Yet I have come to suspect these punk derivatives signal something more than the usual merry-go-round of pop culture. These punks indicate that something is broken in our science fiction. Indeed, even when they reject it, these new subgenres often repeat the same gestures as cyberpunk, discover the same facts about the world, and tell the same story. Our hacker hero (or his magic-wielding counterpart) faces a huge system of power, overcomes long odds, and finally makes the world marginally better—but not so much better that the author can’t write a sequel. The 1980s have, in a sense, never ended; they seem as if they might never end.
We are still, in many ways, living in the world Reagan and Thatcher built—a neoliberal world of growing precarity, corporate dominance, divestment from the welfare state, and social atomization. In this sort of world, the reliance on narratives that feature hacker protagonists charged with solving insurmountable problems individually can seem all too familiar. In the absence of any sense of collective action, absent the understanding that history isn’t made by individuals but by social movements and groups working in tandem, it’s easy to see why some writers, editors, and critics have failed to think very far beyond the horizon cyberpunk helped define. If the best you can do is worm your way through gleaming arcologies you played little part in building—if your answer to dystopia is to develop some new anti-authoritarian style, attitude, or ethos—you might as well give up the game, don your mirrorshades, and admit you’re still doing cyberpunk (close to four decades later).
Lee Konstantinou on postpunk.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I am endlessly, endlessly cynical about anything with the suffix -punk attached to it, because to me it immediately flags someone as not learning a single damn thing from history.
You know what killed the punks? Like, the original ones?1 Capitalism. That’s always the failure mode of punk; it always sells out, or is appropriated. It’s turned into a marketable aesthetic, into thousand dollar handbags, into liberal communist propaganda for bougie middle-class kids who want to play in the sandpit of rebellion while not, ultimately, doing anything to change a system they know2 will benefit them in the end. And, okay sure. You could make that argument about everything—we live in a late-stage-capitalist hellhole, et cetera—but the fact that we apparently keep recycling this one particular failure mode over and over and over again, with an apparent utter lack of irony, is just frustrating.
Think up a new suffix, kids. Please. And stop retreading the same old paths dressed in different clothes. Trust on this: if you want to get somewhere different, you’re going to have to walk into the scrub.