Size matters

Courteously curating for The Big Book of Cyberpunk

You may have missed it, as I’ve been very subtle [BUY MY BOOK], but I’ve finished editing The Big Book of Cyberpunk. (Out September! Pre-order now!)

I’ll talk a more about the actual ‘cyberpunk’ part means later on.

First, I want to talk about ‘big’.

This is a big book.

A really big book.

If you’ve not read any of the other ‘Big Books’, specifically the SF/F ones edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer: go do that. They’re exceptional. Looking at those will also give you some sense of the size you’re dealing with. They’re genuinely huge books, and Cyberpunk will be one of the largest of the lot (behind only The Big Book of Science Fiction).

Cyberpunk actually has more stories than any other in the series: 108 of them, totalling something close to 700,000 words of fiction (excluding all my high-falutin’ editorial matter). It is 1,152 pages. Double-columned. For scale, The Big Book of Cyberpunk is over eight times the size of The Djinn Falls in Love.

tldr; it is a chonk

With great girth comes great responsibility, and one of the things I had to be conscious of was not accidentally subsuming my priors.

Cyberpunk is undergoing a (well-timed) resurgence. But, historically speaking, there aren’t many anthologies dedicated to the genre. The Big Book could, amusingly, contain the complete text of every previous cyberpunk ‘survey’ anthology, with space left over for a novella or two. That’s tempting, but:

  • It wouldn’t do anything new. Although the Big Book is a book of reprints, the bricolage of those reprints is my contribution. Curation brings something into the mix, in the form of editorial selection and voice. Bolting existing anthologies together, however, doesn’t bring anything into the world. It is also boring for me.

  • The previous anthologies don’t cover ‘all’ cyberpunk. As I’m sure these editors would agree: cyberpunk is bigger and broader and more higgledy-piggledy than ‘just’ what’s contained in other cyberpunk anthologies.

  • It would be a dick move. Why would you ever buy one of those books if you get it (and a half dozen others) in the Big Book? That’s not fair.

As a result, one of the rules I followed when assembling the Big Book is not to have more than three stories that could also found together in any previous anthology. In fact, only two anthologies even pushed up against that boundary. These anthologies contain three stories of overlap with The Big Book of Cyberpunk:

There are also seven anthologies that have two stories of overlap:

Some of these anthologies are full of original; some are reprints.

There are also, I believe, two stories in The Big Book that overlap with the fantastic The Best of World SF series (edited by Lavie Tidhar). And there are, for the record, zero stories that overlap with previous Big Books.

All in all, anthologies containing multiple (e.g more than one) Big Book stories account for about 20 stories total (a little less - some of the overlaps are repeat overlaps, or overoverlaps). Less than a fifth of The Big Book.

So why am I saying all this?

First, this gives you a flavour of what to expect from The Big Book of Cyberpunk. Which is, hopefully, a small bit of ‘all of the above’, but also a whole lot of ‘none of the above’. There are 108 stories in The Big Book, and the vast majority of them have never been collected or recollected in this way.

Second, these previous anthologies are genuinely great books. You should read them! Reading these glorious books won’t spoil The Big Book: they add more perspective and depth on a topic that has plenty of space for both. If The Big Book leads more people to these other books - or vice versa! - that’s a job well done. Don’t wait for The Big Book to introduce you to cyberpunk: take my word for it, and get to reading now.

The Big Book doesn’t only draw from anthologies, of course. You’ll find stories in it that are drawn from magazines and zines, an internets-worth of websites, collections; plus comics, liner notes, you name it. But as an anthologist, I appreciate a good anthology.

Here are a few other personal favourites that I read while doing my research:

  • Avant-Pop (Larry McCaffery, 1993) and After Yesterday’s Crash (1995): McCaffery is a massively important figure in the history, and creation of, cyberpunk. He’s also a brilliant editorial voice in broader post-modern fiction. These are fabulous, and fabulously strange anthologies that showcase how we can push the modes and themes of storytelling. Cyberpunk is as much post-modernism as it is science fiction, and these anthologies show off the a more expertimental perspective on the genre.

  • Cosmos latinos: an anthology of science fiction from Latin America and Spain (Andrea Bell and Yola Molina-Gavilan, 2003): Although only a few ‘cyberpunk’ stories in here, but that didn’t stop me from reading it cover to cover. Brilliantly collected and curated, and the stories themselves are fascinating. Genuinely one of the best anthologies I’ve read in years, if not ever.

