Science Fiction, LMC3214: Cyberpunk, William Gibson, and Retrocomputing Demo

After my students took their second exam yesterday, I lectured on cyberpunk to accompany their readings: William Gibson’s “Burning Chrome” and Bruce Sterling’s “Preface” to Mirrorshades. I talked about its historical and cultural moment, proto-cyberpunk examples in the SF genre, and the movement itself. In particular, I contextualized the cyberpunk movement in terms of postmodernism and post-industrial society. We ran out of time while I was talking about Gibson’s contributions to the development of the cyberpunk movement. Besides my enjoyment of talking about cyberpunk, I was happy that my former professor Dr. Carol Senf was in attendance to observe my teaching.

Today, we watched the William Gibson and Tom Maddox penned episode of The X-Files, “Kill Switch.” Released approximately 16 years after “Burning Chrome” in 1998, it is one of the best examples of cyberpunk in a visual medium–especially in the fact that it takes place in the here-and-now instead of the near future.

Then, I lectured on The X-Files and cyberpunk film/television before returning to my notes on Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Pat Cadigan.

After the lecture, I launched into a retrocomputing demonstration with emulation and my personal collection of resurrected computer gear. I showed my students how to use the website to see what cutting edge computing looked like in the early 1980s. Most of my students were born in the early to mid-1990s, so I wanted them to experience first hand how much extrapolation was being done on the part of the cyberpunks and Gibson in particular (of course, telling them about his Hermes 2000 typewriter and its celluloid keys and his recollection of getting inspiration for the cyberspace deck from the Apple IIc–something that his memory likely colored due to the fact that the IIc was released the same year as Neuromancer). Also, I brought in an Apple Powerbook 145 with Gibson’s Voyager Company ebook of the Sprawl trilogy pre-loaded and a Pentium-I PC with old software including Neuromancer (for DOS), Star Wars: Dark Forces (DOS), and the Star Trek Interactive Technical Manual (Windows). I took the U-shaped sheet metal case off my PC so that they could see the insides.

I had to lug everything across campus in my carry-on sized suitcase with the PC strapped to the handle with nylon straps. I felt like Case in Neuromancer returning from his shopping expedition.

Tomorrow: Taiwanese SF and review for the third exam.