Last year I did a series of reviews based on the Burning Chrome short story anthology by William Gibson. And since I’ve just written a presumptive manifesto about the changing face of cyberpunk, I figure I might see how things have changed in the genre by taking a look at some more short stories in the multi-author collection called Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology.
Today we begin with “Bicycle Repairman,” a story by Hugo Award-winning author Bruce Sterling that was originally published in Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology in 1996.
The story is about–what else?–a bicycle repairman living in an anarchist commune in some near-future era. Lyle fixes bikes for a living and gets strange packages from his ex-roommate, Deep Eddy. When he meets a strange girl named Kitty and gets an old TV set in the mail from Eddy at the same time, his world is forever changed as his anarchist friends are confronted with the bumbling leaders of the former United States. It’s a conflict of Independents Vs. Bureaucrats that gets resolved by Lyle when he makes a deal with Kitty and her superiors.
There are two important things about this story that make it a post-cyberpunk narrative. The first thing is that the advancement of technology doesn’t leave all the characters alienated from society. Lyle has a steady job, posthuman athletes are treated like regular athletes, and genetic engineering is as common as the Internet. Technology is just there. It’s the people and their interactions that matter, like the strained relationship between Lyle and his mother, who grew him as an artificial embryo (again, treated like no big deal).
The other important thing is that this story breaks a lot of cyberpunk conventions. The protagonist isn’t a burnt-out punk fighting the system; he even gets a job with those same feds at the end. The ultra-cool professional is neither cool nor professional; she gets taken down by a cheap trick off-screen and spends half the story tied up and stripped of her weapons by Lyle and his anarchist friends. The government isn’t portrayed as a cynical and malicious entity fueling social misery; at best you could say it’s full of well-meaning idiots and paranoid bureaucrats with little clue about what’s going on.
The whole story takes the pathos out of the genre and makes it pedestrian. It’s a bunch of people taking social decay and technological advancement in stride, as many are wont to do in real life.
Bibliography: Sterling, Bruce. “Bicycle Repairman.” Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. Ed. James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2007.