Rethinking Bodies and Boundaries: Science Fiction, Cyberpunk and Cyberspace
Science fiction, despite its tangential relationship to science and its marginal position in popular fiction, has been notable for the way in which it has sustained and promoted a belief that science will provide the future. In the context of postmodern culture, however, science fiction has become not only less marginal but also increasingly unable and unwilling to subscribe to such a belief. Indeed, some of the most deeply felt expressions of contemporary disaffection with the notions of science and the future have come from within science fiction itself, most notably from within cyberpunk. In addition, cyberpunk has provided one of the most original metaphors currently available to us for thinking about the new electronic spaces and places of information technology - cyberspace. It is a metaphor which not only describes a new way of conceptualizing the relations between space and place, but it has also opened up new possibilities for thinking about embodiment and gendered identity. As Scott Bukatman (1993) argues, the specific location of cyberspace within science fiction is crucial because, since the subject is denied 'a fixed site of identification' within its narratives, then the 'limits of the existing paradigms' of subjectivity are revealed (1993: 180). However, because of its refusal to engage fully with the possibilities that cyberspace offers for rethinking definitions of identity, cyberpunk has limited the ways in which it has been possible to think about the disruptive and creative possibilities of cyberspace. In a discussion of three science fiction film narratives, I will be examining the extent to which anxieties about the erosion of masculine identity are revealed through visual metaphors of spatial and bodily dislocation. Further, I will argue that, in order to prevent the threatened loss of hegemonic masculinity, cyberpunk narratives envision cyberspace as a place with determinate and known boundaries: only within cyberpunk narratives written by women are cyberpunk and cyberspace explored from a differently gendered perspective in which spatial boundaries are disrupted and gender identity can be detached from fixed definitions of masculinity and femininity. To support this contention, I will be discussing two recent science fiction novels, written respectively by Mary Rosenblum and Mary Gentle, in which a different set of relations between gender, identity and technology are proposed.