So far, this blog has discussed high technology, cyberculture, biomedical engineering, and cyberpunk-related stuff like information privacy and control, but has not given an overview of what cyberpunk is. The term was coined by Bruce Bethke in 1980 as the title of his short story which was published in 1983. It is a combination of the words cybernetics and punk — the cybernetics for the science and technology part and the punk for the rebellion part. High tech, low life.
Cyberpunk began as a science fiction subgenre but has now transcended into a subculture and a movement. There is no exact definition as different people oftentimes have different criteria for judging if something or someone is cyberpunk. Nevertheless, there are themes that are usually present.
Cyberpunk plots are usually set in the near-future Earth, in contrast to other science fiction genres that are set in the far future or in distant planets. The future is depicted as dystopian — dark and gritty — instead of utopian. Society is crumbling, the environment is decaying, and crime and drug use are rampant. The main characters are typically alienated antiheroes at the fringe of society, fighting against a powerful and oppressive government or corporation controlled by the elite. Protagonists include computer hackers, criminals, misfits, rebels, and outcasts. Information access is ubiquitous and high technology is pervasive in the society such that the majority of the people has become oblivious to how the system is abusing them. Sometimes, a big part of the action happens in cyberspace, blurring the line between what’s real and what’s virtual. Likewise, the distinction between man and machine is also not clear, with the presence of cyborgs, brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, and sentient robots challenging the definition of humanity. The perspective shown is typically that of the antiheroes — the punks — who are rebelling against the system.