Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology: An examination of what defines the genre

Readers’ average rating:

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Bruce Sterling Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Bruce Sterling

There are a handful of people who have/had their finger on the pulse of cyberpunk. Love him or hate him, Bruce Sterling has perhaps two. In 1986 he decided to pull together a collection of stories he felt were representative of the sub-genre. Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology is both broad in scope yet largely encompasses the idea of what the average sci-fi fan’s expectations are for the form. Though Sterling’s agenda is his own, some stories will be immediately recognizable for their mood and voice, while others will require more thought toward determining just how they fit into the sub-genre, if at all. The following is a brief introduction to each.

“The Gernsback Continuum” by William Gibson — A connoisseur’s piece, this story requires an understanding of the evolution of science fiction to fully appreciate, full of commentary on modernism’s influence. This is Gibson’s first published work, and it is also perhaps his most overtly ideological work, bearing parallels to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. As a result, it is highly iconoclastic.

“Snake-Eyes” by Tom Maddox — George Jordan, a soldier who has been cybernetically altered to fight a war that never happened, is now looking for employment. Where he finds it may take advantage of George’s alterations in ways he never wanted.

“Rock On” by Pat Cadigan — A semi-paean to classic rock set in a future when junkies live out rock fantasies by jacking in to the memories of the elderly who were around when classic rock was popular.

“Tales of Houdini” by Rudy Rucker — An escape artist calling himself Houdini is followed by a television crew for one escape act after another.  How he escapes is up to the reader to discover. I am just not sure how this fits into the anthology…

“400 Boys” by Marc Laidlaw — Government and social infrastructure have collapsed and a city is at war. Inner-city gangs battle metal giants as the city crumbles around them. More of an art piece envisioning a blackened, war-torn city of the future. Filling this story in original fashion are a potpourri of weapons, fashion statements, and neologisms.

“Solstice” by James Patrick Kelly — World-famous drug artist Tony Cage is having trouble dealing with the growing up of his daughter/clone, Wynne, while searching for the most sublime effects of psychoactive chemicals possible. This is a well-structured story: vignettes from Tony’s life are interspersed with chronological windows into Stonehenge’s history, most particularly modern man’s contact with the mysterious ring of stones.  A well-developed story, this is one of the longer in the collection and examines the effects of drugs on the individual, and as a result, society, in a way Gibson never did. Perhaps the best in this collection.

“Petra” by Greg Bear — A gargoyle comes to life in a cathedral, and his resulting life in the rafters is strange and eerie. The symbolism is obvious: Bear examines the death of God and its effect on society. Not cyberpunk from the most stereotypical of approaches, but it doesn’t prevent the story from being a rather deep fantastical examination of scientific and theological proportions.

“Till Human Voices Wake Us” by Lewis Shiner — A man diving with his wife catches a strange visage out of the corner of his eye and snaps a quick picture. The visage returns in his day to day life, and developing the photo may be the only way to answer the resulting questions. A short but good story.

“Freezone” by John Shirley — While other stories in this collection may not strictly fit the parameters of the subgenre, there can be no doubt of Shirley’s contribution being cyberpunk. The story is set in 2017 on a post-war fictional island called Freezone off the coast of Morocco. An aging rocker tries to find purpose in life. Egos tripping over one another, he and his band play one last gig, hoping to revive the rock ‘n’ roll spirit they once lived for. But it’s in the aftermath of the concert where the story finds its meaning. Shirley’s imaginative powers are in full bloom in this novella.  The futuristic drugs, the fashion, rock scene, the evolution of the music all have a plausibility that emphasizes the effort’s integrity. Rock and cyberpunk — ‘nuff said.

“Stone Lives” by Paul Di Filippo — A poor, blind man living at the bottom of society has the opportunity of a lifetime. Major surgery is necessary, and the resulting assignment places him in a position he never dreamed possible. Greg Egan would later borrow a major premise from this story (intentionally or not) for his novel Distress, making it a quality selection.

“Red Star, Winter Orbit” by Bruce Sterling &  William Gibson — Perhaps the weakest in the collection, this story is of the cycles of societal and technological power that Russia and the USA have had, have, and most importantly, perhaps will have. This is, amazingly, one of the more simplistic and overt stories of the collection given the names authoring it.

“Mozart in Mirrorshades” by Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner — Technically a time travel story. Mozart, Thomas Edison, Marie Antoinette, and Thomas Jefferson appear on the scene as necessary to front Sterling and Shiner’s social commentary.

In the end, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology is not a treasury of cyberpunk stories. It is an oriented collection which defines Bruce Sterling’s vision as to what the sub-genre means to not only the sci-fi world, but also to society as an art form. Each story, whether wholly or in part, present a tenet, theme, or form of artistic expression he sees as identifying the sub-genre, including its liberal, borderline-anarchic political leanings. From counter-culture to individual isolation, post-humanism to outright sex, drugs, and rock and roll, a little bit of something can be found even if not all of the stories fit the stereotypical cyberpunk image. Along with a multi-page introduction by the editor, each story is preceded by a brief biographical synopsis of the writer, what they’ve published, and an insightful note into their particular style or take on cyberpunk. Though some may not seem to suit the collection, each story is of high quality and was obviously selected with care, making it one of the best available. All stories are published elsewhere, but separately.


SHARE:  Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

JESSE HUDSON, one of our guest reviewers, reads in most fields. He lives in Poland where he works for a big corporation by day and escapes into reading by night. He posts a blog which acts as a healthy vent for not only his bibliophilia, but also his love of culture and travel: Speculiction.

View all posts by

7 comments

  1. I am floating in a sea of nostalgia…

    Jesse, “the Gernsback Continuum” is one of my favorite things ever, and I’ve never been sure that it’s actually a “story,” or a really clever essay. I mean yes, fictional character, a story arc, etc, but still, somehow…

    I haven’t been a big Greg Bear fan, but Petra is one of his most thoughtful works and I’ve always appreciated it for that.

    Thanks for bringing back this thought-provoking anthology!

    • It’s not a popular sentiment (i.e. anti-pulp), but I too love The Gernsback Continuum’s nail in the coffin.

      Glad the review could bring you back to memory lane…

  2. I’ve liked everything by Sterling that I’ve read (admittedly not a whole lot thought) but I’ve never been able to get into Gibson (blasphemy, I know).

    • Sterling co-wrote one of the stories, but otherwise remained in an editor’s role. Therefore, there’s a chance you may enjoy this anthology.

  3. Great review, Jesse. I’ve always had the book on my radar, but I feel like it would have been more relevant to me if I read it back when it first came out. I remember reading Neuromancer back in 1984 (followed later by Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive), and found I preferred Walter Jon Williams’ Hardwired instead, though I did like Burning Chrome. As for Bruce Sterling, I’ve got Schismatrix Plus sitting on the shelf clamoring to be read. I’ve found that cyberpunk stories always runs the risk of rapidly becoming dated by trying to be so hip to the near-futures they depict.

    • Then all the more reason to read Mirrorshades! Sterling expands the idea of ‘cyberpunk’ beyond cyber cowboys and net running to have a bit more lasting power then dependence on near-future tech. In other words, Mirrorshades is not Neuromancer sliced up into bite sized pieces.

  4. I’ve met a few people who just can’t get into Gibson. It’s a love it/hate it thing I think — a couple of them are impatient with his prose and the philosophizing some character usually does, and for me, that’s what I love about him.

Leave a Reply to Stuart Starosta Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add your own review

Rating