14 Sep 2010

What is and What isn't Cyberpunk

HT to EddyFate for posting a list he came across of Cyberpunk books. It got me thinking about what acutually constitutes Cyberpunk lit. There are a couple of things on the list which I don't think fit what I would consider Cyberpunk.

Akira (Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Blu-ray, DVD.)

This may be coloured by my familiarity with the movie, and only having read the book once, but I feel that This kind of epic science fiction is nowhere near dark and seedy enough to be considered Cyberpunk.

The government conspiracy doesn't gel with my idea of what Cyberpunk is. In my Cyberpunk future there are no real governments to speak of and the world is run by huge transnational corporations who handle everything from healthcare to policing and the law is whatever they say it is. Maybe its a cultural thing, it being Japanese in origin will obviously lead to differences in how the author views the possible future of the world compared to western sci-fi.

Accelerando (Dead-Tree, download/online[free].)

I would also dispute the inclusion of this book (which is no less awesome for it btw) in the list. I see this as more a piece of transhumanist fiction on a par with Greg Egan and Vernor Vinge. The characters are not the focus of the work, though they are important, its more about how human society will be changed by its technology, and mostly for the better. Reading this made me hopeful for the future of humanity as the singularity approaches and we reach out into a wider universe of high speed processing and space exploration, Cyberpunk should not do this.

Cyberpunk should be dark. Think classic Noir with hi-tech elements. The characters should be the focus, not the technology, and the outlook of the work should be predominantly dystopian. Cyberpunk should warn us about the perils of our new found technological power, in order that we don't take that path.

A peice of Cyberpunk fiction should paint a picture of a world where the law has broken down, governments are incosequential, and huge corporations use humanity as merely meat components in their money making machines. It should be set on the fringe between the 'respectable' section of society and its seedier underbelly, where the rich and powerful go to get their dirty laundry washed.

The technology is somewhat secondary to a Cyberpunk story, it should be evident but not overwhelming. There are some exceptions to this rule (Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy being the most notable.) but in such cases the technology should be woven into the fabric of the society of the setting. Whats important are the characterisations and  the interactions between the characters, even if those characters are a mixture of human, transhuman and AI. They are the important factors.

There should be no optimism in Cyberpunk. Even if a story has a satisfactory ending to the plot, its still a dark and dangerous world and nothing the characters will have achieved during the course of their journey has changed that.

Maybe you think differently, tell me.

M out

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