John Klima sticks his neck out and nominates his top 10 most influential SF / F anthologies over at Tor.com. It’s a list that makes me want to read more, as do the the comments. But I was surprised to see my most influential anthology went entirely unmentioned…

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology was the book that woke me up to what science fiction could be. I would guess that like many readers I found it in the wake of reading Neuromancer. As unique and startling as that novel was, without seeing the diversity of writing in the Bruce sterling edited anthology I might not have grasped what SF short fiction was really capable of.

Red Star, Winter Orbit still rates for me as one of Gibson’s strongest stories (alongside Hinterlands). But Tom Maddox Snake-Eyes sticks in my memory as the epitomy of cyberpunk, and a major influence over my story They Leave Him No Voice (workshopped at Clarion and awaiting re-write). Contributions from Greg Bear and Pat Cadigan also rocked my adolescent world, but it was James Patrick Kelly’s Solstice that really blew my mind. I remember that story pretty much scene for scene, despite not having read it for at least a decade. Meeting Jim at Clarion was totally awe inspiring as a consequence.

I can see my old battered copy of Mirrorshades on the shelf from where I am writing this. Its been a while, I think its time to go and read it again.



Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

13 thoughts on “Mirrorshades

  1. Bizzarely, the only story I recall was one about Mozart being somehow brought to the present, where he becomes a pop star before dying young of a drug overdose.

    Not sure what it had to do with Cyberpunk particularly, but I recall it as more of a mixed collection than I think you do.

    That said, I also remember it really excited me at the time. I didn’t rate all the stories, but I did think it was doing something more interesting than the Niven and Asimov that formed much of my then sf diet. That’s not to knock Niven or Asimov, but it was time for something very different.

    Actually, it probably is again, other than Ian McDonald who’s pushing the boundaries presently? Genuine question, if you let me know I’ll check them out…


  2. This is the sort of anthology that would have me nervously putting it back in place on the shelf in the bookstore. I find cyberpunk very strange and a bit opaque. Then again, I’ve been reading Murakami again and find his stories very strange and a bit opaque, as well as incredibly bizarre, so you never know.


  3. Max Cairnduff – There is a lot of good stuff but not much of it bits the shelves of Waterstones. Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow a well worth a look. Geoff Ryman still keeps me spell bound. He recently had a new story on Tor.com. The online zines like Clarkesworld, Fantasy and Strange Horizons all have good things, and Asimovs and Weird Tales often have interesting stuff. Names…hmm…Jay Lake, Tim Pratt, Chris Beckett. All depends on your tastes.

    Megan – Cyberpunk might not be your bag. To be honest it is probably looking dated by now any way. Interestingly Im listening to the audiobook of Wind Up Bird Chronicle. It’s much scarier than I remember!


  4. I’m familiar with Charlie Stross, I’ve read some of his short fiction plus his Cthulhoid stuff, as well as the rather marvellous Accellerando (great, even though the central character is basically a walking plot device).

    Did you see the discussion between him and Jonathan McCalmont over at JMC’s old blog? Very interesting, Stross talks about how pressure from his publishers has negatively impacted his output. I can dig it out if you’re interested.

    Cory Doctorow I’ve not read, though I have a copy of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom which looks good. Geoff Ryman I’ve not read in years, I probably should though.

    And then many names I’ve never heard of and sites I’m barely aware of, hurrah! I shall look them all up.

    On cyberpunk looking dated, what about River of Gods by Ian McDonald or for that matter Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan? I blog both over at my own blog, the River of Gods entry is a touch long (I was back from holiday with time on my hands, what can I say?) but I thought that stretched the genre by taking it into a contemporary future rather than a 1980s future and I thought Morgan took the opposit tack, taking the genre right back to its roots in Chandler and hardboiled fiction. Not sure I’d recommend either to Megan though, neither is an easy entry point.

    Love Murakami, definite high strangeness, though South of the Border, West of the Sun which is presently my favourite of his that I’ve read and doesn’t contain a single surreal element. Good to see a writer not being bound by his trademarks.


  5. Right there with ya on “Mirrorshades,” Damien. A friend actually posed me the question last night of what the easiest entry might be for a non-scifi fan into the cyberpunk world in particular. I actually recommended “Mirrorshades” for exactly the same reasons that you enumerate. Also, “Neuromancer,” “Islands in the Net” and “Snow Crash.” Starting with “Mirrorshades” or “Snow Crash,” actually, because the one has the diversity of writing thing, and the other has humor (which first-wave cyberpunk kind of lacked) and thus is more accessible. I recently reread “Snow Crash” and discovered that it actually has aged very well. So.

    I also remain very fond of “The Gernsback Continuum,” though the one that really left its impression for me, from the Gibson, was “Fragments of a Hologram Rose.” Thing of beauty, that was. I put “Burning Chrome” on the list for my friend as well, kind of per those two stories. And, of course, all the rest. Gibson actually makes me a little bit tired these days, but his vintage short fiction is still pretty execellent.



