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 Post subject: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Fri Dec 15, 2017 6:00 am 
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So frigid and I (along with anyone else who wants to join in) are going to have a discussion regarding the often misunderstood science fiction sub genre of cyberpunk. To start off, I'm going to talk about the origin of the word and the distinction between the cyberpunk aesthetic and the cyberpunk genre.

Cyberpunk has its origins in the late 70s and really hits its stride in the 1980s. There's a number of attributes associated with the genre and we will get to them, but lets ground ourselves in the basics to start with. The name "Cyberpunk" is a fusion of "cyber" the merging of humans and technology and "punk" that is to say rebellion, rejection of the status quo, and alienation from society. There's more to genre than that, but that is foundation and core of the genre.

The second point is to distinguish the cyberpunk aesthetic from the genre itself. "Steampunk" for example, is purely an aesthetic. It makes no claim to any particular social or political base or viewpoint and doesn't even refer to a particular type of technology as it ranges from alternate worlds and history firmly grounded in realistic science and engineering to fantastic, magical technology. Cyberpunk has a distinct aesthetic that is grounded in the dystopian future as seen through the lens of the 1980s, the movie "Blade Runner" epitomizing it. "Blade Runner" is both a cyberpunk movie and a movie that defines the cyberpunk aesthetic. The science fiction setting of Android is also cyberpunk even those its aesthetic is more "the future as sold to you by Apple."

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 12:35 am 
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I feel the aesthetic while an identifiable part of Cyberpunk changes over time. I remember when mohawked, garishly clad gangsters were front and center, then it became long leather trench coats over all black ensembles and now it seems to be turning towards utilitarian work clothes. Now Aesthetic can be the main identifying trend of a genre. Steampunk is all about aesthetic, with noir steampunk detective novels, bright and cheerful superhero stories and Firefly style novels like Black Lung Captain so I agree with Cat there. Although I tend to feel the aesthetic of Cyberpunk is very negotiable and flexible. For me there are themes that are the soul of Cyberpunk and setting trappings that are stronger identifiers. Let me talk about the themes.

1: Technology does not make things better for everyone. A strong recurring theme in Cyberpunk is the idea that technology is not inherently a good thing. Now Cyberpunk isn't a Luddite genre, as most works don't stress it has evil either. Nor is Cyberpunk yearning for a technologically free past. Instead Technology is shown as making it easier for the elites of society to control and divorce themselves from the underclass. Technology often does away with the middle class and leaves the world dividing between an elite living in a tech utopia riven with intense economic and political competition and a vast teaming underclass living on the leftovers, exiled to the dark underbelly of world. To steal Julian's example of Bladerunner, while the upper class of that movie is living rather well, we see many people living in squalor.

2: Alienation, Cyberpunk presents us with characters and viewpoints that are divorced from their society. They might be fallen elites, or members of the underclass who have through hook or crook achieved the tools to rise above the status of helpless suffering. They are often loners without close family and few friends. The main characters are usually outsiders and many of them are while not happy, believing they are better that way.

3: Cyberpunk is critical of society. The best cyberpunk works offer a criticism of society. This is often but not always a criticism of capitalist economics (although that may be because to Capitalism won and just about all of it's contenders lay in the dust heap of history, it makes no sense to criticize a corpse.). Mainly in how corporations treat people as disposal machines and how dehumanizing the treatment of individuals by authority can be.

There are other themes and Cyberpunk stories are varied and capable of covering a lot of ground but I think of these as fairly core themes.

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Sat Dec 16, 2017 5:59 pm 
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I feel the aesthetic while an identifiable part of Cyberpunk changes over time. I remember when mohawked, garishly clad gangsters were front and center, then it became long leather trench coats over all black ensembles and now it seems to be turning towards utilitarian work clothes.


The two main thematic approaches in Shadowrun are colloquially known as "pink mohawk" and "mirroshades". The former referring to the style most prevalent in early editions, where the emphasis was on over the top, balls to the wall rebellion against a grim and fundamentally unjust world. The latter is more prevalent in the latter editions, and it's about being down in the grittiness of that world and learning to live with it, but without entirely discarding that rebellious edge. So the aesthetics actually imply important things about the settings, and are key indicators what kinds of stories are being told. It's all cyberpunk, but cyberpunk that emphasizes different aspects of itself. The recent shift to more utilitarian work clothes may be an indicator of how technological progress is making cyberpunk seem less fanciful, as some of the issues it deals with are becoming real. The more down to earth aesthetics signify a greater connection to the present world.

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Mon Dec 18, 2017 7:19 pm 
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As far as the aesthetic, while Blade Runner certainly is a central pillar of the genre, one should look to works from Japan as well. Anime cyberpunk stylings like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Bubblegum Crisis, AD Police, and others fed into the cycle, as was common of the time. Japan's rise in the business world at the time fueled quite a bit of Cyberpunk speculation, so it's no surprise that the Japanese pop culture take on cyberpunk was itself influential. The US/Japan relationship was and to a degree still is a feedback loop of ideas going back and forth. I won't go so far as to say my favorite aspects of cyberpunk style are anime-centric, but I'll be damned if they don't have some great ones to pull from.

On the thematic side, the Japanese cyberpunk ranged from just another way to do monster of the week Sentai shows (Like Bubblegum) to weird, trippy, transhumanist explorations (Akira, GitS). Sometimes well, and sometimes not so much, much like Western cyberpunk, which ranges from cheap schlock with neon to, well, Blade Runner. It's a bit of a shame that the breadth of western cyberpunk cinema is pretty much exclusively Blade Runner, RoboCop, and Johnny Mnemonic. Yes, I know there are some others but they're at best enjoyably bad movies for the most part.

