Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology - Christopher Rowe, William Gibson, Paul Di Filippo, Jonathan Lethem, Gwyneth Jones, Michael Swanwick, Charles Stross, Walter Jon Williams, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Cory Doctorow, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, Greg Egan, Paolo Bacigalupi, Elizabeth Bear, David Maru This anthology is put together by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Sadly, I cannot recall reading any of their work but I shall endeavor to remedy that situation shortly.

The introduction is very well done, in that "let's spend a lot of time trying to define common definitions so we can disagree about nuance" sort of way. I got a feeling they were desperately casting around for a singularity (a recurrent theme in the collection) to define a point in SF history where cyberpunk (CP) gave up the mantle of SF's brave new savior and passed it on to post-cyberpunk (PCP). The introduction, I felt, was ultimately inconclusive and I read the stories with a sense that PCP, according to the editors, is a more mature and less overtly angsty cyberpunk with a broader perspective.

Which suits me fine, I include myself among the number of young computer geeks hanging out on BBS's before the world standardized on TCP/IP, DNS and SMTP. I'm not as overtly angsty as I was in my youth, and the way I view the world has changed dramatically since the days I donned mirrorshades and black leather in a vain attempt to drape myself in "cool". After finishing this sixteen story long "manifesto" about the evolution of cyberpunk, I really don't think it matters if a story gets labeled CP or PCP. Science Fiction, like the street, "finds it's own uses for technology (William Gibson)", and if a writer is discussing the relationship of technology to the individual's concept of self, place and worth - then it's probably CP, and let the publishers and book-jacket designers haggle over the details.

Interspersed between the stories are excerpts from a years-long ongoing debate between Bruce Sterling and John Kessel. Clearly, they used passages from the long string of letters (the debate started before email had '@' signs) and email to introduce stories that tried to prove one point or another. I have two problems with this. First, each quote is taken out of context so I don't know if the words I'm seeing have the author's intent and secondly, anecdotes do not prove a point. Just because someone found a story that agrees with their point does not mean their point is valid, it means someone wrote something that could be interpreted to validate whatever abstract idea they're trying to convey.

That said, this is an excellent collection of stories, and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys scifi and/or fictionalized social critique. Surprising to me, the two weakest stories were by Pat Cadigan and William Gibson. I've been a longtime dedicated fan of both of these authors, and my reaction to these stories genuinely shocked me. The problems with Cadigan's "The Final Remake of The Return of Little Latin Larry, with a Completely Remastered Soundtrack and the Original Audience" start with the title. This story didn't need nearly as many words as Cadigan used to write it. As I was reading the story I pictured myself with a red pencil, slashing paragraphs and sentences willy-nilly. Typically Cadigan, the story revolves around rock'n'roll, memory and customized reality. I wish she'd spent more time chewing on the crux of the story - the relationship between art and insanity - rather than meticulously detailing how the memory technology works. Gibson's contribution "Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City" showcases Gibson's singular ability to drip rich texture and detail with an unparalled economy of words, but doesn't do anything. I don't know what the point of the "story" is. It's a very abstract piece; there are no protagonists or antagonists or conflicts or timelines. It's extraordinarily beautiful writing, but reading it feels like going over the notes from a series of writing excercises - "Draw as detailed a picture as possible in less than 500 words, repeat thirteen times". It's like shuffling through a stack of polaroids, without any context whatsoever.

Two of the stories I've read before. "Daddy's World" by Walter Jon Williams explores the ethics of containing a sentience within a simulated world, and "When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth" by Cory Doctorow asks what happens to cyberspace when global meatspace falls apart. WJW's story doesn't ask any questions or come to any conclusions that haven't been covered elsewhere, but it may be the most cogent exploration of the problems of computing power, linear time sequence and what happens when a mind is left in a finite space too long. Doctorow's story is an ode to the transnational comraderie that internet engineers have grown accustomed to, and while it shows off Doctorow's net cred and makes sysadmins the world over feel all warm and fuzzy, it never really addresses the main question it raises - what is the greater value of global communication when your city is burning to the ground after a successful bioterror attack?

Several of the stories deal with family, and I believe they were selected specifically to break the CP taboo against protagonists having roots, connections and motivations besides survival and greed. Bruce Sterling's "Bicycle Repairman" is solidly in this camp, and is a fun read. David Marusek's "The Wedding Album" asks a lot of the same questions and WJW's contribution, but takes the effort to dive deeply into the space between sentience, free will and the ability of various states of mind to learn and adapt. Elizabeth Bear's "Two Dreams on Trains" writes a story from the usually neglected cast of CP, the nameless laborers who keep the machines running, and visualizes their aspirations for themselves and their children. Mary Rosenblum's "Search Engine" twists family and friendship around the usual "I'm only in it for the money", and kept surprising me up until the very end. Greg Egan's "Yeyuka" sees the protagonist learn altruism, and involve himself in shady dealings against corrupt multinationals as an act of selflessness.

Three of the stories really stood out for me. People who've known me for a while won't be surprised that Michael Swanwick wrote one of my favorites, "The Dog Said Bow-Wow". If I were writing the dustjacket, I'd call this a steampunk story. It's a con/heist story, which I'm always a sucker for, and I can't say I found any deeper understanding of the human condition, but I enjoyed every word of this story and I hope MS continues with these character's adventures.

The next real standout is Charles Stross' "Lobsters", which I reviewed independently on GoodReads.com. In the interest of brevity, let me quote Hunter S. Thompson: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." The third story that will sit with me for a long time is "The Calorie Man" by Paolo Bacigalupi. Growing up in the midwest with a keen appreciation for biology and ecology, I absorbed a deep sense of mistrust and vitriol for monoculture and the agricorps that foist it upon farmers around the world. This story picks up where agribusiness has won, turning the world into a police state designed to guard the genetic diversity of staple crops from those who need it the most. A exceptionally well written story, it makes it's point with a velvet covered hammer and deep, conflicted characters.

Please don't think that because I'm a lazy reviewer the stories I didn't mention are worthwhile. With the surprising exception of Cadigan and Gibson, every story in this collection is well written, intriguing and a thrill to read. I hope I have piqued your interest in the anthology, and I will leave the rest of the stories to be discovered by my fellow readers without any bias from myself.