Cyberpunk dress code, circa 1990

A 20-year-old photo spread from pioneering cyberculture zine Mondo 2000 asks the musical question: "R U a cyberpunk?" Bruce Sterling, who was, in fact, a cyberpunk, answers: "Since 20 years have passed, contemporary people will fail to realize that this was a comical self-parody."

ru cyberpunk (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. Hehe – I remember picking up my first hand-scanner from a Commodore expo in London and racing home to scan Calvin and Hobbes strips into my A500!

    1. And as others have pointed out, that utterly fantastic image makes no sense to an entire generation.  Why, they wonder, does this dark, grimy work have a sky of purest blue?

        1. The real cyberpunk future will be more like, “The sky was the color of a browser on a parked domain – that is to say, there were a thousand massive advertisements being projected onto the clouds.”

        1.  I’m mentally preparing myself for my grandkid’s rebellious analogpunk phase.

      1. I can only imagine how much Neil Gaiman giggled to himself when writing ”
        “The sky was the perfect untroubled blue of a television screen, tuned to a dead channel.” in Neverwhere

  2. Oh thanks Bruce Sterling. Without your helpful guidance, I never would have known that “Billy Idol’s comeback album” wasn’t a legitimate definition for “cyberpunk”.

    You’ve saved my doctoral thesis!

    1. When I first head about Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk album being released, I took great offense. It felt like he was giving a big finger to the cyberpunk movement and doing it just to make some cash. When I actually listened to the album, I actually liked it though I’m sure I was one of maybe a dozen who did. I came across the cassette last weekend and gave it another listen and liked it even more. Outside of the context of the time in which it was created, there is no “he’s stealing our culture” bias when listening. I’m  going to put ‘Shock to the System’ in the playlist for my next party and see if anyone has a clue who is singing. I wonder how many, not knowing it is Billy Idol or being upset over it being called Cyberpunk, will actually like it on its own.

      1. I remember a promo photo from the album’s release had Mr. Idol looking extremely similar to Metal Machine Music-era Lou Reed.  I thought, “hell I could just listen to MMM, I guess that’s ‘cyberpunk’.”

  3. I am drawn to Cyberpunk Person.  He needs a series of children’s books: Cyberpunk Goes Through Airport Security, Cyberpunk Attends  a Political Rally…  

  4. I was actually still wallowing in the 8o’s.  Sure, I liked Ministry but really, I did not qualify for computer-geek status because I lacked the funds to buy a sweet Compaq 386.  And, I… like… really liked the New Wave thing.  

  5. Ahh, Mondo 2000 was a counter-cultural reprieve here in Calgary in the early 90’s. Thanks to R.U., Queen Mu and the gang I found out about Rudy Rucker! “How Fast Are You? How Dense?”
    Remember this extension of the above?
    It’s just the right blend of ‘bleeding edge’ and adolescent ‘low-brow’ humour. Mondo 2000 and CBC’s Brave New Waves both helped me blow my head right open!

    1. I just happened to come across The Cyberpunk Handbook at a bookstore shortly after I started college. I considered myself a closet cyberpunk at the time, and found it absolutely hilarious. One of the best things I got out of it was the recommended reading list: it introduced me to Neal Stephenson’s books, which I probably wouldn’t have found on my own for years otherwise. 

      My copy of The Cyberpunk Handbook got misplaced at some point when my parents moved. Recently I had been feeling nostalgic, so I ordered a used copy. I’m really looking forward to reading it again.

  6. Phew!  I qualify under (3), so I don’t have to ask hard existential questions about the latter clause of (1).

    For people under 40: Ministry was a band.

    1.  “Land of Rape and Honey” saved me from being a generic REM-Grateful-Dead fan in college. It’s Conlon Nancarrow and Iannis Xenakis that saved me from being a Ministry fan since college.

      1. Growing up in a remote corner of Arkansas one of the things we did to entertain ourselves was drive around from one Quik-E-Mart type place to another looking through their video selections (they pretty much all did VHS rental on top of gas and Slurpees) and try to find the worst-looking B grade Sci-fi/Horror movies on offer.  This was before MST3K did it for you.

        Once in a while we’d stumble on a forgotten gem instead, like Hardware.  In one scene there’s a band playing impossibly fast metal and screaming seemingly incoherently in a video playing behind the protagonists, and stuck in a world where the choices were Country or Western, with “Classic Rock” if you had a big enough antenna, I thought, “I wish there was a real band that badass.”

        1.  Given that I grew up in rural South Dakota and went to college in rural Minnesota, I felt similar.

          I had a pretty good literary-music education, though, by reading “the trouser press record guide” or somesuch at the library. It was a couple of years before I ever actually _heard_ Einsturzende Neubauten, but d**n if the descriptions weren’t awesome enough.

