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Cyberpunk Class Syllabus

Dept. of Art and Visual Technology (AVT)
4-credit Seminar Course
Mon/Wed 4:30-7:10pm
Fall 2004
B204 (Seminar Room) Fine Arts Building
Teaching Assistant: Meg Hoyecki

Professor: Kirby Malone
Office: B102 Fine Arts Building
Office Hours: by appointment
Phone: (703) 993-8865
College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA)
George Mason University


This syllabus is a flexible framework for our exploration of cyber-culture and “Cyberpunk” this semester. The course will be an informal seminar, with readings, writing assignments, discussions, screenings and listening sessions, guest artists and speakers, gallery tours, and research projects. We will look into cyber-culture as fish look into the water they swim in, here at the beginning of the 21 st Century.

We will consider the term “Cyberpunk,” and come to see how it is both extremely useful and utterly useless, and that most of its first practitioners now disavow the term. We will look at Cyberpunk as both a specific literary movement of dystopic sci-fi writers (such as William Gibson, John Shirley, Bruce Sterling and Pat Cadigan), active from the early ’80s to the present; and as a general way of looking with a critical eye at the technosphere we inhabit, learning the technologies but never quite trusting them. In other words, we will delve into Cyberpunk as both a style and a critique.

To study cyber-culture and Cyberpunk is to examine the relationships between humans and machines, between society and technology. While they might seem contemporary, these concerns echo those found in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Mary W. Shelley’s Frankenstein. But today these concerns resonate and reverberate in our world of cell phones and e-commerce, genetic mutation and prosthetic implants, multimedia spectacle and attention span deficit, glittering plenty and crushing poverty. We will trace how cinema, music, fiction, cultural theory, visual art, television, theater and performance have embraced and been shaped by Cyberpunk and the cyber-culture, which we willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly, inhabit.

This course will consist of four main components:

  • Readings and discussions of works of fiction and non-fiction pertaining to the past, current and future states of dystopic science fiction, cyberpunk and cyber-culture
  • Attendance of screenings, gallery talks, guest speakers and other special events, and participation in discussions that follow
  • Brief in-class and take-home writing assignments about required readings, films and related topics
  • Two cyber-culture research papers/projects

[For papers and projects above, turn in duplicate copies, one to be graded, and one to be filed in the Cyberpunk archive.]

REQUIRED texts for the course are (available in the Mason bookstore):

Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century by Mark Dery

The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink by Mark Dery

New Media in Late 20 th Century Art by Michael Rush

Cyberpunk by Andrew Butler

Philip K. Dick by Andrew Butler

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner) by Philip K. Dick (novel)

Neuromancer by William Gibson (novel)

The Ultimate Cyberpunk edited by Pat Cadigan

RECOMMENDED /SUGGESTED texts for the course are (available in the Mason bookstore unless otherwise noted):

Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Fiction edited by Larry McCaffery

Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson by Dani Cavallaro

Snap to Grid: A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures by Peter Lunenfeld

The New Media Reader edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort

Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality edited by Randall Packer and Ken Jordan

The Cyborg Handbook edited by Chris Hables Gray [not in bookstore; try the Web]

Simians, Cyborgs and Women by Donna Haraway [not in bookstore; try the Web]

Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-modern Science Fiction by Scott Bukatman [not in bookstore; try the Web]

Electronic Culture: Technology and Visual Representation edited by Timothy Druckrey [not in bookstore; try the Web]

Art of the Electronic Age by Frank Popper [not in bookstore; try the Web]

Mirrorshades: the Cyberpunk Anthology edited by Bruce Sterling [if available; try]

Synners by Pat Cadigan (novel)

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (novel)

Eclipse trilogy by John Shirley (novels) [not in bookstore; try the Web]

The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (novels) [not in bookstore; try the Web]

White Noise and Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo (novels) [not in bookstore; try the Web]

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (novel) [not in bookstore; try the Web]

Book Sources on the World Wide Web:

These texts may be complemented by photocopied handouts, as well as by additional readings you may come across in your own studies and research. A “Cyberpunk Source List” may be supplied periodically by the instructor, to be used as a resource for your research, thinking and inquiry.

The course will proceed according to the various skills, interests and inclinations of the students in it. The goal will be both to draw on pre-existing interests and talents, and to expand the range of skills and abilities each student brings to the course, both as thinkers and artists.

The final week of the class will be devoted to the presentation of final research projects, and to evaluating the work done during the course.


The goal of this course is not only to engage in historical and theoretical inquiry, but also to enable each student to improve and develop his or her own thinking, reading, writing, knowledge and abilities in the areas of cyber-cultural theory and practice. Each student will be expected to attend all classes, read required texts, complete writing assignments, participate in discussions, view screenings, and to cooperate and collaborate with fellow class members, the instructor and guest speakers.


