What was cyberpunk? Compelling near future high tech science fiction tales replete with characters hooked up to the internet, getting their minds stimulated via drugs or some kind of biotechnology (such as computer chip brain-interfaces), and most likely, all three. Engrossing tales about those revolting against "the system" ("The Man" or "The Woman") enriched by an almost paranoid dystopian vision of the near future, written by science fiction writers who were - and in many instances, still are - among the finest literary stylists ever to work in this genre, worthy of comparison with mainstream Anglo-American fiction's greatest literary talents: William Gibson (who coined the term "cyberspace"), Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, Pat Cadigan, and Michael Swanwick. However, none of these great writers epitomized science fiction's most important literary movement since the 1960's New Wave like John Shirley did; none of them lived the very lives which John Shirley depicted vividly for many of his cyberpunk protagonists; none of them wrote and performed punk rock songs; none took drugs to the extent that he did; in other words, none acted like a real-life rebellious cyberpunk protagonist.
William Gibson's "Cyberspace" (or "Sprawl") trilogy ("Neuromancer", "Count Zero", "Mona Lisa Overdrive"), may have succeeded in introducing literary audiences to an internet-dominated near future, but it pales in comparison with John Shirley's "A Song Called Youth" trilogy ("Eclipse", "Eclipse Penumbra", "Eclipse Corona") for offering a frighteningly realistic, dystopian vision of the near future; a vision that now, more than ever, seems all too probable in its "kaleidoscopic mix of politics, pop and paranoia", to quote Sterling in his glowing assessment of Shirley's trailblazing epic cyberpunk trilogy. In its present, slightly updated, Prime Books-published incarnation, "A Song Called Youth" is not only the definitive cyberpunk trilogy ever written, but the one that should resonate strongly with mainstream literary audiences familiar with the contemporary sociopolitical movements sweeping across the United States (and elsewhere globally). It deserves a wide readership since Shirley's compelling vision of the near future should be familiar with anyone who has read Don De Lillo, William Gibson, Rick Moody, and Thomas Pynchon; this is not just the definitive cyberpunk trilogy, but also one of the most important works of contemporary fiction written by an American writer. If science fiction is viewed as a genre-based mirrored exploration of our present quite capable of producing high literary art, then I can think of no better "mirror" than "A Song Called Youth".
In the waning months of the "Third World War", in the immediate aftermath of a Western European invasion by "New Soviet" Russian armies repelled by NATO forces with limited tactical nuclear strikes, an American private security corporation, the Second Alliance, seeks to restore law and order in the desolated cities of NATO-liberated Western Europe. Only a relative few, the "New Resistance", realize that the Second Alliance's aims are far from benign, seeking instead global domination via Fundamentalist Christian totalitarian dictatorships, and whose genocidal plans for much of humanity are far worse than anything dreamt by Adolf Hitler and his fellow fanatical Nazis. Against impossible odds the New Resistance wages a guerilla war on the Second Alliance and its Western European regimes, uniting a motley crew composed of a has-been punk rocker (Rick Rickenharp), an idealistic Democratic Socialist (Dean "Hard-Eyes" Torrance), a poet-philosopher (Jack Brendan Smoke), and the daughter (Claire Rimpler) of the founder of FirStep, humanity's first orbital space colony, committed to making a final stand against humanity's "Eclipse"; the Second Alliance's nightmarish futuristic vision for mankind.