The enduring relevance of cyberpunk
Kimberly Unger wins the Philip K. Dick Award for “The Extractionist”
Hang out in sf circles long enough, and you’ll find someone declaring “cyberpunk is dead”. It appeared with the Big Bang of William Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984, and vanished in a Big Crunch of self-satire with Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash in 2000. We got sixteen years, then it was gone—only a zombie remains, shuffling around, unaware its vital functions ceased decades ago.
All of which ignores a fact obvious to anyone familiar with the real world of 2023:
Cyberpunk is the science fiction subgenre that best reflects the future we actually inhabit.
The key elements of cyberpunk—ubiquitous computing, a seamless worldwide network, unaccountable multinational corporations, organized crime unchained, corrupt political organizations, and ad hoc groups of tech-savvy anarchists—are commonplace in today’s headlines. We wanted Jim Kirk. We got Johnny Mnemonic.
Some of us keep writing cyberpunk stories, despite the greatly exaggerated rumors of its death, because cyberpunk remains an excellent mirror of contemporary society.
The panel of judges for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award (“…presented annually…for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States”) have underscored the subgenre’s continued importance by presenting the award to Kimberly Unger for her 2022 cyberpunk novel The Extractionist.
Online, Unger describes herself as a “[g]ames industry veteran with a solid grounding in art and design backed by degrees from the Art Center College of Design and the University of California at Davis…Currently working on strategic ecosystem building for VR and MR with the Oculus Publishing arm of Meta and writing science fiction about how all these app-driven superpowers are going to change the human race.”
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Her experience suits her well for the subject of this book.
Tachyon Publications, Unger’s publisher, describes the novel this way:
“Eliza McKay is, by extreme necessity, a low-profile Extractionist. McKay is an expert in the virtual reality space where minds are uploaded as digital personas. When rich or important people get stuck in the Swim for reasons that are sleazy, illegal, or merely unlucky—it’s her job to quietly extract them. And McKay’s job just got a lot more dangerous.
After McKay repels an attack on her Swim persona, hired thugs break into her house to try to hack her cybernetic implants directly. Meanwhile, the corporate executive she was hired to rescue from VR space is surprisingly reluctant to be extracted. Something is lurking in the Swim, and some very powerful people will stop at nothing to keep it secret. This job might be the big break McKay has been waiting for to reboot her career—if she can survive long enough to beat the hackers at their own game.”
So slip on those mirrorshades, jack-in to The Extractionist, and let Unger blow you away with a take on our world you might have overlooked if cyberpunk wasn’t alive, well, and here to free your mind…