Please be aware that the first two requirements of the class will be reading and writing. You will be doing a lot of reading. Some of the writing will be done in class (with the exceptions of film reports, assigned papers and the two major papers/projects—see below), and usually will be about assigned readings before we discuss them.

Students are expected to be prepared for class and to participate in the discussions that take place during the semester. Plan to attend all classes. If you do miss a class, it is your responsibility to make up the work. If you miss the discussion of an assigned text, you may be asked to write a brief report about that text. Because you will be graded on your participation in class discussions, if you have more than two unexcused absences, you woill not be able to participate in the class full, and this could result in a lowering of your final grade.

In addition to the considerations outlined above, each student will be expected to produce the following:

Two detailed papers/projects/reports on aspects of cyber-culture which you can relate to the content of the course; these reports should have a written component, but may also include other media, whether visual, auditory, televisual or whatever you choose; these reports will be presented to the class, halfway through the semester, and during the last two weeks of the course.


• preparedness for, and participation in, class discussions and other activities

• successful completion of all assigned projects

• the ability to draw on the interests you bring to the class, and to apply them to class activities

• the ability to expand and develop your range of analytical and theoretical skills

• the ability to exercise your imagination in analyzing and conceptualizing cyber-cultural critique

• your commitment to participating collaboratively with fellow students, faculty, guest artists and speakers


Letter grades will be assigned based on the George Mason University undergraduate grading system where a letter grade of “A” is equal to 4.00 grade points, “A-” equals 3.67 grade points, etc. See the Academic Policies section of the University Catalog (available online at for more information.

Percentage Breakdown:

50%-- Each of your two major projects will account for 25% of your grade.

20%-- Completion of all other assignments, papers, reports.

20%-- Demonstration that you are reading all assigned texts, and seeking outside sources of research.

10%-- The remaining 10% of your final grade will be based on class participation and preparedness.

Grading Standards:

What makes a project or other assignment an “A”? (B, C, D, F)

Score of A: Superior

Meets most or all of the following criteria:

  • Finds a visually and intellectually interesting approach to the assigned topic
  • Goes beyond what was covered in class and shows serious thought
  • The demonstrates an excellent understanding of conceptual, critical and analytical concerns
  • The work is well-crafted and has no distracting errors in mechanics
Score of B: Strong

Meets most or all of the following criteria:

  • Clearly addresses the topic as assigned or chosen and explores it thoroughly
  • Shows a mastery of what was covered in class and may pull in some ideas and techniques from beyond class
  • Is well developed, with strong artistic content.
  • Has no more than a few minor mechanical errors
Score of C: Competent

Meets most or all of the following criteria:

  • Adequately addresses the topic and covers the major points required
  • Sticks with ideas covered in class and does so accurately
  • Has artistic qualities but is not particularly creative.
  • Shows competent craftpersonship, but may have many small flaws and/or a few major flaws.
Score of D: Weak

Shows any of the following problems:

  • Doesn't cover all of the topic as assigned
  • Doesn't show an adequate understanding of what was covered in class
  • Serious problems in artistic content, may be cliché, or unimaginative
  • Contains distracting technical flaws. Lacks serious effort.

Score of F: Inadequate

Shows any of the following problems:

  • Doesn't address the topic as assigned and/or doesn't show an understanding of what was covered in class
  • Very little (if any) creative effort
  • Very little (if any) thought behind the work.
  • Is severely flawed mechanically.

NOTE : Late projects may be dropped a letter grade.


As a courtesy to others in the class, and in accordance with George Mason University policy, please turn off all beepers, cellular telephones and other wireless communication devices at the start of class.

Each student is individually responsible for his or her own work on assignments and creative projects. A willingness to learn from and share ideas with other students is important and equally important is that students do their own work.

Honor Code

Students in this class are bound by the Honor Code, as stated in the George Mason University Undergraduate Catalog. The honor code requires that the work you do as an individual be the product of your own individual synthesis or integration of ideas. As a university faculty member, I have an obligation to refer the names of students who may have violated the Honor Code to the Student Honor Council, which treats such cases very seriously.

Using someone else’s words, ideas, music or art without giving them credit is plagiarism, a very serious Honor Code offense. It is very important to understand how to prevent committing plagiarism when using material from a source. No grade is important enough to justify cheating, for which there are serious consequences. If you feel unusual pressure about your grade in this or any other course, please talk to me or to a member of the Counseling Center staff.

Students with Disabilities

If you have a learning difference, please inform me at the beginning of the semester (this is your choice and not a requirement). If you wish to have your course requirements or methods of instruction altered according to your needs, then please contact the Disability Resource Center and supply me with a faculty contact sheet from that office explaining your learning difference and special needs.


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