It’s everywhere now. It’s downloaded into your cortex. Drips off the neon katakana of your tube hotel vacancy sign. It’s hidden in the channel tuned to static on your peripheral, cyphered, cybernetic headset. It provides the foundation as well as the motivation for things high above its pay grade, but it is still only a literary genre–beyond video games. “Cyberpunk.” I’m talking sim stim, black mesa stuff here, not Grand Theft Hovercar.
It’s very surreal to me concerning some of the things which have happened since my primordial soup sleuthing sci-fi books as a teen–with next title suggestions in the background with friends on internet relay chat. I went back and read one of my old works where I had written about a character who travels the world via superjets as a freelance interpreter with an array of dialects. I’ve thought about that book so much as a metric for how things have changed since the old days. Then when Ready Player One came out, I started idolizing the future of immersive digital reality simulations. Then this year, 2020, well, I don’t want to talk about that, not all at once at least. But I will.
It seems like one of my most influential pools of inspiration is being glossed over by the digital masterpiece known as Cyberpunk 2077. I don’t mind it exactly, but you plug the word “cyberpunk” into a search engine and it’s all about this new game and nothing about the bold literary genre that inspired it, or even much about the tabletop RPG it is based on. The literary genre is what I’m here to talk about though.
Cyberpunk: My History With the Future
I used to be fascinated by whatever technology I could get my hands on. I’m still interested in computers, telephones, and radios, and I used to just want to know how they work.
A few of the people in my social circles, which were almost entirely online and also interested in these things, talked about books occasionally. I’m grateful for that, because books have triumped above all else for me really, even games.
As you can imagine, Sci-Fi was the primary genre for my friends. They got me going on an author named William Gibson, who wrote a book called Neuromancer. Some might argue this was the first cyberpunk novel, which I would allow, although I later found out that there was a lineage to this genre preceded by much of the work by the author Phillip K. Dick (prolific Sci-Fi author) as well as much of the science fiction work before him, especially Isaac Asimov.
A Couple Brief Thoughts on 2077
Alright, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, Cyberpunk 2077. Don’t get me wrong, I love Keanu! He is an ambassador of awesomeness, and although I haven’t played this game in full, its environment and gameplay is really really cool.
You might remember Sony pulled this game due to some serious development issues, but when it came back–and it did–if you had been anticipating it, this stuff was digital brilliance. Personally, it’s a bit too violent for me, but that’s just the way it is and you probably don’t see me discussing that kind of stuff here that often. I’m still working my way back up to when I can, on a personal level, play this game in full, but it certainly looks incredible. It combines everything about cyberpunk I know in a neat package.
There is one strange thing I wanted to say about it though, which is I have been following this game since the only mention of it anywhere was a JPEG on Facebook. Now it’s like an international household name, how exactly did that even happen? And what do I do now that everybody knows what cyberpunk is, and also what do I do now that nobody will know what cyberpunk was?
I’m not going to give a rundown on the entire sentiment or aesthetic of cyberpunk, but it’s self-explanatory by name, “cyber” (cybernetic) and “punk” (rebellion.) I had no clue what it was as I rushed my way through the gritty, bizarre novel Neuromancer with Circular’s Drifting playing in the background on a loop in my teenage self’s bedroom. I knew I was onto something important, it sincerely opened up my world. Imagine fantasizing about a humbling technological behemoth connect via a global consumer network, connecting all people and all things–before smartphones even existed! Yet, cyberpunk isn’t about the conveniences of the future, it’s about the consequences of runaway technology and its opportunist manipulators.
Just a side note: most cyberpunk content is not family-friendly. I have prided myself on having fairly wholesome topics, which I intend to continue, but this genre is practically the horror genre of literary sci-fi genres. Don’t worry though, despite our massive problems, we’re not doing too terribly in the category of potential dystopic realities we could exist in. Yet…
Some of the Aesthetics of Cyberpunk
The origin of the future is not necessary, it trickles down from the past. If you have ever read an interview with William Gibson, the author of Neuromancer, you’ll realize that these stories are not about neat, cutting-edge technology, but rather the effects of technology on society and individual psychology.
A lot of people when they think about sci-fi or the future often dream of interstellar lightships and hoverboards. Unfortunately, those things are impossible. Sorry, if that hurts but I am a firm believer that not everything is possible; one of the most helpful perspective shifts I had as an adult despite you know: it makes me a slight stick in the mud often.
I had a really sad but grounding experience recently watching a creative figure explaining how space travel efforts are totally pointless. The speed limit of everything is the speed of light according to Einstein. We will never build something that fast and if we do it will take ages from now, beyond our own lifespans, which unfortunately are mortal. And I’m not a doomsayer but we’ve got so many other problems as it is. We might colonize Mars or the Moon but things like warp drives are PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE–sorry for screaming it but the collective blind eye toward humanity’s mistakes is an error. That’s kind of where cyberpunk is at, that’s one thing I like about it.
Another great story from cyberpunk is BladeRunner, the film, based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. The Harrison Ford original film, which came out in the 80s with a follow-up sequel in the last couple of years was really ahead of the game, even to this day. They are both SO good and show how our perception of sci-fi has evolved over the past 40 years. Wait, FOURTY years? !#@&
That’s kind of what I mean though. We’ve got a long way to go. If you tune into that futuristic imagining, however, you may realize it is already here. You watch live YouTube streams of a train station in Tokyo in the Midwest during a pandemic. Or you order tasteful graffiti stickers from New York on your phone. Maybe you are part of a research project that works for a marketing project–or being spied on by them through your phone… Or maybe you just go to the mall.
This is Really Happening Now
The corporate conspiracy is just a fact of life anymore. We don’t need to theorize what it will be like. Your identity is compromised and sold. It’s really nothing new. As we continue our cruise into the rest of the 21st century, I think things are going to be pretty interesting.
Gee, I inadvertently turned this into a 2020 recap, but oh well. Years ago I was captivated by the potential for spontaneous inter-global passenger and cargo traffic as technology advances. I had hardly traveled and longed for the opportunity to have access to anywhere anytime. In 2020, I couldn’t even go to Canada from the USA.
Cyberpunk: Now You Know (Although How Do You Know That You Know…?)
P.S. If you want to read some of my favorite cyberpunk titles, the top 6 are, without contest: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Neuromancer; Pattern Recognition; Snow Crash; Jennifer Government and, I’m serious, Ready Player One. That last one, the Ernest Cline book is cyberpunk for a more conventional audience.
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