domingo, julho 23, 2017

A Country Without (SF) Readers: “Antologia Cyberpunk” by Editorial Divergência

Published 2016.

“O Neuromante foi publicado por mim em Portugal apenas dois anos depois da primeira edição em língua inglesa. Talvez tenha sido a primeira tradução para uma língua estrangeira. Estremeci de alegria quando o livro veio à estampa. Pensei: agora sim, agora os detractores da FC vão engolir mil sapos.
Infelizmente esqueci-me de que vivemos em Portugal. Num país sem grande futuro, nem mesmo o do Gernsback. Um país sem leitores. Trataram-no como se nem sequer existisse. Ou como se se tratasse de mais umas tantas páginas de lixo escapista. Nas livrarias, foi parar às secções de literatura infantil ou às prateleiras de estudos informáticos. Enfim, não vendeu. Nas Feiras do Livro que se lhe seguiram, foi vendido a retalho por tuta e meia, como se o quisessem oferecer a um pobre. [….] E por não ter vendido, nada de nada, foi razão mais do que suficiente para o Editor me olhar, imbuído de um triste desprezo, me dizer que eu só escolhia coisas muito más, e que por isso teria de pôr fim à colecção de FC. Meu dito meu feito.”

("Neuromancer was published by me in Portugal only two years after the first edition in English. Maybe it was the first translation into a foreign language. I jumped with joy when the translation first came out. I thought: 'Yes, now the detractors of SF must bite the bullet.'
Unfortunately, I forgot that we live in Portugal. In a country with no great future, not even Gernsback's. A country without readers. They treated the translation as if it did not even exist. Or as if it were some more pages of escapist junk. In the bookstores, it went to the sections of children's literature or to the shelves of computer studies. Anyway, it did not sell. At the Book Fairs that followed, it was sold to retail stores for nothing, as if they wanted to offer it to the poor. [....] And for not having sold, nothing at all, it was more than enough reason for the Editor to look at me, imbued with a sad contempt, to tell me that I only chose very bad things, and thus end the SF collection. No sooner said than done.")

In the foreword by João Barreiros in “Antologia Cyberpunk” by Editorial Divergência.

I've been reading some old best-of-the-year SF anthologies lately, bought on eBay, as well as this one by Editoral Divergência, a Portuguese book publishing house; it was the last one of the bunch, and in there the cyberpunk trope seems to be swimming in foreign waters, literal and figuratively speaking. While the cyberpunk stories in these anthologies are generally good, there's a distinct sense of hardening sub-genre assumptions about them -- the shared idea that computer criminals would largely be members of street gangs seems particularly far off. By the 1989 anthology, most of the authors who'd been doing cyberpunk had gone on to other things. What about 2016 when this Portuguese cyberpunk anthology came out?

It's an interesting study in how ideas quickly die and solidly as genres. There are 100s of people self-publishing cyberpunk books, but I'm yet to see one that has any intellectual edge. Just abject copies (and usually badly written as well). Cyberpunk (as a sales pitch for unconnected works, then as a prescription for How-To-Do-It-And-Sell) is rather like the late 70s 'Disco Sucks' strop. SF in the late 1970s and early 1980s was getting interesting, with women, gay writers and people from ethnic minorities bringing their world-building skills and a literary sensibility to work in synch rather than against each other.

Obviously, a lot of nerdy white boys wanted an end to this monstrous regiment and, when Gibson happened, this looked like a suitable bulwark. The self-serving mythology, mainly from Bruce Sterling, is that “The Movement-With-No-Name” (as some of them preferred to call it) 'saved' SF from becoming contaminated any further. The same way “Sigue Sigue Sputnik” 'saved' rock. Gibson and Sterling wrote 'The Difference Engine' to try and make clear what 'Neuromancer' was about, the Douglas Hofstadter stuff that everyone missed concerning Wintermute, but that too got turned into a sales-formula that ossified.

Cyberpunk was about a certain vision with a certain technological path from where we were. Once things became clear that we weren't going along that path, Cyberpunk became an alternate history, a what-might-have-been than a what-if. Cyberpunk has become part of other sub-genres such as Space Opera, examples like “Revelation Space”, “Ancillary Justice” and the “Culture” novels. Like the music field there is nothing new, just a chance to get creative and take parts from everything that has gone before.

This anthology is no longer focused on certain aspects of a certain form of cyberpunk, which undoubtedly has somewhat come to pass (yet also still looks like a potential future). The wider themes of Cyberpunk still resonate and that's why cyberpunk still exists and is being written; it just looks differently because it looks forward to the potential future with an eye to current trends. All the examples about AI, inter-connectivity and virtual worlds half exist now. They don't really in the way they do in most cyberpunk, we still are looking forward to those. We are also looking forward to the new tech emerging. Then there is the other side of cyberpunk, the literary styles and examination of the political/social aspect of the genre which doesn't go away. That's why there are so many punk sub-genres now. They explore different tech potentials with the same principles as steampunk. This anthology is a good example of that. For example, “The Wind-Up Girl” essentially looks at the roots of the current revolution occurring in biotech and uses the cyberpunk mould to explore the far-flung potential of that in the way Gibson did with networked computers (it's called a biopunk novel by some). If anything, the genre becomes more prescient, along with all SF, but specifically cyberpunk, as technological advances have exploded in the last 35 years and we begin to consider the social ramifications of these technologies as they mature.

If someone says Portuguese SF does not have any depth, it’s all about style, and has got no substance, he or she should read the short-stories in this collection. True, most of them no longer have that characteristic gritty cyberpunk 'core' so common in cyberpunk from the 80s; what these tales embody are literary games by simply using a cyberpunk aesthetic for what could be any type of game underneath. It’s not cyberpunk? Maybe not, but it’s still good SF (e.g., “Deuses Como Nós”/”Gods Like Us” by Victor Frazão included in this collection). Either way, a cyberpunk game may not be called such just because it takes place in a futuristic urban dystopia. So maybe they’re cyberpunk of a different sort. When I think about great video games forming a gestalt, I think most of them have me actively partaking in actions typical of the cyberpunk tradition; hacking, investigating, violence, and theft. Not only that, but they can also tell fantastic stories, take place in a well-developed setting/world, and have stunning art direction. Is that what cyberpunk is all about or there’s something else at play here?

NB: Reading what literary people must say about science fiction is such an aggravating bore. Was cyberpunk ever supposed to be taken seriously? William Gibson has admitted that he really didn't know anything about computers when he wrote “Neuromancer”. Cyberpunk was nothing but a style; it was not really cyber. Check out “The Two Faces of Tomorrow” by James P. Hogan. That is CYBER.

SF = Speculative Fiction.

2 comentários:

Luís Filipe Franco disse...

By coincidence I just ended listening to the best cyberpunk album I know. 1.outside from Bowie!
Amazing work of art as a concept album that represent a world to be filmed!

Manuel Antão disse...

There're no coincidences...

It's difficult to avoid clichés but when you think about Bowie's legacy, it's more than simply musical; he's endlessly interesting lyrically, theatrically, culturally and creatively in a truly all encompassing sense. What David has left behind is utterly staggering. And, like only the greatest of great artists, his creative energy rarely lost its power to amaze. I'm off to listen to God knows how many sublime Bowie songs. And don't forget to cheer yourself up by catching his cameo appearance on Extras: absolutely brilliant!