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Introduction to William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Genre of Science Fiction. Guest Lecture by Lydia Balian. Neuromancer and Cyberpunk. Neuromancer is a science fiction novel

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Introduction to william gibson s neuromancer and the genre of science fiction l.jpg
Introduction to William Gibson’s Neuromancerandthe Genre of Science Fiction

Guest Lecture by Lydia Balian


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Neuromancer and Cyberpunk

  • Neuromancer is a science fiction novel

  • In the year it was published, Neuromancer won the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick awards in science fiction

  • Has been translated into numerous languages, including Magyar, Japanese, and Danish

  • Spawned an entire subgenre of science fiction: Cyberpunk

  • But who is William Gibson and what exactly is science fiction?


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William Gibson

  • Brief Biography

    • Born 1948

    • Moved to Vancouver, British Columbia at 19 to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War

    • Became interested in Sci-Fi literature while working on a degree in English at the University of British Columbia

    • Published two short stories, “Johnny Mnemonic” and “Burning Chrome” before publishing his first novel, Neuromancer, in 1984 to popular and critical acclaim

    • Books by William Gibson: Official Website (1, 2)


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What is science fiction? How is it characterized?

  • Science fiction is notoriously difficult to define

  • Numerous sub-genres, such as fantasy or horror

  • General characteristics include:

    • Speculation based on current science or technology

    • Setting in the future or alternate reality

    • Setting in outer space

    • Discovery or application of new or futuristic scientific principles, i.e. time travel, nanotechnology, cyborgs, robots, etc.

      • Molly’s retractable nails (24-25) and other cyborg enhancements


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Contributing factors to the rise of science fiction

  • Pulp Publishing

    • Named for the cheap wood pulp paper it was printed on

    • Published from the 1920s-1950s

    • Characteristic of most genre fiction including detective/mystery, western, horror, fantasy/sword and sorcery, and science fiction

    • Pulp magazines often featured a variety of genres in the same publication (example)

      • How might Neuromancer qualify as a mixing of these genres?


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Contributing factors continued. . .

  • The Paperback Revolution

    • The paperback novel actually dates back to the early 19th century

    • Paperback publishing techniques combined with pulp materials creates new publishing revolution

      • Book binding technique whereby pages are bound with glue rather than stitches or staples

      • Inexpensive to produce

      • Audience for pulp magazines diminishes as buyers purchase cheap books

    • Allowed publication of full length novels in genre fiction

    • 1940s-today


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Five Eras of Science Fiction

  • Pre-Science Fiction

  • Classic

  • Golden Age

  • New Wave and Feminist

  • Cyberpunk


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Pre-Science Fiction (to 1926)

  • Precursors to sci-fi

    • Mythology

    • The development of science in the Age of Reason and on through the nineteenth century

      • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

      • Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Unparalleled Adventures of one Hans Pfaal"

    • The rise of new technologies such as electricity, the telegraph, and new forms of powered transportation, began to influence writers such as:

      • Jules Verne (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon , and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea )

      • H. G. Wells (The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds)

    • The phrase “scientific romance” is used in Britain during the late 19th century to describe this kind of fiction


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Classic (1926-1937)

  • Examples of classic science fiction:

    • Hugo Gernsback created Amazing Stories in 1926

      • Previously edited radio and electronics magazines

      • Began magazine of fiction specifically for popular science enthusiasts

      • He polls readers for title of genre, with the phrase “science fiction” chosen (other possible titles: “scientific romance” or “scientification”)


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Golden Age (1937-1950s)

  • Characteristics:

    • “Space Opera”

    • Artificial Intelligence and Mind/Body Split

  • Examples of “Golden Age” science fiction include:

    • John W. Campbell and Astounding Science Fiction

      • Campbell discovers writers who will define the field of science fiction, such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon

    • Isaac Asimov

      • Foundation series and space opera

    • Ray Bradbury

      • Martian Chronicles


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New Wave and Feminist (60s and 70s)

  • Characteristics

    • New Wave focus on “inner space”

    • Experimentation in form and content

    • 70s sci-fi preoccupied with social themes such as race, gender, and sexuality

    • 70s sci-fi also concerned with investigating notions of “utopia” versus “dystopia”

  • Examples of New Wave science fiction include:

    • New Worlds, edited by Michael Moorcock

    • J.G. Ballard and inner space


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Cyberpunk (1980-1991)

  • Characteristics:

    • Term cyberpunk coined by Bruce Bethke in short story of the same name in 1980

    • Focus on cyberspace, a term coined by Gibson in 1982

    • Information technology as central preoccupation

    • Focus on the marginalized and dispossessed (“outlaw zones,” 11 and depiction of Zion, 103-104)

    • Punk as worldview and writing style: disenchantment with corporations, government corruption, surveillance technology

  • Examples of cyberpunk include:

    • Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic,” “Gernsback Continuum,” “Burning Chrome,” and Neuromancer

  • Cyberspace in Neuromancer

    • “A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace...”(4-5)


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Effects of Science Fiction

  • Manovich’s new media principle of transcoding and the effects of science fiction on society and vice versa

  • Innovation and technology

  • Various media forms: literature, art, film (Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic), television (Star Trek 1, 2 and Firefly 1), computer games (Neuromancer video game)

  • Science fiction community

    • Conventions

    • Clubs

    • Organizations

    • Fan fiction


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Where do we go from here?The future of science fiction…

  • If artistic creations are a response to our life and times, how do you think artists will respond in the future?

    • Environment

    • Biotechnology

    • Nanotechnology

  • How will science fiction continue to influence society?


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References

“Science Fiction.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 20 May 2007

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fiction

“Neuromancer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 20 May 2007

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuromancer

Brouillette, Sarah. “Corporate Publishing and Canonization: Neuromancer and Science-Fiction Publishing in the 1970s and Early 1980s.” Book History 5 (2002): 187-208.


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