Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, Ed. James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel

Tachyon, 2007, 424 pages, US$14.95 tpb, ISBN 978-1-892391-53-7

One of the most endearing traits of Science Fiction as a genre is its almost pathological need to examine itself for new trends. Commentators steadily scour new publications for trends, recurring leitmotivs and emerging clichés. When The New Thing proves to be difficult to identify, they go back to The Formerly New Things and kick them around for inspiration. But the sad truth is that cyberpunk remains the last coherent SF movement, its shadow still looming over genre criticism fifteen years after it was clinically declared dead from embarrassment.

One suspects that the deathbed conversation over cyberpunk will keep on going until the entire genre is absorbed by the singularity, and then be carried over by intelligence much vaster than ours yet still punier than John Clute. In the meantime, any pretext is good enough for a post-cyberpunk reprint anthology like Rewired.

The choice of anthologists isn’t accidental: Both James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel were active writers in the heydays of cyberpunk –although whether they were part of the movement or opposed to it as “humanists” depends on who you speak to.

Students of genre history will have a lot of good material to digest in Rewired: Not only does it come with a lengthy introduction discussing the characteristics of “Post Cyberpunk” (“PCP”) SF, it’s also peppered with excerpts of correspondence between cyberpunk chairman Bruce Sterling and Kessel, in which both authors tackle issues surrounding the movement and its aftermath.

But people don’t read reprint anthologies for the introductions: many of them read it for the table of content. For beyond the empty “post-cyberpunk” claims (yes, yes, SF has absorbed the lessons of cyberpunk; can we move on, now, please?) Rewired is most interesting as an attempt to define a canon for modern science-fiction. The choice of pieces is not accidental, and even a quick glimpse at the content of the book will reveal a number of proto-classics that have a good chance to form the SF canon of the last dozen years.

Many of the big names of recent SF are there, even when the stories themselves may or may not be the most representative of their work. There’s even an odd dash of exoticism is calculated to make Science Fiction look like a genre with literary respectability. Hard-SF favorite Greg Egan (“Yeyuka”) sits next to the red-hot Cory Doctorow (“When Sysadmin Ruled the Earth”) and underrated veteran Walter Jon Williams (“Daddy’s World”), while Jonathan Lethem and Gwyneth Jones lend their respectability to the exercise. There’s a bit of something for everyone in this anthology, even for those who know the corpus: It’s hard to avoid re-reading the brilliance of David Marusek’s “The Wedding Album”, Charles Stross’ techno-heavy “Lobsters” or Bruce Sterling’s still-amusing “The Bicycle Repairman”.

Meanwhile, like all good reprint anthologies, Rewired offers the chance to read some stories that may have escaped first notice: Paul Di Filippo’s “What’s Up, Tiger Lily” is a fun romp that proves again why Di Filippo remains one of the genre’s most overlooked short story writer.

Even though, it’s hardly a perfect anthology. Some choices seem motivated by variety and/or notoriety, leading to puzzling selections. William Gibson’s “Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City”? Hmmm. And, of course, there’s never any accounting for taste either for the anthologists or the reader: Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Calorie Man” and Christopher Rowe’s “The Voluntary State” still seem as overrated as when they were nominated for the Hugo. Your mileage, as they say, may differ.

But if you forget about the “post-cyberpunk” marketing hook, Rewired more than holds its own as a reprint anthology of recent material. The names on the cover offer a good and recent overview of the genre, the table of content features a a few diamonds and that’s more than enough to make Rewired a welcome contribution to the ever-lasting genre discussions.

[June 2008: Noted without further comment: Tachyon Publication seems to be developing a line of reprint anthologies seemingly designed to re/define genre movements. After Rewired, the last few months have seen the publication of The New Weird and Steampunk. One awaits Infernocrusher.]

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