Monday, March 29, 2010

Frontera, a 1984 SF novel by Lewis Shiner. But is it cyberpunk?

Frontera (1984), a science fiction novel by Lewis Shiner.

Pictured: Paperback original (New York: Baen Books, 1984) 286 p., $2.95. Cover art by Vincent Di Fate. Here is the promotional piece from the back cover:

Kane: Unwitting human weapon in a struggle for new technology.

A lot of dreams died when NASA went belly-up. One was Frontera, the first permanent Mars settlement. Though almost a hundred colonists refused to board when the last shuttle left for Earth, they were ghosts now.

At least, that's how Kane figured it -- until the giant conglomerate Pulsystems mounted the first space flight in ten years, destination Mars. The hardware was aging, the mission high-risk and low-redundancy. But for Kane, corporate mercenary in Pulsystem's hire, there was no backing down.

And conditions at Frontera were stranger than anyone could have guessed. There was treasure on Mars, treasure that Pulsystems wanted -- and that Kane found himself programmed to bring home. Whether he willed it or no, he was a weapon… in a war he'd never joined.

According to Science Fiction in the Real World (1990), a work of literary criticism by Norman Spinrad, Frontera “rises to literary art, first because several viewpoint characters are rendered with skill and sensitivity as complex people, and second because Kane, the central combat-capable figure, is a poor bastard who’s had his head screwed with in various unpleasant ways, so that he is both hero and victim, doing his deeds of derring-do as best he can with a headful of broken glass.”

In his essay titled “Inside the Movement: Past, Present, and Future,” published in the book Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative (1992), Shiner wrote:
Frontera dealt with technology, among other things, and that was obviously the reason I’d been labeled a cyberpunk. That, and geographical proximity to [Bruce] Sterling and my work for his radical polemizine, Cheap Truth. In my own mind, however, the hard science of Frontera was simply a belief system to be played with […]. In other words, I was already uncomfortable with where the battle lines were being drawn. […] If I have enemies, they are the writers who regurgitate the tired, empty SF clichés which they have swallowed whole: writers like Mike Resnick and Spider Robinson and David Brin. Writers who still believe in galactic empires and whose aliens behave like white male North Americans in special-effects make-up. […]

Let me emphasize here that I am no Luddite. I believe that technology must be a part of the milieu in which modern fiction is set. To ignore technology is unrealistic, at the very least; to fail to see the advantages it can offer is foolish. The question here is whether technology itself is the only fit subject matter for SF, or, even more strongly put, can a literature principally focused on technology be completely satisfying? […]

Cyberpunk has turned into something of a Frankenstein’s monster. In the last year I’ve seen the New York Times use the word as a synonym for hacker. I’ve seen lists of “core cyberpunk” writers that contain the most improbable names: Lucius Shepard, Michael Swanwick, Greg Benford, even Kim Stanley Robinson. There is the aforementioned cyberpunk issue of Keyboard magazine, featuring interviews with, well, basically a lot of guys in black leather who use synthesizers, MIDIs […] and digital sampling. There are the comics, the games, the magazine articles, the angry letters.

I don’t see myself, or my work, in any of this. I do see myself as part of a literary movement, however […]
Lewis Shiner’s novel Frontera was nominated for the Nebula Award and the Philip K. Dick Award back in the mid-1980s.


venusvulturenews said...

Cool post. Frontera is an extraordinary novel, one of those few I read again and again. Shiner's other novels show a remarkable depth of character and sensibility of plot too.

Paul said...

Sean, thanks for the comment. I've never read Frontera, but I'm adding to my summer reading list.