Review: Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (edited by Bruce Sterling)

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology - Greg Bear, William Gibson, Paul Di Filippo, John Shirley, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, Lewis Shiner, James Patrick Kelly, Marc Laidlaw, Tom Maddox

Initial reaction: Probably 3.5 stars. There are some really interesting and good stories in the mix included here, and only a few that didn't really strike me all that well, whether it was the fact some of them were random and not necessarily what I would term cyberpunk, or that some of them seemed a little dated. I did appreciate Sterling's introduction on Cyberpunk as a genre overall, and I thought it was a good collection overall. Some of the authors I'm very familiar with their work, while others were new to me.

Full review:

As a genre, I really enjoy reading cyberpunk stories, and I'm proud to say that I was born in the same generation that this particular subgenre was created within the sci-fi community. Granted, there are many stories I consider in the vein of cyberpunk that I've been exposed to in my time. From William Gibson's "Neuromancer" (which I plan to do a re-read and review shortly) to the movie "Blade Runner", which is based on Phillip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." Even to anime series like the "Ghost in the Shell" franchise, "Akira," and "Bubblegum Crisis"/"AD Police"/"Parasite Dolls" (because the latter three are set in the same universe, technically speaking). Or if you want to talk about gaming, I could name a ton of recent and old games that fall under "cyberpunk." Anyone remember the PC/Phillips CD-i game "Burn:Cycle"? No? Maybe I'm the only one who's old enough to remember that game. (The soundtrack to that, alongside another PC game I used to play called "Megarace" are among a few I would name that were ahead of their time, and aged surprisingly well.)

So, in pursuing various literature on cyberpunk, I came across the "Mirrorshades" collection of 12 contributions by various up and coming (at the time) cyberpunk writers. The compilation was done by Bruce Sterling, who not only contributes a rather defining Preface on the Cyberpunk genre and how it was interpreted at the time, but he also contributes to the collection as well.

I'm just going to give a brief summary of all the stories and my reactions to them in the following. It took me a little while to comb through this collection, but for what it was worth - I enjoyed the collective whole. Many of these authors are familiar to me (Gibson, Sterling, Shiner, and Shirley), but quite a few are first time reads for me. So I'll have some new authors to look up their bibliography stemming from this collection.

Starting with William Gibson's "The Gernsback Continuum" - this was written in 1981, I believe, before Gibson published "Neuromancer." I'll admit I was taken by the writing in this one, and the story was a reflective piece of a traveling photographer who "ensured he was paid" going on a roadtrip for a project. He has visions of projected futures transposed over things he observes. It's supposed to be a criticism of what sci-fi had been portrayed in previous ventures, and I saw the distinction. It was an interesting narrative to read in and of itself. I think to start off the collection as far as shaping it, it was good, but it wasn't the strongest effort I've read from Gibson. Overall score: 3/5 stars.

The second story "Snake Eyes" by Tom Maddox, was a new author and story for me, the story written in 1986. I loved this tale of a man who believes his brain is hijacked after coming home from war in Thailand. He's actually on the mark with the revelation, considering his insatiable appetite and odd behaviors.

Basically his brain gets hijacked by a reptile, or rather reptilian tendencies. o____O He refers to his out of control habits as being taken over by "the snake."

The narrator's voice is really strong and intimate. Well paced plotting, and it held my attention through the whole ride. One of my favorite stories in the collection. Overall score: 4/5 stars.

"Rock On", the third story, was written by Pat Cadigan in 1984 (my birth year, FTW). Yeah, I...didn't really care for this so much. It has two of my favorite topics blended together: cyberpunk and music, showcasing a 40-year-old woman (Gina) who has "sinned" with her explorations in rock-and-roll and caught in a realm she wants to escape from, but I felt oddly disconnected with it. (No pun intended.) Gina's voice is decent, sharp and dark, but the story meandered a bit more than I would've liked. I kinda want to read more from Cadigan to get a feel for her style though. Overall score: 2/5 stars.

"Tales of Houdini" by Rudy Rucker was a new author and story for me. It was...weird. I couldn't really see how this was cyberpunk at all. In sum, it's basically Houdini getting abducted several times and escaping, and putting his mother's fears to rest when she's worried about him. I guess I would rank this on the same scale - maybe lower than the previous story. If I had the choice, Cadigan's stylistic appealed a bit more; Rucker just didn't capture the setting of the anthology all that well to me in retrospect. Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

"400 Boys" by Marc Laidlaw captured the whole "youth in rebellion" thematic that I tend to associate with some parts of cyberpunk, so I definitely saw the aim in this account of a young group protagonists who have to face off against...well...400 Giant boys. I kind of pictured the 400 Boys being like the Boomers from the Bubblegum Crisis series, which...does not mean good things for the boys facing off against them. Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

"Solstice" by James Patrick Kelly was another strong entry, about a drug developer and technically his female clone and Stonehinge referencing. I was surprisingly drawn in throughout the tale and it's among the best that the collection offered in retrospect. Overall score: 4.5/5 stars

"Petra" by Greg Bear didn't really grab me as much as I wanted, but I did like it for what it offered. I just didn't think it was very cyberpunkish. Gothic type story where it deals with stone statues and flesh children, including a Stone Christ statue in the mix. It was okay, but somehow an outlier for the collection. Overall score: 2/5 stars.

"Til Human Voices Wake Us" by Lewis Shiner was another interesting offering from the collection - not directly evocative of cyberpunk images, but themes are certainly dark - story of a man's relationship and transgression with a mermaid - doesn't quite go the way he planned. Overall score: 3/5 stars

"Freezone" by John Shirley's an interesting story from the collection - a mixture of a downtrodden U.S with a rock music structuring. I definitely liked the imagery and mood of it. Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

"Stone Lives" by Paul Di Fillipo and "Red Star, Winter Orbit" by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson were both stories I enjoyed, but probably not as much as other in the collection. The first dealt with a man who had his eyes stolen by organ theves and struggling within the urban jungle he lived in until a chance opportunity gets him back on his feet. The level of detail in this story was very good, and I'd probably rate it 4/5 stars. "Red Star, Winter Orbit" didn't really strike me as cyberpunk, but it was a good story - basically showing a Soviet man who walked on Mars, but even as he's aging, he ends up leading a resistance against the military. I'd probably rate it 3/5 stars.

"Mozart in Mirrorshades" by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner closes out the collection with a really interesting tangle of historical figures. From Mozart to Thomas Jefferson among others, it was an interesting characterization. I don't know if I'd call it cyberpunk, but it did make an interesting piece for speculative fiction and social commentary. 3.5/5 stars.

It was worth the time taken to read, and certainly enlightening. Some of the authors in the collection are new to me (in that I haven't read them before), but I'd certainly seek out more of their work, as well as the ones I know, from this collection.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars