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Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Post-Modern Fiction.

Anthologizing work by and about cyberpunk writers and visual artists who respond "to the technological milieu that is producing post-Modern culture at large," Storming the Reality Studio defines post-Modernity as a progressive fusion between identity and technology. Edited by Larry McCaffery, the volume opens with "Cyberpunk 101," McCaffery and Richard Kadrey's genealogy of the genre's sources. Focusing on several convergent "radical ruptures"--punk, post-Modern science fiction, and contemporary experimental writing--they construct a "syllabus" of cultural cybernetics ranging from the Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Mark Leyner's My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist, and David Cronenberg's Videodrome to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The book is split in two: the first half focuses on cyberpunk fiction, highlighting the genre's most prominent writers (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling), as well as featuring predecessors J. G. Ballard, William S. Burroughs, and "slipstream" writers Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon. The second half uses nonfiction forms including texts by noted post-Structuralists, interviews, and manifestos, to further delineate the landscape and the detritus that are the province of these writers who manufacture the poetic and fictional worlds of the "dance of data."

Of the volume's 29 fiction pieces, Mark Leyner's "I was an Infinitely Hot and Dense Dot" stands out as closest to what might be termed "post-Modern" writing--to the serial TV culture of Arthur Kroker and David Cook's essay "Television and the Triumph of Culture," and to Fredric Jameson's version of post-Modern culture as one that substitutes "intensities" for "feeling." Piled with hilarious non sequiturs, Leyner's style breaks narrative logic down into almost random bits and bytes, yet remains as charged as a particle accelerator: the narrator asks about the soup du jour and is told it is the "primordial soup." Other selections include excerpts from Burroughs' 1969 novel The Wild Boys (which presents the ultimate "family values" nightmare, an opposition group who "eradicate . . . family . . . mother . . . father . . . cop . . . father . . . priest . . . |and~ nation talk"), William T. Vollman's "The Indigo Engineers" (a prose text turning the world of The Terminator into a performance spectacle while offering factual commentary on Survival Research Laboratories), and Kathy Acker's "Beyond the Extinction of Human Life" from Empire of the Senseless, a text that appropriates elements of Gibson's groundbreaking 1984 novel Neuromancer. Excerpted here, Gibson's opening line--"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"--depicts technology infusing the "natural" world.

Seeing themselves as a fringe element within science fiction and a revolutionary shock troop to culture in general, cyberpunks sound a clarion call of alarm about technology, ultimately propelling readers to use it "for |their~ . . . own purposes before we all become mere software, easily deletable from the hard drives of multinationalism's vast mainframe." This pose, repeated by McCaffery, overlooks Stephen P. Brown's ironic memoir, where he notes that cyberpunks attending the 1985 Nebula Award presentations sat at a "small table jammed against the wall" despite Gibson's receiving the prestigious award at that ceremony. It also fails to consider that reviews of cyberpunk writing appear regularly in major papers and that this anthology's publisher is a prominent university press. Several of the volume's essayists, however, do question whether cyberpunks are the literary guerrillas and diagnosticians of post-Modern culture they claim to be, instead wondering if they are fodder for and symptomatic of publishing's trade and consumer mill--all fervor and possibility anesthetized and co-opted as marketable "commodity." Others doubt that hip-tech lingo translates into political action, while even more skeptical writers see many of this squad of cyber-charged cadets as cynically exploiting the genre's economic potential.

J. W. Bonner teaches literature at the Asheville School in Asheville, North Carolina.
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Author:Bonner, J.W.
Publication:Artforum International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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