          I literally heard Ministry by accident, walking into a room where someone was playing the record for the first time. I said goodbye to my surf-music tapes shortly thereafter….

  7. It’s much easier to be a cyberpunk in 2012. You can replace pretty much all of that with a smartphone and a taser.

  8. I’m actually impressed by how much of that techno-cruft has all been replaced by my phone.

    1.  “The only uni-tasker I allow in my kitchen is the fire extinguisher” –Alton Brown

  9. I did indeed fail to recognize it was a parody. Before I read the text below, I figured it was an infographic from Time magazine circa 1998.

  10. A pirated copy of virtual light on CD in 1990? It wasn’t released on audiobook 1994. Not sure how easy it would’ve been to get a pirated copy on CD before CDRs… probably would’ve been on cassette, if it was pirated. Also, who was calling it piracy then? We called them dub tapes or bootlegs in 1990, and imagine we would have still done so if it was on a CD, instead of a cassette.

      1. Even then, the book didn’t release until 1993. Maybe that was why it was a pirated version, he is so 1337, he has a leaked copy? Still, 3 years early is very-early…

        I’m not saying this isn’t legit, it seems so… but year seems slightly off. Others seem to agree with 1992/1993 or so, and I tend to agree.

  11. I remember reading about smart drugs and thinking they were going to be a big deal. Whatever happened to all of that? Have people continued to take their fistful of pills everyday for the past 20 years?

    1. Only Ray Kurzweil.

      I take 150 pills, which is maybe 70 or 80 different things; there’s a different story with each one. Although people find that a very aggressive program, it’s actually very conservative, because everything I do actually has a lot of evidence. Aging’s not one thing; it’s many different things.

      Or possibly 250 pills.

  12. Having actually seen that guy at MacWorld, after having seen the page in Mondo was pretty trippy 

  13. I remember this issue. I also remember thinking this was cool then immediately feeling ashamed.

  14. Just read an interesting preface to a collection of SF stories that posited that both the Western and SF genres are pretty much doomed in the medium term.  The Westerns because its eventually no one will even remember enough about the actual West for it to be iconic and it’ll just join Sword and Toga sagas and all the rest of the historical romance blob.  SF because the future will eventually happen, either as depicted or not, so the sense of wonder will be lost.  (Mysteries seem safe though as long as crime is with us.)

    I do see an out for SF though: it can take over the nostalgic function that Westerns used to have.  We can remember what it was like to be filled with awe at what is now commonplace and remember how things changed.  Victoriana and Steam Punk are already filling in part of  this gap.   As another example, I just watched some “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” episodes and remembered how cool it was that these characters had cell phones (“communicators”) when no one else in the world did!  Sort of like remembering how the railway replaced the stagecoach and all the social changes that that brought.

  15. Make him a bit blonder and switch those to gardening tools and that’s me in 1990.

        1. I still do get one a couple times a year… but I don’t actually shave my head, just clip it real close.  Shaving tears up the scars and gives me razor bumps.

          Mostly given up tobacco, though.  Just the occasional cigarillo.

          “Mommy, why does that old man have a kids’ haircut?”

          1. “Mommy, why does that old man have a kids’ haircut?”

            As someone old enough to remember the arse-end of 70s punk, I find myself saying “why do those kids have old men’s haircuts?”

  16. Laugh all you want, but this is exactly how we dressed back then. Now, you kids get off my lawn!

  17. Speaking as someone who’s sat in front of a computer most days for the past 16 years:

    His BMI seems a bit low.  Maybe he walked to work?

  18. cyberpunk album was 1993. powerbook shown was later 1992. the time magazine article on cyberpunk was early 1993. the ministry reference would’ve been current, funny, relevant in 1992-3. not 1994. not 1991. a user’s guide (mondo2000) was late 1992.

  19. I remember that photo from M2K like it was yesterday, sheesh. Does anybody remember the ad from M2K for Ono Sendai? I was really confused when I saw it, I was like, Ono Sendai is real? I still have no idea if the ad was just a joke, or what.

    LOL remember when ads had, like, AOL keywords instead of domain names listed? Those were the days, those crazy early 90s.

    1.  I started out reading this thinking that I am amazingly old. But then I realize that I started very, very young.

      Then, I actually had to look up what Cintra Wilson’s up to these days.

    1.  You are not alone.

      Except for all that chrome everywhere nonsense. You cant be stealthy and shinny at the same time!

  20. Of course this is intended to be totally over the top but, the funny thing is that virtually all of his accessories are standard features of a decent smartphone, or somebody makes a cheap accessory to add that function.

  21. I love San Francisco.  I’ve just had a drink with the guy in the photo (and also a former Mondo editor).  Chris and Paul; I salute you both.

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