Genres are a fun concept to think about. What makes a fantasy story different from a science fiction one? What makes steampunk so special? What’s so interesting about cyberpunk? It’s fair to say that the best works of fiction don’t follow a common recipe of their assumed genre, but play with and twist accepted the conventions of their genre, unless the work itself is introducing such a crassly new form of setting that can be seen as the quasi origin of a new genre, like Tolkien’s works.
A Song of Ice and Fire is set in a typical fantasy realm – there are dragons, zombie armies and sword and board combat. But it’s written in a way that makes it feel settled in reality, with the real focus of the story on very relatable people in situations that we can easily imagine ourselves in.
Star Wars is a colorful, joyful genre mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy, and that’s one of the fundamental factors for its accessibility compared to more straight forward fare like Star Trek.
In this blog, I’m trying to explore what makes cyberpunk so interesting as I’m getting into the genre as of late. When I look at the definition of cyberpunk, we have:
Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a future setting, noted for its focus on “high tech and low life”
I saw Blade Runner recently, watching it from start to finish while actually paying attention for the first time. There’s so much in this movie, but a few things stand out. The vision of the future, of a world in almost perpetual darkness, pollution and social stratification. Add to that flying cars, huge city scapes and robots that are indistinguishable from humans, and you have some serious material to go with.
What so interesting about cyberpunk though is just how relevant it feels. A fantasy land of elves and dwarves appeals to the child in me, the longing for a simpler time where nature was close and unspoiled. Science fiction, especially the hard kind, appeals to my creative mind. The future can hold many things in store for us, and technological progress will certainly be full of surprises. Most of the time, a great science fiction story will present a satisfying workout for my creative mind.
Cyberpunk on the other hand, while similarly looking into the future, poses more questions about our present than any other escapist genre. How are people going to live not 1000 years from now, but 50? A generation or two from now, looking at our current situation, will we be in a better place, or a worse one? Most of the time, it’s thought to be worse. A cyberpunk story’s vision of the near future, is usually an underhanded judgement of the now. Blade Runner’s world indicates that the capitalist system will eventually (and is already) plunge human beings into the gutter. Technology would be used for what ever is profitable. Its vision of replicants (humanoid robots) says it all. There are sex slave replicants and those used for intensive labor on other planets. Humanity manages to create an artificial being in its image and what do they do with it? Use it in place of prostitutes and physical labor slaves.
Today’s world is full of atrocious things in that vein. There is extreme poverty in so many places while a tiny percentage of people systematically owns the vast majority of quantifiable wealth. If in the renaissance age a forward looking writer wrote a cyberpunk vision of the future as seen from that point, our current world could be seen as a dystopia similar to that of Blade Runner.
When I see news of the crimes done against human beings in the Gaza strip, the regular killing sprees of crazy people in the USA who have such easy access to guns, when I see people like Donald Trump getting the majority of votes in pre-election polls, when refugees are escaping to Europe in masses because their own countries have become unbearable to live in, I wonder how this world will get much better in the short term. Add to that the looming, inevitable disaster of global warming that nobody is really thinking about in the shortsighted policymaking of today, I can’t help but expect things to get worse over the next century. Even technological progress, the real source of hope for many, seems hampered by the twisting effect of business interest as opposed to human interest. We are in for a rough ride, and it will likely only end when we crash into a brick wall.
So when a cyberpunk future is painted where normal people have lost out against the few, when anything and everything is being abused to primarily feed the more and more hedonistic mindset of the man of the future, it does ring true. So as I get older and think more about the world, I get more and more depressed about the future. Cyberpunk is the genre that seems to take these feelings and thoughts into account the most of all the major genres in fiction.