Some Remarks From the Author About the Lost Cyberpunk Novel

[this is the introduction to the novel published by Elder Signs Press--]

Black Glass was conceived under a different name and as a different kind of project, in the early days of cyberpunk, by myself and William Gibson. That’s not William Gibson the playwright; I mean the author of Neuromancer and Spook Country and all his books in between. We had collaborated on a couple of projects before this one. I don’t remember who came up with the main idea or the general story of Black Glass. I know I wrote up an elaborate tale based on our discussion; I’m the one who fleshed it out and Bill approved it. But then the project got derailed, we both got diverted, and Bill was swept off to collect awards, count his royalties, chill with rock stars, and work on other projects. Subsequently, long subsequently, I remembered the book and inquired; Bill is a busy guy and turned the whole thing over to me.

So some years later I have written the novel, which I think of as the Lost Cyberpunk Novel; I have written it in its entirety. No one else should be held to blame.

Cyberpunk fiction, as written by Bruce Sterling, Lew Shiner, Pat Cadigan, Richard Kadrey, Rudy Rucker and William Gibson (oh—and me), has more roots than the obvious Samuel R. Delany novels (like Nova and Dhalgren), John Brunner novels (like Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar) and, well, writing by Philip Dick and Alfred Bester and JG Ballard and Michael Moorcock’s NewWave sf, generally. Its antecedents reach back into noir; into hardboiled crime fiction and certain kinds of detective novels. Agatha Christie? Hell no. But James M. Cain? Hell yes. Dashiell Hammett. John D. MacDonald—my memory is that Gibson and Sterling both mentioned, to me, having read most of John D. MacDonald. We all read Jim Thompson, too, probably. And certain very gritty, darkly urbane spy novels were important to cyberpunk: Len Deighton and especially early John LeCarre.

Many of William Gibson’s short stories and early novels share a tone and surface texture not dissimilar to LeCarre and, at times, to the hardboiled, hardnosed detective writers. Crime novel heroes are people on the edge; even when they are working for the law, they don’t mind breaking it along the way; they womanize, they slap gunsels around, they smoke, they drink. They’re moody sons of bitches who slouch down dirty sidewalks under flickering streetlights. Cyberpunk characters have that same grim, doomed, resigned, but simmeringly angry feel about them.

All of these ancestors flock from the past and come home to roost in Black Glass. This is, unabashedly, a crime novel set in the future; its hero, Richard Candle, while a nuanced guy into meditation, is descended from old-style pulp detective heroes. He’d have been perfectly comfortable in Black Mask magazine.

I haven’t tried to be as technologically updated as, no doubt, some of the new crop of cyberpunk writers are. Things happen so fast now I’d never be caught up and wouldn’t fit into the current mode of compacted, cryptographically intense expression. I have not culled a great many terms, memes or tropes from Wired Magazine or Jane’s, or the edgiest technoblogs, or 4chan. But the story has been updated, according to my lights, from the original project; it is both “classic” cyberpunk and a modern science-fiction novel. It is also a John Shirley cyberpunk novel; hence the recurrence of musical references, music as a kind of setting, lyrics, rock-inflected characters, and other idiosyncrasies that hopefully are more endearing than annoying. I didn’t try to write the book in a ‘postmodern’ style; it’s not post-Gibson, either. I wrote this book, in this era, more or less the way I wrote those books back then. That’s how I write the stuff.

The language of Richard Candle’s future society would probably be mostly understandable to us, but would have far more new slang and neologisms than I have provided it with. However, I have undertaken to provide a little, a taste, of the lingo of his time. I doubt if it is language that we will really see in the future but I feel it has the ring of real slang about it and, to my ear, it works. I have provided the Black Glossary to explicate certain terms. And I’d like to point out that, as now, people in the future will not use slang terms in every instance in which they might apply. Sometimes they use them, sometimes they use something else.

Black Glass, perhaps, brings cyberpunk full circle. In a way, it’s a “pulp novel of ideas”. But it is a work of cyberpunk science-fiction; it is woven with science fiction imagery and lit up by science-fiction ideas. It is a crime novel, a novel of the street, and it’s a novel of political attitude: most cyberpunk novels reflect a jaded reaction against authority; an assumption that a world dominated by corporations is a world that was stolen from you before you were born.

But my main hope for Black Glass is simply that readers will enjoy it as entertainment.


J.S., February 2008

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