Cyberpunk is, quite possibly, the greatest subgenre of science fiction that you've never heard of. While it started as a literary genre, it has since transformed into something that has touched nearly every cultural medium. Film, television, music, anime, video games, and even fashion have all been influenced by the genre. And yet, despite its spread, very few people have ever even heard of it, let alone understand what it is or the impact that it has had since its conception.
To fully understand what cyberpunk is, one must first grasp where it came from. The name itself suggests a lot about the genre right off the bat, signifying the "high tech, low life" dichotomy that the genre is known for. The first known use of the term cyberpunk was as the title of a short story by the author Bruce Bethke. Bethke once summed up the process of creating the word, saying he took "a handful of roots --cyber, techno, et al-- mixed them up with a bunch of terms for socially misdirected youth, and tried out the various combinations until one just plain sounded right." While Bethke's story - a tale about a group of truant tech savvy teenagers who rob a bank from the corner of their local library - set the tone for the fledgling genre, the movement itself didn't truly take off until the advent of William Gibson's Neuromancer, one year later.
Cyberspace, the consensual hallucination. Lawless streets, cybercriminals, mega-corporations, orbital colonies, and the artificial intelligences pulling the strings behind it all. These were the components of the strange and exciting new setting of Gibson's Neuromancer, a book whose impact on fiction is still felt today. In Neuromancer, Gibson portrays a society in constant flux. People live fast; subcultures can be born and fizzle into obscurity within the course of a week. Social conventions are constantly deteriorating, rampant drug usage is commonplace, and every level of society is dominated by computers. This is the true essence of cyberpunk, and these ingredients would be used in various configurations as the genre expanded beyond the literary and flourished into the hugely multifaceted subculture that it is known as today.