab Hassan rightly warns us that “scientific concepts [...] should not be confused with cultural metaphors and literary tropes” (Right Promethean Fire 103). Metaphors are also proof of a Zeitgeist, bearing witness to a common cultural theme of complexity. All the same, they have unquestionably contributed to the development of early cybernetics, leveling the perceived differences between human and machine in an Csicsery–Ronay claims that a certain density of description is necessary in Neuromancer, one that “surpasses that critical density beyond which a futuristic language merely imitates new conditions and actually composes a ‘world’ (“Futuristic Flu” 37). 36

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unprecedented paradigm shift. Cyberpunk testifies to another watershed occurring in our society and culture: (binary) information is the universal code. It subsumes language, money, and biological code, becoming the new meta-language of cyberpunk. Cyborgs, artificial intelligences, and clones all spring from this same pool of information, which has become the common code. Information dictates the direct link and exchange of memory as data between man and machine.37 By means of a “rich thesaurus of metaphors,” cyberpunk literalizes an inset fictional space and paves the way toward “linking […] the organic and the electronic” (Csicsery, Storming 190). Cyberpunk has passed its prime and moved into other regions of the literary and media landscape. It was bound to be short-lived because of a combination of hardboiled, noir, and punk styles and themes which quickly degenerated into a formula. It had its fifteen minutes of fame, complete with a sizeable cult following. Most importantly, it contributed a new trope to the stock of science fiction themes, whose full potential has yet to be realized. Cyberpunk will be principally remembered for the creation and exploration of cyberspace and virtual reality, innovations which have leaped off the page and into the real world to dazzling and lasting effect.

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Rucker – whose own works are only marginally cyberpunk – also identifies the “essence of cyberpunk” as a concern “with information” (Transreal 460). He clearly distinguishes the thematic use of information on an “objective level” (i.e., “computers, software, chips, information, etc.”) from its employment on a “higher level of information-theoretic complexity” (461). 37

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Year

Appendix: A Cyberpunk Time Line

Milestone in the History of Cyberpunk

1979

— Louis Shiner moves to Austin (Texas) and joins “Turkey City Neo-Pro Rodeo and Writer’s Workshop,” where he meets Bruce Sterling.

1981

— Sterling introduces William Gibson’s manuscript for “Burning Chrome” at the writer’s workshop in Austin. — Gardner Dozois writes about “punk SF” in the introduction to the Best of the Year collection, which he also edits. — Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” is published in Omni (May). — Gibson sends Terry Carr at Ace Books an outline of a novel to be called Jacked In (October).

1982

— Gibson sends Carr an expanded outline for his novel, now to be called Neuromancer (January). — Gibson appears at Armadillo Con (October) together with Sterling and Shiner. He reads the opening chapters of his work-in-progress, Neuromancer. A discussion panel is held with the title “Behind the Mirrorshades: A Look at Punk SF.” — Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott), based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), is released. Gibson reports leaving the movie theater while watching it, because the atmosphere and setting closely resembled the book he was writing.

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1983

— Rudy Rucker issues “A Transrealist Manifesto” in The Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America, which proposes “Transrealism” as an alternative movement to cyberpunk. It never caught on and remained confined to Rucker. — John Kessel presents a lecture to the English Club at North Carolina State University. He talks about “punk science fiction,” referring explicitly to Gibson and Sterling. — John Shirley, in his talk to the Eastern Science Fiction Association, mentions Gibson, Shiner and Sterling as part of “The New Movement.” — Cheap Truth, an uncopyrighted xeroxed fanzine, begins publication. Vincent Omniaveritas (Sterling’s nom de plume) lists Gibson, Sterling, Shiner, Pat Cadigan, and Greg Bear as a group of writers. — Bruce Bethke publishes a short story with the title “Cyberpunk” in Amazing Science Fiction Stories (November).

