Introduction by Boyd White

 With the publication of William Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” in the May 1981 issue of Omni, the burgeoning science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk arrived on the scene almost fully formed.  Gibson’s tale of a data trafficker who becomes a target of the Yakuza is an inspired mash-up of science fiction and hardboiled fiction set in a near future dystopia characterized by low-life anti-heroes, nihilistic femme fatales, corrupt mega-corporations, sprawling cities, and cybernetically enhanced humans.  That same year, the anonymously edited Dell paperback anthology Binary Star No. 5 featured Vernor Vinge’s novella “True Names” in which hackers wage war in both virtual reality and the real world against a sophisticated AI known as a personality simulator.  Vinge’s novella is the first work of science fiction to conceptualize “cyberspace,” a term Gibson would later coin in his 1982 short story “Burning Chrome.”  Gibson honed cyberpunk to perfection with the publication of the Hugo- and Nebula-Award winning novel Neuromancer in 1984.  The story of Henry Case, a former drug addict and burnt-out hacker who infiltrates a private corporate enclave with the assistance of a “Razergirl” named Molly, Neuromancer reads like Dashiell Hammett hopped up on science fiction steroids with the mean streets of cyberspace replacing the mean streets of San Francisco.

An equally defining moment for cyberpunk came with the 1982 release of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which Gibson saw when he was two-thirds of the way through writing Neuromancer and from which he feared readers would think he had cribbed heavily.  An adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), itself a huge influence on cyberpunk, Blade Runner cemented the relationship between cyberpunk and film noir in terms of thematic concerns and style.  Set in Los Angeles in 2019, Scott’s film follows Richard Deckard, an ex-cop who hunts down genetically engineered workers known as “replicants.”  Deckard’s investigations immerse him in a web of deceit and paranoia as he discovers the Tyrell Corporation has developed a new breed of replicants with false memories that lead them to think they are actually human.  Although Scott filmed Blade Runner in color, he lifted his visual palette entirely from classic film noir from the 1940s and 1950s.  His futuristic Los Angeles is a rain-drenched world of street hustlers, prostitutes, and corrupt police, the perfect setting for exploring social decay, economic exploitation, the effect of technology on human nature, and the blurring of subjective and objective realities.

Critics and scholars have long pointed to Blade Runner as the work that gave rise to the term “cybernoir,” a hybrid genre that blends elements of science fiction and film noir.  In fact, “cybernoir” is a much more apt description of many foundational novels and short stories often characterized simply as “cyberpunk.”  While everyone readily acknowledges the classic works of science fiction to which this subgenre owes it origin, we often overlook cyberpunk’s equally vast debt to hardboiled fiction. Cybernoir touchstones such as Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, Nicola Griffith’s Slow River (1995), and Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon (2002,) draw as much upon Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest (1929), Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister (1949), and Ross Macdonald’s The Chill (1959) as they do Alfred Bester’s Tiger! Tiger! (1956), Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” (1967), and James Tiptree, Jr.’s “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” (1973).  The same forces that disrupt Chandler’s Los Angeles or Macdonald’s San Francisco—patriarchal industrialists, corrupt corporations, and a wealthy, insular elite—are still front and center in cybernoir, only now with increased technology, such as cybernetic enhancements and virtual reality, at their ready disposal.

Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Cybernoir gathers influential and interesting works in this important subgenre of science fiction, all of which deal with a dark vision of the future in which humanity is enslaved by or in conflict with machines and technology.  In addition to seminal books like Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986), Mary Rosenblum’s Chimera (1993), and Peter Watts’ Starfish (1999), Lloyd includes some early forays into the subgenre. In Algis Budrys’ Who? (1958), we encounter an American physicist no longer sure of his identity because his entire head, arm, and internal organs have been replaced by highly advanced artificial prosthetics.  John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider (1975), often considered the first true cyberpunk novel, follows Nick Haflinger, a fugitive hacker, who uses his computer skills to avoid capture in a fragmented 21st-century America in which vast computer networks and sophisticated quantitative analysis have become the cornerstones of international competition.

A good many of the entries in Dark Futures: Cybernoir feature scenarios and characters that emphasize the influence of film noir and hardboiled fiction on the subgenre. George Alec Effinger’s Hugo-nominated When Gravity Fails (1987) introduces us to Marid Audran, a small-time hustler in Buyadeen, the criminal quarter of an unnamed Middle-Eastern city, who reluctantly undergoes a series of experimental cybernetic modifications in order to pursue a serial killer who is not only murdering witnesses but also Marid’s friends.  Melissa Scott’s Trouble and Her Friends (1994) focuses on Cerise and Trouble, young lesbian hackers who steal industrial secrets and later try to go straight only to learn someone is impersonating Trouble on the web and committing industrial espionage.  Tricia Sullivan’s Someone to Watch Over Me (1997) follows the complex love affair between Adrien Reyes and Sabina Lazarich, lovers who work as surrogate bodies via The Deep, a network of brain-wave surfers who “watch” their hosts’ minds and experiences, a situation that puts Sabina at risk when Adrien’s “Watcher” takes an unexpected interest in her.  What situation could be more typically noirish than Michael Marshall Smith’s One of Us (1998) in which Hap Thompson, a petty criminal who works as memory receiver temporarily storing other people’s unwanted memories, must clear himself of murder by finding the woman who gave him her memory of actually committing the crime? 

Like the great authors of 19th-century scientific romances, such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, cyberpunks do not predict the future but instead extrapolate from their given circumstances to imagine what the world could become.  Virtual sex, identity theft, data security, extreme body modification, surveillance and drone warfare, the dangers of being constantly “plugged in”—spend some time surfing Lloyd Currey’s Dark Futures: Cybernoir and see how reality has finally caught up with these innovative authors.