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Bruce Bethke’s “Cyberpunk”

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This is a guest post by Katheryn Rivas.

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that began to evolve in the eighties, when computers were just starting to enter into the realm of the personal, when the Internet was in its infancy. Although many early cyberpunk stories seem quaint to us now in our hyper-technological world, I still love re-reading these pioneering narratives to get a sense of how far we’ve come with our ever-faster, ever-smaller gizmos and gadgets.

One of my favorite cyberpunk short stories happens to be the story that coined the term “cyberpunk” to begin with. Bruce Bethke wrote "Cyberpunk" in 1980 and finally found someone to publish it in 1982. One of the original objections to the story by editors was that readers wouldn’t buy the fact that the characters used small, personal, portable computers that folded much the way notebooks do. Considering I’m writing this review on my laptop right now, that little tidbit of background story is especially ironic and delightful.

"Cyberpunk" tells the tale of a kid named Mike, who is presumably a teenager, although we don’t really know what grade he’s in. Just like all teenagers, Mike feels oppressed by the authority of his parents, who have to force him to go to school. While many teenagers get caught up in the peer pressure of drug and sex experimentation, Mike’s rebellion is a cyber one. Skipping school and teaming up with a rag-tag group of adolescent hackers, their little clique gets online and finds ways to get back at their Olders–parents and other adults who simply don’t understand the allure of computers or how they work.

The kids, led by a the leader misfit Rayno, a punk of the highest order who incidentally sports a Mohawk, take joy rides in a cab after hacking into a law firm’s bank account. They mess with air flight time tables and take liberties with other sensitive information they tinker with during their hacking activities. At the end of the story, Mike has a face-off with his parents, in which he tests their ability to control him by using his hacking talents.

What I particularly enjoyed about this story is its interesting use of language. The “cyberpunks” use a very specialized slang that is informed by their intimate knowledge of computers. Although they use many shortened computer terms to talk about their hacking like opsys for operating system, they also carry this terminology over into their non-computer worlds to refer to objects in their daily experience. So you get words like transys for public transportation. Another thing that I found interesting about this story is that it’s very indicative of the kind of world we live in. Even though it’s a fictional story, it serves as microcosm of realities that are all around us–computer nerds challenging the established order, the immense power of technology that is directly accompanied by the desire to abuse it. Great stuff for sci-fi fans who are interested in the cyperpunk genre specifically, or for those who are really into computers in general.

You can find a full-text version of the story, along with a foreword by the author here.

This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online universities. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: katherynrivas87@gmail.com.

One thought to “Bruce Bethke’s “Cyberpunk””

  1. Thanks Katheryn! I’ll have to give this one a try. It seems to have the same feel as the older movies about teens and computers… War Games, Hackers, Weird Science… I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

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