In the 1980s, a new sub-genre of science fiction emerged through the work of authors like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson. Known as cyberpunk, this sub-genre offered us dystopian visions of the future in which social and political order has partially collapsed under the weight of unrestrained corporate power. These dystopian futures reflected the anxieties and fears that attended the growth in neoliberal forms of political economy during the 1980s and 90s, and more recent authors, like Paolo Bacigalupi and Cory Doctorow, have continued this tradition of science fiction, incorporating anxieties related to climate change, bioengineering and surveillance technologies into their dystopian visions of the future. What insight do these cyberpunk and biopunk works of science fiction provide into the nature of power and domination in the early 21st century, and what might they tell us about the possibilities of emancipation?
Your paper should be organized as follows. In the first section (after your introduction), discuss the dystopian futures portrayed by William Gibson in his short story “New Rose Hotel” and by Paolo Bacigalupi in his novel The Windup Girl. Identify the forms of power and domination that characterize these futures, noting how society is organized, what groups wield power in these stories, and how they wield it. You should also discuss how these dystopian futures differ from the totalitarian futures we have seen in Huxley’s novel A Brave New World and London’s short story “A Curious Fragment.”
In the second part of your essay, discuss what implications the dystopian visions of the future offered by Gibson and Bacigalupi have for our understandings of resistance and emancipation. How do these visions of a future in which traditional forms of power and order have partially collapsed complicate our notions of how to realize human freedom? How might apocalyptic fantasies in our culture, in which the old social and political order is swept away by a plague, nuclear war, or zombies, reflect contemporary concerns about the impotence of resistance or the impossibility of emancipation?
In the third and final part of your essay, offer some of your own thoughts on how we should rethink the concepts of freedom, resistance and emancipation so that they might meaningfully speak to these dystopian futures which are rapidly becoming our present.