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Notes to "Confessions of an Ex-Cyberpunk"

By Lewis Shiner

Bill Gibson has always been a good friend to me. I got to know him through Bruce Sterling just as his career was starting to take off, and we exchanged a lot of letters and manuscripts and phone calls throughout the 80s. He offered me encouragement on my writing, he lobbied Ellen Datlow to publish me in Omni, which was not just the most prestigious SF market (outside of Playboy, of course), but also the highest paying one. He hooked me up with his agent, he blurbed my novels, and he was generous with his time and good humor. And, in late 1990, when the New York Times finally discovered cyberpunk and asked him to do an op-ed piece--which he had neither the time nor the inclination to write--he suggested me as a substitute.

This was a big deal to me--probably the biggest audience I would ever write for. And I freely admit I did it for the publicity, not because of any burning desire to make a showy public resignation from a movement that had long ago run out of silicon.

I worked with an editor there named David Shipley, an incredibly nice, patient, and intelligent guy. He had originally envisioned something extolling the wonders of cyberpunk, but when I explained that he was late to the dance, he listened and went with the direction I suggested. I did a couple of drafts for him, then, over the phone, we went through the most rigorous editing session I have ever had. David put every sentence, every word, under the microscope, looking for problems with grammar, clarity, tone, concision, and AP style, and we rewrote virtually every line. I felt like a third grader for much of that long, grueling session, but I learned a lot and David never once made fun of me or tried to hurry me. And I did get what I considered a major concession--these were the days when everybody in the Times had a title, but I could not bring myself to call Bruce "Mr. Sterling." David let me get away with merely calling him "Sterling," and that may have been the first time that rule was violated at the paper.

By the way, the "one reader" I quote is my friend Rick Klaw, who's gone on to write a lot of criticism.

The piece did get me a lot of attention, some negative (the original cyberpunks have become famous for our constant bitching about being part of a group--though I have always tried to make clear that I was grateful for the attention). But the most common reaction, which I have to agree with, was that the piece was hardly controversial. "Yeah, cyberpunk is dead--so what else is new?"


© 2007 by Lewis Shiner. First published in Fiction Liberation Front. Some rights reserved.

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