  6. Mmm…I also have thoughts on cyberpunk being dated, and Richard Morgan especially. But alas, I have had too much to drink and I need to be at work in six hours and change. So I’ll hold that thought. But “Broken Angels” beats “Altered Carbon” any day of the week…that’s all I’m sayin’. Hee. Cheers.


  7. OK, I’m going to come clean and say it. I can’t get into Morgan. Maybe I should try Broken Angels, because Altered Carbon really fell flat for me. Maybe its because my tastes have moved very far from cyberpunk these days, or maybe its a genre thats repeating itself.


  8. Altered Carbon is definitely classic cyberpunk, to be honest, that’s what I liked about it in part. As I mentioned above, it’s very much a return to the noir sources Gibson in particular drew on, such as Chandler. Cyberpunk fiction was in part noir fiction, in a new setting, I think Altered Carbon got that where others didn’t.

    Have you tried River of Gods? It’s well worth reading and I think does some new things. Morgan I think is trying more to make old things fresh, so he may never work for you (though you could always try his new fantasy novel, which has had fairly good reviews, do you read fantasy stuff at all?).

    I agree with Dano on Islands in the Net, classic cyberpunk, though personally I hated Snow Crash (I know, I’m a terrible human being) even though I like Stephenson generally. It just felt so self-indulgent. I reread Neuromancer in the past year, I found that still surprisingly fresh, a much better novel than I’d remembered.

    Broken Angels, I’ve not read it yet I admit, to be honest I couldn’t see why Altered Carbon needed any sequel, which I suspect put me off a bit.


  9. There’s no shame in hating Snow Crash, I don’t think. No shame in hating Stephenson, really–the man cannot figure out how to end a book to save his life. I sort of gave up on him after wading through the vastness of Cryptonomicon and being left with the stupid people-getting-shot-with-arrows-in-the-jungle cliffhanger.

    The thing that I enjoy about Morgan is that he sort of cyberpunked other subgenres with the sequels to Altered Carbon. Broken Angels does it with military SF, and does it well. I’m not a fan of military SF as a rule, but I liked that book a lot. I’m actually not such a huge fan of Altered Carbon, myself–the noirish thing with the heavy Chandler influence and whatnot has kinda been done to death, and had been done to death already by that point (cf. George Alec Effinger, et al). The larger universe was what interested me, and there was a lot more of that in Broken Angels and Woken Furies. He also gets political in ways that I like in my SF–of course, Ken MacLeod’s “Fall Revolution” is one of my favorite series of relatively recent vintage, so make of that what you will.

    The genre is repeating itself, though, to a certain extent…it’s become such a familiar SF milieu that writing in it takes minimal effort in worldbuilding, and the underlying assumptions that produce a cyberpunk future are increasingly unquestioned. As someone who has always loved it, though, I do enjoy seeing people taking that milieu and grafting weird new stuff to it.

    I don’t know River of Gods, but I’ll have to see if I can rustle up a copy, to place in my own Infinite Book Pile. Tra la.


  10. That’s actually rather renewed my interest in the sequels to Altered Carbon Dano, I had rather uncharitably assumed he’d produced them because the market likes predictability and sequels provide that.

    The heavy noir influence worked for me, but it may well be that I read less sf than you, in which case it could be that I’ve just seen it less. I did think he did interesting things with the politics. Good citation there with George Alec Effinger, I don’t think his trilogy can really be beaten though, he was a much underrated writer that I think really deserves a more recognition than he now receives.

    I also liked the Fall Revolution series, particularly Stone Canal and Cassini Division. I liked the Cosmonaut Keep stuff, though for me not quite as much, I’ve been a little disappointed with his recent output though. Too many fairly civilised Scots rationalists for my liking and I didn’t take to either of Learning the World or The Execution Channel (or rather, I liked both, until I got to the endings). I think he could use leaving his comfort zone for a while to be honest.

    We seem to have overlapping tastes, though thankfully not identical (that would be dull). Hopefully you’ll like River of Gods, if worst comes to worst you can always wait for the singularity and then make a copy of yourself to read it then – that’s the only way I’ll ever get through my infinite book pile anyway. Shame I doubt the singularity will happen, but it would be good to be wrong…


  11. I just got ahold of Mirroshades via Dano (see comment above), and “Solstice” was the first story I read. It’s a neat little story, and I like how he intercuts the action with the Stongehenge stuff.


  12. I think I might be scared to read Solstice again. Its tough to revisit stories from your youth, so much of any story happens in the readers imagination. I reread a Philip K Dick short story ‘Web of Air, Chains of Aether’ (or something like) last week and it was only 10% of the story I remember.

    on the Morgan / McDonald question, I’ve been considering it and its the subtext of Gibson that will always give him the edge over what has followed. Morgan and McDonald are fine, but just too interested in playing with genre tropes to really hook me. I love that stuff, but I also need theme and metaphor in the way Gibson does it in the Sprawl trilogy.


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