Cyberpunk has always appealed to me.
It hits all the high points. Science fiction, so there’s lots of cool tech. Cities, because I love urban over rural (sorry country lovers). Style, because the Rule Of Cool wins out when tech and street are in the mix. Computers. Digital everything. Power and power struggles. Weapons. Action. Desperation.
The only really frustrating thing I’ve ever really found about Cyberpunk is … it’s so hard to find a lot of it. There are very few movies that can even semi-fairly be called Cyberpunk. And most of those were bungled by the studios (looking at you Johnny Mnemonic). On the written front, well there are stories in the genre, but it seems pretty fair to say that it’s at least a thirty-to-one ratio, Cyberpunk to SciFi. That number’s probably far too low, but I’m a writer not a statistician.
So much SciFi, though I love it, tends to focus on the glitzy side of the future it relates. Star Trek is a really easy example of this. There’s tons of high technology in Star Trek, and usually at least an attempt to extrapolate at least some of the ramifications of that tech; but not much in the way of the gritty side of the Star Trek universe. What happens to the Federation citizens that don’t live in the heart of the civilization? For that matter, what happens to the “little people” living in that heart? Is it really a utopia, or are there things that cause problems. I’m not saying I’d expect Federation citizens on Earth (or other core worlds) to be starving in the streets or scrambling to keep a roof over their head, but surely it’s not all puppy kisses and sweet roses in the 24th Century?
Cyberpunk, for better or worse (honestly, for the worse if we’re speaking brutal truth) really feels more like the kind of future we’re going to get. Too many people these days, especially in America, are too focused on having theirs and fuck you. I don’t like to do politics, and I’m not going to here, but let’s just leave it at an awful lot of proposals for the future, for use of obvious coming technologies, face a storm of protest by the people who’ll be left behind. People who are being ignored by those who stand to benefit in spades when these techs come online. Who cares if there aren’t jobs, or jobs that pay a living wage; our profits went up! Record quarter!
Which brings me back to Cyberpunk. To me, Cyberpunk has always been about those who get left behind. ‘Proper’ Cyberpunk settings have a lot of high tech, but it’s high tech leavened with a pretty healthy measure of Mad Max grit. Sure there might be android bodies and genetic clone body replacement, suborbitals that fling passengers from New York to Tokyo in just a couple of hours … but what does any of that matter when you’re stuck in the slums scrapping to come up with food before you starve?
That’s the thing about Cyberpunk that’s appealing as both a reader and a writer. It feels more realistic when I look around at where we are, and who we seem to collectively be, and then mix that into where technology might take us. Haves and have-nots, it’s a sad fact, but let’s face it; have-nots make for interesting story. No one wants to read about the guy who’s got it all. They want to read about the guy who has to struggle, fight, and worry over if he’ll make it, keep making it, and is afraid of what happens if he doesn’t. As Joss Whedon has said, what the audience wants and what the audience needs aren’t the same thing. We love stories of struggle, and yawn when the hero ends up with everything.
Cyberpunk mixes all that together in a beautifully layered storytelling landscape that is sexy as hell. Push a button and magic happens, but take ten steps and you’re in a back alley where it might as well be the Third World. A poor squatter who sleeps in a cold alley, being rained on, can still have eye replacements that let her see in the dark. A gang can rule in the middle of an urban landscape because the wealthy are leaning on the city to not waste money trying to police the “excess portions” of the metroplex.
Once upon a time, it seemed like a pretty big leap to assume a future where corporations have more societal and Bigfoot impact over civilization than governments … but it’s happening. Not going to happen, not maybe could happen; it’s happening now. These days it feels like the bigger stretch, the greater fiction, to assume and write about a future where governments are still in charge. Because we all hear the stories, in the news not on the bookshelf, where “civil servants” of every rank and responsibility are taking their marching orders from an incorporated entity.
Cyberpunk is a world where anything can happen. It’s a rich palette to paint upon for creators. Honestly, I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to scratch that itch, to let some of those voices inside me out into the world.
My latest novel is going live now. Sometime in the next day, two at the latest depending on the behind-the-scenes machinations at Amazon, it’ll be clickable for purchase.
Dying Paradigm tells the story of a young woman stuck in the New York metroplex, struggling to make ends meet in the face of a world that’s busy with its own problems. People die everyday, and the bodies are just in the way. She could give up, she could join a gang, or she could try to make the impossible leap across the divide between street and suite; but it’s all on her to sink or swim.
All anyone wants is a life. A few of us even have a dream.
Sometimes dreams die.