John Shirley was born in Houston, Texas and grew up largely in the vicinity of Portland, Oregon. He was lead singer of the post-punk funk-rock band Obsession, on Celluloid Records, while living in New York City and Paris, France, in the 1980s, and was later in the band the Panther Moderns. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area. John Shirley has three sons, twins Byron and Perry, now 25 and Julian, a Bay Area-based underground rapper, 21 years-old.
The influential and eclectic John Shirley is known for his cyberpunk science fiction, as well as his suspense (as in his novels Spider Moon and The Brigade), horror novels and stories, and horror film work. His best known script work is the film The Crow, for which he was the initial writer, before David Schow reworked the script. He also wrote scripts for Deep Space Nine and . Some cite his intense, expressionistic early horror novels, such as Dracula In Love and Cellars as an influence on the splatterpunk movement in horror, and the subsequent "bizarro" movement. Appreciation of John Shirley as an author of dark fiction was amplified by a January 2008 The New York Times review, by critic Terrence Rafferty, of Shirley's story-collection Living Shadows which said in part:
According to literary critic Paul T. Riddell
Shirley's most significant cyberpunk novels are City Come A-Walkin and the Eclipse (A Song Called Youth) Trilogy. Avant-slipstream critic Larry McCaffrey called him "the post-modern Poe." Bruce Sterling has cited Shirley's early story collection Heatseeker as being a seminal cyberpunk work in itself. Indeed, several stories in Heatseeker were particularly seminal, including Sleepwalkers, which, in just one example, probably provided the inspiration for William Gibson's "meat puppets" in Neuromancer. Gibson acknowledged Shirley's influence and borrowing ideas from Shirley in his introduction to Shirley's City Come A-Walkin. Shirley's recent story collection, made up of increasingly bizarre stories, the whimsically titled Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories has developed a cult status.
William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, collaborated with Shirley on short stories -- as did fellow cyberpunks Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker. Shirley's lyricism, wealth of ideas and imagination, crossover pioneering, and street-level honesty have been praised by other writers including Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Roger Zelazny, Marc Laidlaw, and A. A. Attanasio. His more surreal work, as in A Splendid Chaos showed how it was possible to describe the indescribable with a paradoxical believability and impeccable internal logic no matter how bizarre the subject matter. Unlike many "street" flavored writers, Shirley's personal experiences as a recovering drug addict and punk rocker brought real verisimilitude to his darker, urban-tinctured writing.
In recent years Shirley was for a time lured by high advances into writing "tie in novels" and novelizations, but is rumored to be returning to form with an apocalyptic, politically charged novel, The Other End which, according to the author's website, takes the apocalypse away from the Christian Right and gives Judgment Day to Liberals to do with as they please. This reflects his tendency to create fantasy entertainment which is also political satire, or spiritual allegory. Eg, Demons, in which it is discovered that industry has deliberately caused deaths by cancer as part of a vast secret program of human sacrifice. 2007 saw the release of a new story collection, Living Shadows, from Prime Books. In 2007 he signed with Simon and Schuster to write a novel of dark urban fantasy set in a slightly futuristic New York, entitled Bleak History.
Shirley's work ranges in tone from the surreal to the grittily naturalistic to the nightmarish. He is also a songwriter and singer, having fronted numerous punk bands, including the New York band Obsession, who were recorded by Celluloid Records. He has written lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult, such as several songs on the album Heaven Forbid.
Shirley's short story collection Black Butterflies won the following awards:
Shirley wrote most of the lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror as well as the songs "Demon's Kiss" and "The Horsemen Arrive" from their soundtrack Bad Channels. Their 1972 song "Transmaniacon MC" was the inspiration for the book Transmaniacon.
In 2000, Shirley recorded several tracks with Tony and Paul DeStefano of Too Hip For The Room, and also appears on their Blue Öyster Cult tribute album Don't Fear The Remake.