Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Marlowe in Mirrorshades the Cyberpunk (Re-)Vision of Chandler

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Marlowe in Mirrorshades the Cyberpunk (Re-)Vision of Chandler

Article excerpt

Mirrored sunglasses have been a Movement totem since the early days of '82. The reasons for this are not hard to grasp. By hiding the eyes, mirrorshades prevent the forces of normalcy from realizing that one is crazed and possibly dangerous. They are the symbol of the sun-staring visionary, the biker, the rocker, the policeman, and similar outlaws. Mirrorshades--preferably in chrome and matte black, the Movement's totem colors--appeared in story after story, as a kind of literary badge.

--Bruce Sterling, Preface to Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (xi)

Ever since its emergence in the early 1980s, cyberpunk science fiction has been associated with, and approached through, the hard-boiled detective novels of Raymond Chandler. Yet despite such critical focus, the link between cyberpunk and the Chandleresque paradoxically has been both overstated and under-explored. Citing cyberpunk "obsessions with urbanism, the underworld, and social marginality" (141), Scott Bukatman has defined it as a "hybrid of science fiction and the urban crime narrative" (143). Such a definition, though, seems reductive and restrictive (just as cyberpunk is often synecdochized as a single, token text: William Gibson's Neuromancer), suggesting that the Chandleresque is universally present in cyberpunk novels or that it is uniformly appropriated by such authors. The vogue of yoking Gibson's and Chandler's names has also contributed to an uncritical acceptance of the hard-boiled element in cyberpunk. Chandler frequently seems to serve as a marketing tool rather than a hermeneutic guide, as evinced by the vacuous review blurbs that litter the prefatory matter of Gibson's paperbacks. For instance, Tom Robbins's cut-and-pasted review of Gibson's Virtual Light is the quintessence of hype(rbole): "If Raymond Chandler had been abducted by sexy alien comediennes and forced to compete in a cybernetic rodeo on the dark side of the moon, he might have come home and written books like Virtual Light."

What the following essay hopes to provide, then, is a more scrupulous account of cyberpunk's interface with the Chandleresque. We will explore from whence the hard-boiled detective elements of cyberpunk originate (in terms of the history of the science fiction genre), why the Chandleresque is relevant to the cyberpunk outlook, and how Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels are adopted/adapted by cyberpunk. "Movement" serves as a key concept for such a study, as the relocation of Marlovian motifs is traced comparatively in the texts produced by various cyberpunk authors. We will factor in not only temporal developments (the evolution of the Chandleresque in cyberpunk over the past two decades) but also philosophical permutations (the shifting, multifaceted utilization of the Chandleresque). "Marlowe in mirrorshades"--the appropriation of the Chandleresque by cyberpunk--casts no perfect reflection of Chandler's typical roman noir nor simply projects the detective narrative into a futuristic context. Rather, the cyberpunk vision proves characteristically refractive, as the Chandleresque is carnivalized as often as it is consecrated by cyberpunk. (1)

Cyberpunk did not originate but rather culminates a tradition of crime and detection in science fiction. As Brian Stableford (274) notes, science fiction and the detective/mystery novel are two genres that historically have tended to intersect. Both genres shared an infancy in the American pulp magazines, a format that often led to cross-fertilization (cf. such 1930 pulps as Scientific Detective Monthly and Amazing Detective Tales). The intercourse, though, is not confined to the pulp fiction ghetto; it is present also in some of the science fiction genre's most canonical and laureled texts. Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man (1953; winner of science fiction's first Hugo Award for Best Novel) centers on a telepathic detective's pursuit of an interplanetary-tycoon-turned-murderer (cf. Marlowe's dealings with the corrupted rich in the Chandler novels) and even seems to echo the misogynist sexual politics of the Chandleresque. …

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