1984

— Gardner Dozois publishes “Science Fiction in the Eighties” in the Washington Post. Due to this article he is frequently credited with having coined the term ‘cyberpunk’: “About the closest thing here to a self-willed aesthetic ‘school’ would be that group of writers, purveyors of hardedged high-tech stuff, who have on occasion been referred to as ‘cyberpunks’ – Sterling, Gibson, Shiner, Cadigan, Bear.”1 (December). — Neuromancer is published; “cyberspace” is coined.

1985

— NASFiC (the North American Science Fiction Convention) meets in Austin (Texas). It features a panel with Sterling, Shiner, Cadigan, Bear, and Shirley. — Neuromancer wins Philip K. Dick, Nebula, and Hugo awards.

1986

— The Science Fiction Research Association stages a panel discussion on cyberpunk with John Shirley, Jack Williamson, Norman Spinrad, and Gregory Benford (June 28). — Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology is published. — Burning Chrome, a collection of Gibson’s short stories, is published. — Gibson’s Count Zero is published.

Dozois, quoted by Swanwick in “A User’s Guide to the Postmoderns” (51). 1

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— Michael Swanwick mentions cyberpunk in his “User’s Guide to the Postmoderns” in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (August). — Rudy Rucker proclaims in REM: “I’m proud to be a cyberpunk.” — Norman Spinrad publishes a column in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine proposing to call the new writers “Neuromantics” instead of “Cyberpunks.” — Shirley, in the fanzine Locus, announces that he prefers the term “The Movement” or “Neuromantics” to the commonly used “Cyberpunk.” — Shirley also presents a paper “Cyberpunk or Cyberjunk?” at a Science Fiction Research Association panel (June 28) — Gibson is quoted by Swanwick as having stated that the label “Neuromantics […] is far more bothersome even than Gardener’s cyberpunks ”2 — Cheap Truth ceases publication. 1987

— Science Fiction Eye begins publication with a clear commitment to cyberpunk fiction. Issue 1.1 features an interview with Gibson and Sterling, Kessel’s “Humanist manifesto,” a transcript of the Science Fiction Research Association Panel, “Cyberpunk or Cyberjunk?,” as well as the editor’s “Requiem for the Cyberpunks.”

1988

— The Mississippi Review devotes a double issue to cyberpunk and thus marks a turning point for the discussion of cyberpunk in academic circles. — Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive is published (November).

1989

— Spinrad’s “Cyberpunk Revisited” is printed in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. The article groups Gibson, Sterling, and Shirley together with Rucker and Shiner (March). — The “Fiction 2000” conference is held in Leeds, England. It features contributions to cyberpunk in an academic setting, and a book with critical essays is published subsequently (June).

1990

— The internet newsgroup alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo opens. — Cyberpunk documentary video is released by Mystic Fire.

2

Swanwick in “A User’s Guide to the Postmoderns” (52).

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1991

— Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction is published. — A footnote in Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Culture of Late-Capitalism (added to the previously published versions of the same essay) states that Jameson regrets omitting cyberpunk from his study on postmodernism. — Shiner announces in The New York Times that he has resigned from cyberpunk (January 7).

1992

— Publication of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

1993

— Time Magazine features a “cyberpunk” cover story. The use of the term cyberpunk for criminal hackers greatly upsets the cyberpunk community (February 8). — Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk album is released (July).

1995

— Johnny Mnemonic, the movie (dir. Robert Longo) based on Gibson’s short story, is released.

1998

— A stage adaptation of Burning Chrome opens in Chicago (February 8). — “Kill Switch,” an episode of the sixth season of the successful F O X T V series X-Files, airs. It is scripted by Gibson and Tom Maddox (February 15). — The movie New Rose Hotel (dir. Abel Ferrara), based on Gibson’s short story, is released directly to video, receiving very little attention (October 14).

2000

— “First Person Shooter,” an episode in X-Files’ seventh season, airs. The screenplay is written by Gibson and Maddox (February 27).

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