Cyberpunk is today

I haven’t read the book myself, but I read a review of Reamde by Neil Stephenson. One of the commenters said that he likes SF and that he selected the book because of that, but that it felt more like a modern thriller in the vein of Tom Clancy.

This is because reality has overtaken cyberpunk, and all novels that deal with information-as-a-commodity, with the growing gap between haves and have-nots and with networks/systems of information (in my mind key characteristics of cyberpunk) — they don’t need SF components anymore. Everything is already here. You do not need to invent technology to tell a cyberpunk story anymore.

William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition”, published in 2005, posits technology that allows one to ‘see’ virtual objects at a certain place, determined by GPS coordinates. He describes mobile computers and video googles. And then GPS-enabled smartphones happened, and stuff like Layar implemented that precise technology, except less bulky.
His latest, “Zero History”, published last year, is also a very cyberpunk story, but it does not have to invent any new technology in order to tell the story. There are a few unlikely things thrown in (such as The Ugliest Shirt), but it’s not a whole new technology that’s needed for the plot.
It is also interesting that “Pattern Recognition” is the first book in a trilogy, with “Zero History” the last. One of the characters indeed remarks how her iPhone now does what she previously needed all that specialty equipment for.

So basically, we are living in an SF story. Specifically, a cyberpunk story. Not in the “Neuromancer”-sense, but in the sense that most of the concepts in cyberpunk have become reality in one way or the other. (And “Neuromancer”, which was published in 1986, does not have cell phones. Some younger readers think that’s a major plot point, but it is merely because there were no cell phones back then, and Gibson had not thought about then.)
No, we don’t have brain implants to ‘jack in’ to computers, but we do have brain implants that allow a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear. We have augmented reality in the form of smartphones or even Google Glass. It’s just that we understand these technologies, and that takes away the ‘magic’ of SF. Cyberpunk has indeed become a genre of the modern thriller.

I only wish that certain other aspects of cyberpunk had not become a reality too, such as the ubiquitous surveillance, the increased power of corporations and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.