Turned out - it really was cool. Rigid technocratic prose, an incomprehensible blend of action, sci-fi and postmodernism. All presented in a way that makes your head spin. I knew right then that it wouldn't be long before the first Russian cyberpunk would come around.
Although, to be fair, there has long been a man in sci-fi who has been calling himself a "Russian cyberpunk". I am talking about Alexander Tyurin. But he cannot really be considered a cyperpunk in the the literal meaning of the word, though his novel "The Net", co-authored with Alexander Shegolev, was, in my opinion, the forebearer of Russian cyberpunk. The first robin.
And somehow it so happened that my novel was among the first Russian cybernovels. But more about that later. First let's talk about Segei Lukianenko. About a man who has tried himself in all different genres and styles of sci-fi, and came out on top every time. He wrote the "Maze of Reflections" - a wholly cyberpunk novel about Love and Freedom. Although, some believe that it's more of a virtual novel rather than a cyberpunk one, and one could even agree, but then we are not talking about classic American cyberpunk here, but about the Russian version of it. And "Maze of Reflections" is precisely what Russian cyberpunk is. In that book a Russian person told Russian readers about Russian people. Why should he write about Americans? And that's the exact reason why "Maze of Reflections" became the most popular book of the Russian Net - FIDO and the Internet both. And people supposedly embezzled no fewer than three thousand copies.
The second cyberpunk novel - V. Vasil'ev's "Hearts and engines", was noticed by a significantly smaller number of people than Lukianenko's novel. Possibly because it stuck closer to the classic cyberpunk style and in many ways simply mimicked the "Neuromancer". And, frankly, it was kind of overloaded with technical details. I'll try to keep that in mind...
The third novel in the genre of the keyboard and the cloak was, of course, "The Free Hunter" by Alexander Shegolev. A very strange novel. It was met with even less enthusiasm than "Hearts and Engines", but it simply cannot be ignored. At the very least it delivers computer-related topics with such originality that one tends to altogether loose any degree of recognition. Which greatly affects popularity.
Mihail Tyurin and his "Fantom Pain" also deserve a mention. A fairly successful novel, marred only by the author's apparent ignorance when it comes to computers and everything computer related. I mean, really, - people with internet access, sitting next to a satellite dish, yet trying to figure out how to send some information to their boss - that does cause a bit of confusion. Tyurin is a nice guy, he should just spend some time with a computer, that's all… Other than that - he is one of us!
Most likely, Vasilyev's new novel "The Technician of Greater Kiev" can also be considered cyberpunk, though it has a fair bit of fantasy in it. Six months after publication it is now clear that it's indeed the same Russian cyberpunk, blindly feeling for direction in the surrounding genre crowd.
Given these examples it is not hard to understand the difference between the classic American cyberpunk and it's Russian counterpart. The American one is, first and foremost, postmodernistic, a semantic superstructure on top of the text, coupled with an umistakable sense of the future, often outright gloomy. Russian cyberpunk, in this sense, is simpler and more traditional; in essense it's same old science fiction and only the terminology can help tell whether it's cyberpunk or not. To me, that's growing pains - Russian cyberpunk is still very young, it's only developing it's traditions and settling the frontiers. But even now one can see a certain shift towards ideology: Russian cyberpunk is moving away from complete reliance on terminology and starting to develop certain characteristics not present in tranditional sci-fi. This can be seen in "Maze of Reflections", "The Free Hunter", and now, as far as I can tell, in "The Technician of Greater Kiev". Although Bruce Sterling, one of the pillars of Western cyberpunk, during his last visit to St. Petersburg, when asked whether there are young American writers who could be classified as belonging to this branch of sci-fi, said simply and clearly: "No. Cyberpunk belongs to our generation, to those who were starting out in the early 80's. The current generation has yet to find it's own style." So should it be any surprise at all that Russian cyberpunk, consisting mostly of people 10-15 years younger than Gibson and Sterling, differs from the classic American one?
As for Tyurin, he chose the Western way from the very beginning, pushed off postmodernism. He is alone in this undertaking, supported only by occasional pieces by Victor Pelevin - such as "Christmas-tide Cyberpunk", for example.
And in conclusion, one final cyberpunk detail. As the stories progress, the main characters of "Maze of Reflections" and "Hearts and Engines" meet in real life, which means that Russian cyberpunk has stepped off the pages of books into the Net and into life, that it has finally grown out of it's baby clothes.
Just you wait, Sci-Fi and Fantasy... We have arrived. And we are finding our voice.
Moscow, April-November of 1998, Vladimir Vasilyev.