The science-fiction field was about to undergo radical change, as was its reception. A new subgenre, cyberpunk, was to emerge from the typewriters of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, among others, not only in their fiction, but also in the fanzines edited by Sterling. Like many new movements, they disparaged and dismissed their predecessors; Sterling looked back to the New Wave of the 1960s, rather than the 1970s, in a typical generational act of anxiety of influence: ‘SF in the late Seventies was confused, self-involved, and stale’ (1986: 9). The work of John Brunner might be acknowledged, but not much else from the decade. In an era of home computers – PCs – and home entertainment – VCRs – technology was transforming the domestic space, and cyberpunk represented one version of this world.
The descriptions of postmodernism advanced by Jean Baudrillard and Jean-François Lyotard were joined by Fredric Jameson's, in ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ (1983), first delivered as a lecture in 1983, and then in ‘Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’ (1984). Meanwhile, Donna Haraway developed her version of the cyborg as a new feminist identity which questions notions of sex, race and class by drawing upon existing sf – especially the works of Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Vonda McIntyre, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr, John Varley and Monique Wittig, all active during the 1970s. Collectively, these theoreticians brought a new academic audience to sf, and the genre gained critical credibility. Marleen Barr did much to map out the genre from a feminist perspective, with Future Females: A Critical Anthology (1981), and Tom Moylan coined the term ‘critical utopia’ in Demand the Impossible (1986), a study of The Dispossessed (1975), The Female Man (1975), Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) and Triton (1976), which drew on articles first published in Extrapolation and Science Fiction Studies, among other places. The works of the 1970s were often unacknowledged springboards for the ideas of the 1980s.
Brian Stableford, in his account of the 1970s, saw 1970 as a moment of optimism: ‘From the viewpoint of 1970, it looked as if the last barriers to the progress of the genre had been removed’ (1998: 21). It was a time of economic optimism, of authors finally being paid decent amounts of money for their work, and there were more professional sf writers than ever before.