Cyberpunk and Dystopia: Pat Cadigan’s Networks
DOI link for Cyberpunk and Dystopia: Pat Cadigan’s Networks
Cyberpunk and Dystopia: Pat Cadigan’s Networks book
In his discussion of utopian subgenres, Lyman Tower Sargent describes dystopia as a “non-existent society described in considerable detail and normally located in time and space that the author intended a contemporaneous reader to view as considerably worse than the society in which that reader lived” (9). The more the dystopian text includes a dimension of debate, by characters and within the narrative structure itself, about the values and directions of its future society, the more justified we would be in reading the narrative as a critical dystopia. The regimes of classical dystopias like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 are rationalized by leading institutional figures-O’Brien and Beatty-whose explanations challenge the protagonist’s (and, by implication, the reader’s) capacity to identify the faults of those regimes. The protagonist’s defeat in argument can lead to physical submission, as happens in Orwell, or to the physical destruction of the raisonneur figure followed by a symbolic relocation of the self outside the confines of the regime, as in Bradbury. Although such extreme consequences do not occur in Pat Cadigan’s science fiction, debate over the nature of her near-future societies is integral to her works. When asked in an interview whether she was utopian or dystopian, Cadigan replied: “I don’t think adhering to either extreme is realistic. There is a middle-ground and that’s where I see
myself: on the cautionary but plausible line of thinking. . . . Human beings are neither utopian nor dystopian so that’s what I choose to reflect in my books” (“Pat Cadigan: She’s Nobody’s Fool” on line). Cadigan’s sentiments have been echoed by William Gibson who has stated similarly: “I don’t think I’m dystopian at all. No more than I’m utopian. The dichotomy is hopelessly old-fashioned really. What we have today is a combination of the two” (Johnson on line). In the first of these statements, Cadigan gives the reader advice not to expect generic purity or even homogeneity in her fiction. However, dystopian, even critical dystopian, elements inform her novels, particularly when she transforms familiar American locations in order to dramatize changes in social and mental life brought about by shifting economies and new technologies. Cadigan’s characteristic narrative pattern traces the efforts of her protagonists to understand the structures of their society. Typically, her plots center on and gain impetus from investigations that gradually bring about a new awareness in her protagonists of their own social locations.