No Books's Reviews > Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk & Postmodern Science Fiction

Storming the Reality Studio by Larry McCaffery
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I stumbled upon this anthology entirely by chance, while browsing the department catalogue for texts on cyberpunk. Given my long-term obsession with postmodern Anglo-American fiction, I was already familiar with Larry McCaffery’s critical work and his tireless enthusiasm for each successive wave of contemporary writers. I’d consulted his Avant-Pop anthology http://bit.ly/dEZe3g repeatedly, more delighted by his own theorizations than by any of the contributions featured. But Storming the Reality Studio, I would argue, is still his best effort to date: way more relevant, challenging, and just plain interesting. Which can perhaps only be stated in retrospect: the avant-pop label did never really stuck, while ‘cyberpunk’ is still a vital category more than a dozen years later (spawning the post-cyberpunk wave and an exhilarating string of –punk undercurrents: steampunk, dieselpunk, atompunk).

The anthology is divided in two parts: Fiction and Poetry / Non-Fiction. Most of the fiction is made up of (usually brief) novels excerpts rather than independent short stories; there are also comics by Jim O’Barr of The Crow fame, illustrations by one Ferret and even poetry by Rob Hardin and Misha. Cyberpunk poetry! Needless to say, the gotha of the movement presides in full regalia, joined by such slipstream authors as Burroughs, Pynchon, DeLillo, Acker, Leyner and Vollman. And yet, unlike other cyberpunk anthologies, e.g. Mirroshades or Gibson’s short-story collection Burning Chrome, this book is crucially constituted for more than half of its bulk by essays. And that’s exactly its major asset, at least for would-be academics like Yours Truly. Contributions by all sharp-edge theorists of the postmodern are featured: Baudrillard, Derrida, Lyotard, and obviously Jameson, along with more specific and cyberpunk-related material. There’s a 20-page interview McCaffery conducted with William Gibson (a must for all aficionados), from which we learn, for instance, that Gibson did not own a computer till after the publication of Neuromancer. Dig it: the groundwork for a whole poetics of the cyber age was laid by a guy who, by his own admission, had absolutely no idea what a computer was like!
Within each section of the book contributions are arranged in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Which as a completely arbitrary setting works as well as any other, and even creates curious and effective results: Steve Brown’s personal, non-academic account of his first-hand experience as an inside member of the burgeoning literary movement later known as cyberpunk comes before the heady stuff; McCaffery’s own material is smack in the middle; while Sterling’s canonical “Preface from Mirrorshades” is placed towards the end, coming after various essays that expand upon Sterling’s own declarations—so that by the time you get there, the classic cyberpunk manifesto has acquired several new layers of meaning.

Many of the essays had already appeared in Mississippi Review 47/48 (1998), a special feature on cyberpunk edited by none other than McCaffery himself, which “probably marked the beginning of academia’s serious consideration of the cyberpunk aesthetic”. Storming the Reality Studio is but a re-edited and expanded version of MR 47/48. cf. streettech.com: http://bit.ly/eixKF8 and http://bit.ly/fQlcs0
But the reworking in book form brought radical changes. While MR 47/48 was only focused on cyberpunk proper, Storming the Reality Studio offers a new and much more daring thesis; namely, the convergence of two previously unrelated currents in postmodern literature:

● Postmodern science-fiction, i.e. cyberpunk.
● Quasi-SF texts by avantgarde writers (historically Burroughs and Pynchon, more recently Kathy Acker, Don DeLillo and Ted Mooney), superposing mainstream and genre fiction, i.e. Sterling’s slipstream narrative.

-to be expanded-
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