That said, I would agree that cyberpunk is critical of society and human nature, that science and technology are themselves tools, capable of great good and great harm, depending on who wields it. It carries with it the idea that as technology changes, as society "advances", human nature still is flawed. We create slave labor, underclasses, even when we have fantastic technology that can do away with many of our ailments.

It is also a mechanism to describe that even in this bleakness, even in this dystopia, people can do the right thing, though it may come at considerable cost. Some of the better stories are essentially Chrome Noir, mingling with another genre that shares similar tones and opinions about human nature which can make for sharing material quite nicely.

One of the more fun and interesting questions to me with regards to the genre, and one of the ones I am also the most critical of when it is handled, is what is it to be human? As one slices away the parts of themselves that are meat and replaces them with machine, at what point do they lose track of themselves? Perhaps the answer is that they find themselves in the transfer, or of course the most bleak answer of all, which is that they never really changed, and everything they have done is what made them alienated from their fellow man.

Of course this comes from the other end as well, the question of synthetic life, be it Replicants, Boomers, or Ghosts, at what point do we consider the smart machines "human", and thus worthy of respect and rights of their own? In most cases, the answer is that they are already at that point in the course of the story, but we have ignored that in favor of creating a new slave race to uphold our gilded cities.


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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2018 7:05 am 
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So it seems we generally agree on what is vanilla, baseline Cyberpunk. Now on the tricky stuff. Only dead genres don't evolve and its been a while since the 80s. The genre is alive and well, I would argue, although less easily to see. As has been mentioned it's aesthetic is more mirror shades and less mohawk, in a time period where body piercings and tattoos have become far more widespread. Body alteration is less and less a sign of radical politics and discontent in the era where one where mass market advertising is to trying to sell consumers the ability to individually express yourself. Cyberpunk is less and less recognizable as in real life we increasingly use and are used by information technology and discontent with the status quo rises.

That said, the genre lives. From the 80s it moved on through people like S. Andrew Swann into different expressions of the same ideas. The genetically engineered Moreaus and Franks are technological products down to their very genes and living in a state of alienation in a dystopian state where corporations wield enormous power. We got a little hijacked by the transhumanist cultist about how the JesusThe Singularity was going to make us all angelic beings transform us into posthuman demigods. There's some Cyber there, but very little Punk unless you're talking about how it won't be all flowers and chocolate and long walks along the beach. AI's always been a part of the Cyberpunk conversation, but Cyberpunk doesn't think the Rapture of the Nerds is going to work out all that well.

There's been some pushback to things closer to traditional Cyberpunk with Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan and on a more humerus note Charles Stross. Then there's "Anti-Cyberpunk", which isn't that anti, but we'll get to that later.

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 2:45 am 
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So everyone's being quiet, so I'll continue to post. Anti-Cyberpunk, what is it and what's its relationship to the Cyberpunk genre?

Anti-Cyberpunk is about characters who are alienated from their society which, despite their alienation, they continue to defend and support. Neal Asher, who is writes on the space opera end of the genre, is a name commonly associated with the genre. His Agent Cormac series stars a protagonist who works of Earth Central Security to defend the generally benevolently run Polity. The title of the first novel of the series is Gridlinked, Cormac is sufficiently alienated from humanity in general that his lover trying to kill does not provoke an emotional reaction, and his AI handler worries that the amount of time he spends linked to the Grid is causing him psychological harm. Cormac is also a guy who defends the Polity from all threats, foreign and domestic even after he leaves Polity society.

Is this Cyberpunk? Well, let's consider The Major from Ghost in the Shell. She's a defender of imperfect society from criminals, terrorists, and revolutionaries, frequently depicted as alienated from much of society, and the state that employs her owns her body. Cormac's body is laced with advanced technology to surpass human limitations while The Major's body is a piece of technology capable of superhuman feats. The Major is definitely Cyperpunk and so, I would argue, is Cormac.

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 7:43 pm 
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I can't say I've run into alot of anti-Cyberpunk. The idea of an alienated person deciding to defend society doesn't honestly seem to run counter to most of what makes Cyberpunk, well, Cyberpunk. I would argue that most Cyberpunk hinges on a not entirely benevolent society and tends to stay firmly in grey vs grey territory.

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:42 am 
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That's true. As I've said, I agree, but the Polity is the exact opposite of the dystopian shit holes that Donald Trump is helping turn America intothat populate most Cyberpunk settings. While not perfect, the Polity is closer to a Utopia than a Dystopia and thus the characterization of Asher's work as "Anti-Cyberpunk" instead of say "Badass Cyberpunk Space Opera."

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:16 pm 
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Ehhhh, we've had guys like Agent Cormac in science fiction before however without needing to label them Anti-Cyberpunk. So I'm still not feeling the label. I don't see how having a cold blooded bastard in a nice setting is anything requiring a label honestly.

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 Post subject: Re: What is Cyberpunk?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:55 pm 
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frigidmagi wrote:
Ehhhh, we've had guys like Agent Cormac in science fiction before however without needing to label them Anti-Cyberpunk. So I'm still not feeling the label. I don't see how having a cold blooded bastard in a nice setting is anything requiring a label honestly.


I don't quite agree. "Anti-Cyberpunk" is, as we've established, simply Cyberpunk with a core theme and relationship inverted. That still makes it Cyberpunk, but we're fine with people making up labels for new sub genre's of fantasy when people like Bakker tinker with the genre's pillars. To be clear, that doesn't mean I think "Anti-Cyberpunk" is really a brand new sub genre, but if people are going to throw around "grim dark" as a descriptor for certain types of fantasy then throwing around "Anti-Cyberpunk" as a descriptor for certain kinds of science fiction is acceptable.

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