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FAQ 3jan13: On Conservative Characters, Cyberpunk & Women Who Write SF

I’ve been enjoying Crooked Little Vein a lot, but I was wondering what motivated the narrative decision to make your protagonist be (and I hope I’m phrasing this properly) an essentially conservative character. By that I mean he tends to react with hostility to the oddballs his work brings him in contact with, and then defends people who, while seemingly being more socially typical, demonstrate close-mindedness.


The truth, I think, is that most people are essentially conservative characters, and I found it interesting to try and develop a character like that towards some kind of acceptance of the real face of the modern Western world without betraying his basic nature.  People can and/or should change during a story, but they shouldn’t transcend into completely new people, especially not in a short book.  My note to myself on McGill’s passage through the story was something like “Trix doesn’t magically fuck enlightenment into him.”

Aside from stuff Phillip K. Dick and Neal Stephenson, what’s on your must-read cyberpunk novels and comics list?


Okay.  Deep breath.

Cyberpunk, also known as Radical Hard SF or The Movement, was born around 1980 and didn’t survive that decade.  (Some people map the end to 1992, with Neal Stephenson’s SNOW CRASH.)  Philip K Dick had no affiliation with the movement, and was dead by 1982, two years before William Gibson published NEUROMANCER.  People tend to associate Dick with cyberpunk because of BLADE RUNNER, particularly its visuals, which had nothing to do with the novel, but were so strikingly of the speculative zeitgeist that in 1982 William Gibson had to get out of his cinema seat and leave the screening because it looked too much like what was in his head.

Phil Dick was pre-cyberpunk.  He, JG Ballard and Alfred Bester were major touchstones for the movement.  Ballard’s CRASH and Bester’s STARS MY DESTINATION and THE DEMOLISHED MAN are essential.  Also John Brunner’s STAND ON ZANZIBAR, THE SHEEP LOOK UP, and, most importantly for cyberpunk’s ancestry, THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER.

(EDIT to note: yes, and about a hundred others, I’m sure.  These are the ones that occurred to me that day.)

Of the cyberpunk period itself, you will need William Gibson’s first trilogy, NEUROMANCER, COUNT ZERO and MONA LISA OVERDRIVE.  Also, Bruce Sterling’s THE ARTIFICIAL KID and ISLANDS IN THE NET.  Richard Kadrey’s METROPHAGE.  Rudy Rucker’s SOFTWARE and WETWARE.  Pat Cadigan’s TEA FROM AN EMPTY CUP.  That should keep you going for a bit.

I couldn’t help but notice your recommendations of cyberpunk writers a couple days back were all men. Are there any female writers of cyberpunk (or sci-fi) in general you recommend? Are there any that have influenced your own work?


Um, Pat Cadigan is in that list, and she’s female.

A partial, off-the-top-of-my-head list of female speculative fiction writers whose work I’ve liked would include:

Ursula LeGuin, obviously, who’s influenced everybody.  Seek out and start off with THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, if you haven’t already.

Pamela Zoline.  Carol Emshwiller.  Mary Soon Lee (one of the single best short stories in sf in the 00s was her “Pause Time”).  CJ Cherryh’s early book DOWNBELOW STATION is warmly remembered.

Doris Lessing’s SHIKASTA had a *huge* effect on me.  Very influential, I think.

Cherie Priest, Elizabeth Bear, Cat Valente… I’ve written book blurbs for two of these, and those two have also written on my website, which it suddenly occurs to me you don’t read…!

Kate Wilhelm.  Mary Shelley counts.  Probably so does Angela Carter, at least in my head.

Lauren Beukes, of course, who is also a friend.

Obviously incomplete and written in two minutes, but a start.

Published in FAQ


  1. […] Warren Ellis on Conservative Characters, Cyberpunk and Women who write SF – Warren, who is easily my favourite author of the past few years, posted this really quick Q&A on his blog. Having just released his latest novel, Gun Machine (which I promptly Kindled and smashed a good 10% in the first sitting), Warren’s list of authors and other books gave me a future reading list I’ll have to get started at some point. Also, if you haven’t had a chance to read Crooked Little Vein get it. Whilst pretty short, I haven’t enjoyed reading a novel as much as this since I read (and understood) Neuromancer (not that Crooked Little Vein is in anyway a SF/Cyberpunk novel). Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintDiggStumbleUpon Tags: apple, books, ci, cyberpunk, development, owasp, rails, ruby, rugged, Security, web application […]

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