Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#3/4 Arie Altena 1 Jan 1994

Branwyn, Sugarman

Gareth Branwyn & Peter B. Sugarman, Beyond Cyberpunk: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to the future, The Computer Lab, 1992

Cyberpunk. Is it a literary genre? Is it a marketing hype? Is it the latest style in the culture industry? Is it the apotheosis of Postmodernism?


Cover of "Beyond Cyberpunk" -

It is long ago that the term cyberpunk' went beyond a small group of known sci-fi writers. Gareth Branwyn, one of the creators of bcp!, says in his introduction: Cyberpunk... has become a cultural phenomenon... To the current generation of users, cyberpunk is synonymous with the hacker underground, non-Luddite forms of anarchy, and the strategy... of extrapolating ‘20 minutes into the future'. Cyberpunk has come to mean simply the grafting of high-technology onto underground, street and avant-pop culture.

bcp! is an interactive encyclopedia with information from a number of cultural areas, all of which regard cyberpunk as an important aesthetic thread. It is sold on five diskettes that swallow up 5.5 mb of a Macintosh hard disk; it uses Hypercard 2.x and requires 1.5 mb ram, presenting little problem even for small Macs.

The information in bcp! is divided into four zones (stacks): Manifestoes, Street-Tech, Cyberculture and Media. Each zone consists of a number of essays and a huge amount of ‘resource' items. A glossary provides illumination of terms and important people. The essays take up several cards; the ‘resource' items consist of one card. Besides a discussion of the relevant subject, it usually includes several media-buttons that can be used to retrieve a quote, sound or image fragment. The quotes are highlights, as they should be. But all of the sound fragments are shitty and the image fragments are primitive. bcp! is intentionally low-tech: even on a color monitor, everything is black and white and the credits inform us that a MacPlus has even been used in designing the stack. This makes bcp! even more likeable.

You can spend hours leafing through this enormous database. Neatly, card by card - but a better way is to use the many links: all of the bold-face lemmas in and anteceding the texts. These are located everywhere and form the hyperstructure connecting the information spread throughout bcp!
There are various kinds of tables of contents that also offer access to the texts and there's a very extensive index, to which you can always find your way back. There is also the possibility of printing or marking texts with a single click.

But the links are the most powerful and attractive instrument for finding one's way through the abundance of texts. bcp! is hypertext in optima forma. The only thing you have to do is click: open the Cyberdeck and one enters the world of cyberpunk. Click a title in the contents and the essay appears, click one of the words in boldface and you go to the corresponding item. You're right in the thick of it before you know it. You travel from item to item, you ‘surf' through the database and put together your own book from the enormous quantity of virtual texts. Sometimes your trip is briefly interrupted by the cartoon character Kata Sutra, projecting a pronouncement like Wetware - you're soaking in it on the bottom of the screen. All this is accompanied by sound effects.

One of the attractive aspects of the content of bcp! - a sort of hypertext counterpart of the Mondo 2000 User's Guide to the New Edge - is that it covers a very large area. 35 essays and no less than 300 other items provide an image of cyberpunk culture from Thomas Pynchon to the zine-culture, from post-Situationist underground to sf, from postmodern theory to hackers, from industrial noise to chaos theory.

Hakim Bey seems to be one of the favorites of the authors. The Manifesto zone includes a lengthy fragment from taz as well as his manifesto of poetic terrorism. The latter can be read by clicking repeatedly in the right-hand page, causing Bey's pronouncements to appear in an arbitrary sequence. Impossible in an ordinary printed medium, but here no more than amusing. From there you go to Bey's Pyrotechnics: Don't perform with Rockefeller grants and police permits for audiences of culture lovers. And now you're in the Street Tech zone. Among others things, you find a number of personal accounts of life amidst high tech. Nomadness guru Steven Roberts explains that he regards his nomadic existence, heavily subsidized by multinationals (he travels around the world on a reclining bicycle full of computers and telecommunication equipment) as a case study and feasibility test for the changes made in our world by the fundamental shifts in the meaning of information. He is living the old dream of autonomy and total freedom as it - apparently - has been made possible by portable telecommunication equipment. Networking results in a virtual nomadic existence in which you can always stay at home while you travel the Net. But, as Roberts shows, it also makes genuine nomadic existence possible - a doubly nomadic existence by definition. According to him, there is no more social a lifestyle than that of High Tech nomadness: global networking and the timeless energy of beginnings...(home) is now distributed around the world and constantly refreshed by new encounters on the road. But you have to have a pile of money to do it.

The amusement industry and the underground are dealt with in Media and Cyberculture. To give an impression of the volume: in the ‘resource' items in the Media zone, 51 books (sf), two catalogues, 25 comics, 10 computer games, 39 films and four periodicals are discussed. In Cyberculture, among other things, music, networking, the body - in a lecture by Stelarc - and the zine-culture are dealt with. Periodicals are one of bcp!'s strong points. There is an essay about the defunct Freestyle; large and small periodicals (boing boing, Going Gaga, Mondo 2000, sfeye, re/search) are discussed and even mail order catalogues and bbs's are dealt with. Addresses are included for all. I don't know of anywhere that I might find more information about American underground culture.

The ‘access' information at the bottom of each ‘resource' card is very handy. (Making the material it contains accessible is one of the goals of bcp!). The ‘shopping list' - a one-click ‘tool' that copies the ‘access' info to a separate document, can be used to compile an extensive bibliography of cyberpunk that can then be printed with a single click. This is where hypermedia displays how much more convenient it is than a normal reference work. Besides which, updating is made very simple: the up-dating stack What happened to the future since we last talked must have already become available and I look forward to making its acquaintance.

It will have become apparent by now that the attraction of bcp! is to be found mainly in the quantity of information it contains and not in its profundity. The essays are often somewhat superficial, in my opinion. It is nevertheless an indispensable encyclopedia of cyberpunk culture. Add Larry McCaffery's Storming the Reality Studio, the academic standard work, and you have everything there is to know about cyberpunk in condensed form.

translation jim boekbinder