  • Cybersex (Richard Glyn Jones, 1996): Between that title and this cover, I had some pretty low expectations. Instead, I found a collection of really thoughtful perspectives on the potential societal (and occasionally biological) implications of technology on human relationships. A very ambitious line-up that wedges Will Self and Martin Amis alongside Jeff Noon, Kathe Koja, and Nancy Kress. There’s free-wheeling editorial remit that also strays outside of the traditional scope of ‘cyberpunk’ (Vonnegut’s “The Big Space Fuck”, for example), but that just adds to the fun.

  • Cyberfunk! (Milton Davis, 2021): God bless and preserve Milton Davis, who, judging by his editorial outputs, seems to be a relentless engine for Black pulp. Cyberfunk! is particularly glorious, earning the right to the titular punctuation. The stories range from the delightfully silly to the truly edgy.

  • Disco 2000 (Sarah Champion, 1998): Millennial cyberpunk anthology edited by a celebrated music journalist, and one that snuck out from a literary imprint, with contributors including Grant Morrison, Douglas Coupland, Pat Cadigan and Poppy Z Brite. Despite the international ToC, there’s a delightfully British feel to it - not only are most of the stories set in the UK, the whole thing is infused with the irrepressible hedonism of the British club scene.

  • Iraq +100 (Hassan Blasim, 2016) and Palestine +100 (Basma Ghalayini, 2019): Comma Press’ anthology series won The Kitschies’ Black Tentacle last year, as the board’s pick as something truly pushing the boundaries of speculative fiction. The quality of the stories is undoubtedly erratic, but these anthologies are also science fiction at its best: imagining a future (near or far) as a way of dissecting and discussing a complex present.

  • Simulations: 15 tales of virtual reality (Karie Jacobson, 1993): Another book better than its cover - seriously, even with all the horrors produced by MidJourney, we’re still better off than the digital flailings of the early 1990s. Like Cybersex, this is tightly focused on one particular technological aspect of cyberpunk: virtual reality. It has as a great range of stories, from Ray Bradbury and William Gibson to Vonda McIntyre and J.G. Ballard. Unlike some of the others on this list, this is entirely “core” SF, but demonstrates how an editor can make a thoughtful and provoking book - even while limited to single genre and tight theme.

  • Storming the Reality Studio (Larry McCaffery, 1991): McCaffery (above) had done cyberpunk a solid by editing a 1988 issue of the Mississippi Review solely dedicated to the topic. Storming is an expansion of that issue, a collection of extracts, short stories, essays, and art that tries to position cyberpunk within post-modernism. It is fascinating, flowing between Timothy Leary and Bruce Sterling, Jean Baudrillard and Richard Kadrey. It is undeniably dense in places: post-modern literary analysis can, in its own way, just as turgid and restrictive as hard science fiction. But it is also an aggressive land grab, making a cogent arguement in favour of cyberpunk’s importance, as a fusion of reckless form and thematic heft; untethered to literary convention.

“Cyberpunk” is often diminished: devolved to represent something neon and rainy, probably involving a cityscape and a top-heavy android. But across the thirty-odd years of its formal existence, it has stood for - and contained - a lot more: ranging from diamond-hard SF to post-modernism. These anthologies are all perfectly formed and explore focused aspects of cyberpunk brilliantly: from sex to music to virtuality. The opportunity of a Big anthology is to provide the breadth that, hopefully, entices you to explore their depth.

Anne and I have an ongoing column in ParSec, in which we ponder Big Questions. In the new issue, we ask a tricky question: how do geeks adapt to a world where geek culture has taken over the mainstream? Being an underdog is a central tenet of ‘geek’ identity, so what happens when we win?

What we’ve seen in some circles is the creation of contrived existential threats (hiya, [whatever]-gate), or gatekeeping by demanding increasing esoteric knowledge or experiences (“you’re not a real geek unless you’ve watched Doctor Who on LaserDisc”). Our latest column tries to pull together some principles for being a good winner.

My friends have done story-by-story rereads of The Big Books, and are now starting The Big Book of Science Fiction. I’ll be joining in! David and I will be covering five stories/week between now and… the end of time. Please chime in as you see fit. The first five stories are already being discussed here.

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