Reviews #6 - Precursors

All fields of artistic endeavor are subject to occasional upheaval as new movements come along. The most important of such movements challenge the boundaries of the status quo. Whenever they do, there are always small minded people who seek to denigrate the movement by saying "Oh thatís not new, so-and-so was doing it years ago". Such comments reflect a lack of appreciation of the distinction between the concept of a movement and the works of which it is made up. Nothing in art springs from the ground fully formed - any movement has a series of precursors which act as stepping stones to the growth of the new form. I doubt if any forms have experienced more silly origin claims than the musical phenomenon of Punk and the related literary field labeled Cyberpunk.

With the above in mind, we come to the works of John Shirley. Eyeball books have recently re-published his 1980 novel City Come A-Walkin'. This book may be one of, if not the most, important precursor to the Cyberpunk movement. It provides a bridge from the raw edges of the musical punk movement into the world of SF. It is in no way a cyber novel - in many ways it is more of a fantasy. But the images are of a violent anarchistic future. Many of the ideas of this novel are recognised now as characteristic icons of cyberpunk writing. This is not simple projection on my part. Writers such as Sterling, Rucker, Shiner and Gibson have acknowledged the part played by Shirley in the development of the movement. The 1996 edition contains a foreword by William Gibson where he describes this work as "The Protoplasmic Mother of all cyberpunk novels".

City Comes A Walkin' tells of a city given form and life in the face of human excess. The city in question - San Francisco of course. Once this novel has blown you away - believe me, it will - you may wish to read more of what Shirley has to offer. Eyeball books have also recently released a collection of his work called The Exploded Heart. It covers the period from the mid '70s to the mid '90s with autobiographical introductions to each of the stories. This is not a nice book. It is full of raw edges - violence and anger abound. Prepare to have your nerve ends frayed and your perceptions bent.

As I started to write this article, I had some other books I was going to include as well. The process of remembering about the effect these two volumes had on me is just too much. The other books can wait until next month - I am off to read Shirley's latest work Silicon Embrace.