Cyberpunk (from Cyber(netics) + punk) is a sub-genre of science fiction which uses elements from the hard-boiled detective novel, film noir, Japanese anime, and post-modernist prose. It describes the nihilistic, underground side of the digital society which started to evolve in the last two decades of the 20th century. The dystopian world of cyberpunk has been called the antithesis of the utopian science fiction visions of the mid-20th century as typified by the world of Star Trek.
In cyberpunk literature much of the action takes place online, in cyberspace - the clear borderline between the real and the virtual becomes blurred. A typical (though not universal) feature of the genre is a direct connection between the human brain and computer systems.
Cyberpunk's world is a sinister, dark place with networked computers that dominate every aspect of life. Giant multinational corporations have replaced governments as centres of power. The alienated outsider's battle against a totalitarian system is a common theme in science fiction; however, in conventional sci-fi those systems tended to be sterile, ordered, and state-controlled. Cyberpunk, in sharp contrast, shows the seamy underbelly of corporatocracy, and the Sisyphean battle against their power by disillusioned renegades.
Cyberpunk stories are seen by social theorists as fictional forecasts of the evolution of the Internet. The virtual world of the Internet often appears in cyberpunk under various names, including "cyberspace," the "Metaverse" (as seen in Snow Crash), and the "Matrix" (from the film The Matrix).
Notable precursors to the genre are Alfred Bester (The Stars My Destination (Tiger! Tiger!), 1956), Philip K. Dick, John Brunner (The Shockwave Rider, 1975), Vernor Vinge (True Names, 1981), and K. W. Jeter (Dr. Adder, published in the 1980s but written ealier.)
William Gibson with his novel Neuromancer (1984) is seen as one of the first and greatest writers connected with the name Cyberpunk.
He emphasized style, character development and atmosphere over traditional science-fictional tropes, and Neuromancer was awarded the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards.
The film Blade Runner (1982) based on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in a dystopian future in which synthetic life forms have substandard rights. The short-lived television series Max Headroom also introduced many viewers to the genre.
At least two role-playing games called Cyberpunk exist: Cyberpunk 2020, by R. Talsorian Games, and GURPS Cyberpunk, published by Steve Jackson Games as a module of the GURPS family of role-playing games. Both are set in the near future, in a world where cybernetics and computers are even more present than today. Corporate corruption is a frequent theme in these games' adventures. The characters often find themselves skirting the law, if not outright flouting it.
In 1990, in an odd re-convergence of cyberpunk art and reality, the U.S. Secret Service somehow came to believe that GURPS Cyberpunk was a "handbook for computer crime", and raided the offices of Steve Jackson Games, confiscating all files related to GURPS Cyberpunk.
The emerging genre called postcyberpunk continues the preoccupation with the effects of computers, but without the assumption of dystopia or the emphasis on cybernetic implants.