I had slight misgivings with the preface to Carlen Lavigne’s book, ‘Cyberpunk Women, Feminism And Science Fiction’ when she starts describing the history of cyberpunk without mentioning Bruce Bethke’s 1983 short story but in the proper introduction, she clearly is well read on the subject and covers the history in the following chapter. She describes cyberpunk as belonging to the 4 C’s: corporation, crime, computers and corporeality (read that as corporations) and the changes to our world today as computer technology takes over our reality and taken to extremes.
She also includes cyborgs as a near fifth C. Oddly, she misses out the meaning of ‘punk’. Not the original meaning which meant ‘prostitution’ but that of rebellion as given with the UK punk movement of the 1980s. The reason why ‘cyberpunk’ didn’t really last that long was because, unlike William Gibson’s assertion that people would rebel against computers, is because they embraced the technology instead. Many of you people reading here lived through that period and look what you’re reading this review on. Something else Lavigne misses out on is Gibson admitting that he doesn’t like computers and I suspect those who read his novels probably raised their own eyebrows as to how druggies could program computers when you really need all your attention when writing code.
Nevertheless, she does give a good account of the cyberpunk novels and authors, even if only Pat Cadigan was the only female star initially and from reading on, only really a handful after that. With cyborgs, she does backtrack to the likes of C.L. Moore’s short story ‘No Woman Born’ (1944) and James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon) with ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’ (1973). The use of computer tech was used way back into the 1950s and often embraced and not rebelled against. The size of the tech might be different but that was based on the size of the computers back then where they were as big as a house before silicon and miniaturisation.
Her discussion on female robots being seen as sex objects is rather telling but it also showed the odd gap. I mean, what would you call the Terminatrix or T-X from ‘Terminator 3: The Rise Of The Machines’ (2003) film? Even the robot Maria in ‘Metropolis’ (1927) wasn’t a sex object. Making a case is one thing, missing out known exceptions less so. I would correct her about Eve VIII from ‘Eve Of Destruction’ (1991) because I doubt if any male fantasy is to have their penis bitten off although it might be perceived as a female fantasy. Oddly, the one female cyborg you would think she would have included, Jaime Sommers, ‘The Bionic Woman’, doesn’t even get a mention and was popular with both sexes. Whatever the gender given to robots or androids, they lack the emotional make-up that would make any difference to them. Going through the motions, if you’d excuse the wry pun.
Lavigne does make a rather telling point that the number of women involved in computer programming has dropped a bit, citing it’s more a male domain. That sort of becomes a Catch 22 situation, if you think about as the numbers are bound to go down if fewer decline to work that way.
When it comes down to sexual preferences, I’m less sure about as it can become an issue within a story than an aspect of it. When Bruce Sterling added a sex scene to ‘The Difference Engine’ (1990), it seemed totally superfluous and unnecessary. If there is a sexual preference, then chances are that if you aren’t of that persuasion, you’re less likely to buy it.
Lavigne’s examination of Google hits for various people and terms seems high and although she points out that not all the entries are likely to be related to them, at most they are only a trend not absolute figures. Having a word but not in relation to what doesn’t really help. Are people just curious about cyberpunk or want to buy a book would have been something I would have looked up. Looking around on the Net, there are only about 50 significant books so it’s hardly a big sub-genre so hardly surprising that a bigger proportion are known.
I do think if things need to be changed then it must be the role models for women in stories. Showing women as computer programmers would certainly be at the top of the list.
Lavigne has made a reasonable exploration of the subject. Certainly enough for me to come up with the July editorial out of something I spotted in it. As she has also covered the history of cyberpunk as well, this book doubles in its purpose. About the only thing she might have explored more is whether there’s any future in the subject as many of us have adjusted to technology with little fear of it. Cyber-reality bytes.
(pub: McFarland. 204 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £35.50 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-6653-5)