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clarence

Why does cyberpunk refuse to move on?

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A bit weird. The genre cyberpunk is defined by "cyber" - i.e. more or less invasive human-technology interfaces - and punk - powerless rebellion against the establishment. It thrives on the effects that amoral powers have on the lives of the protagonists, and how the protagonists sidestep imposed limitations, breaking the rules (which may be law or just consumer licence).

The Expanse offers a more modern dystopia for urban sprawls, with very few privileged people able to leave the planet (compared to the mass of planet-bound people). The portions of the books and the TV series playing on Earth are pretty spot on Cyberpunk in many of those regards, only the human-technology interface is the advanced smartphone rather than implants.

The movie Blade Runner (specifically the dying monologue of the last surviving replicant) implies an amount of space travel equal to what the Expanse offers after the opening of the portals, without the protagonist ever having a remote chance to leave earth, and neither do any other humans. The UN habitats in the Expanse do offer "Basic", which may be a small cut above what Cyberpunk usually offers the hopeless, but it also offers hopelessness for those failing inside that system, or preferring to stay outside of it.

To transcend the cyberpunk squalor of Earth Basic life, you need privilege. Every person outside of Earth's gravity well is privileged or descended from someone privileged in the past. Their current situation may have brought new and unforeseen difficulties and new forms of indenture and loss of privilege, but that reflects the Gold Rush equivalent of settling the Solar System. 

There is no real solution to the Cyberpunk dilemma other than "get privileged".

 

Edited by Joerg
removed additions from my office feline.
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This has been something on my mind thinking about a campaign. The question of if I really want to portray that disparity with my group. Most of them don’t really want to look at that I think, but then again, there is a whole fight for what is right that is easy to set up there. Knights in pink Mohawks, as it were. 

Huh... that phrasing just came to me. That’s very catchy and apt. Maybe they aren’t super privileged but they are better enough, and there are people that are needing them. 

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One quote from the article stands out:

“Perhaps there has been no need for [cyberpunk] to change: it continues to resonate with us because the world it depicts is the one we live in.”

That’s a bit sad to accept. But it’s even sadder, as the article points out, that the punk attitude is not the solution - and to regain its creative power sci-fi needs to find new approaches to the brutality of neo-liberalism on steoroids.

But would it still be cyberpunk then? Can cyberpunk house well-organised protesters that actually make a change - or is that a new genre?

 

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26 minutes ago, clarence said:

But would it still be cyberpunk then? Can cyberpunk house well-organised protesters that actually make a change - or is that a new genre?

 

Nah. There are numerous cyberpunk novels that cover that too. Of course, the "idealistic protestors" generally turn into the exact same thing they were fighting 20 years earlier...….

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Is there a reason why this discussion is in the Mythras section? If it's just a general discussion of dystopian SF, then perhaps Alastor's Skull Inn is better? If there's a connection with, say, Luther Arkwright, or After the Vampire Wars, then by all means continue... 

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That’s just me doing some background research on the rules for cybernetics in M-SPACE. It’s ok if you want to move it to Alastor’s Skull Inn. 

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I‘m going to be the one to claim that the Guardian has it wrong.

The thing is that Cyberpunk has moved on – to the point where most of its elements have become a staple of the greater science fiction genre. You‘ll elements typically associated with cyberpunk in the space opera novels of Iain Banks, Alastair Reynolds and Ann Leckie. You‘ll find them in near-future novels like Annalee Newitz‘ Autonomous. And if you‘re looking for that Cyberpunk novel that opens up to positive potential for social change, look no further than Cory Doctorow‘s Walkaway. For intense body modification, go and read Justina Robson‘s Natural History.

 

We don‘t call these texts Cyberpunk for two reasons:

 

First, there‘s nothing (or very little) that‘s „punk“ about them. Punk was a movement very closely tied to the 80s, to the idea of no future, to not fitting in in a f***-up world but still navigating it. Punk is an attack on the status quo, but always a cynical one – it say‘s „hey, world, you‘re beatifully f*** up, and I‘ll mirror that by being beautifully f*** up myself!“ (John Shirley and Jack Womack need to be mentioned here; although Shirley even promoted the idea of a succesful political struggle against the status quo in his Eclipse Trilogy.)

 

Second, and that‘s of course tied to the first reason, Cyberpunk has long become a nostalgic genre. At it‘s most recognizable, it describes neither a future that might come to pass nor the world we are living in, but the world we would be living in now if the visions of the 80s had come to pass. Yes, the notion of corporate power seems timely, but the way it is usually being depicted in Cyberpunk texts seems dated. And the whole Cyberpunk aesthetic is a deliberate throwback to the 80s – I mean, our present is not the age of big neon advertisements; it‘s the age of pop-up windows (interestingly, the novel Altered Carbon actually takes note of this – I don‘t remember any descriptions of big neon advertisements, but I remember advertisments popping up in Takeshi Kovacs‘ head as soon as his ad-block is inactive).

 

Cyberpunk has moved on – but it couldn‘t do so and remain cyberpunk. So now, we get nostalgic texts like Blade Runner 2049 or games like CP 2077; and we get science fiction that encompasses most of the elements of cyberpunk and does all kinds of new things with them.

 

By the way, I‘d say that Shadowrun is an interesting case, because it has slowly moved away from its cyberpunk roots; while many cyberpunk rpgs deal in 80s nostalgia, Shadowrun, by continually updating its setting and bringing it in line with the present, has very much become a near-future action rpg that has relatively little cyberpunk left in it. I‘ve heard it being called the „cyber hipster rpg.“

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Good points Jakob. So, several of the ideas in cyberpunk have merged with sci-fi in general, keeping them alive. The interest in the original cyberpunk genre waned over the past 15 or so years and the resurgence we’re seeing now is a nostalgic phase. 

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On ‎11‎/‎21‎/‎2018 at 3:20 AM, clarence said:

Good points Jakob. So, several of the ideas in cyberpunk have merged with sci-fi in general, keeping them alive. The interest in the original cyberpunk genre waned over the past 15 or so years and the resurgence we’re seeing now is a nostalgic phase. 

As the old saying goes, everything old is new again.

To the point the old Cyberpunk 2020 game got a name change to CP 2077......

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Cyberpunk has become filled with cliche fodder, much like fantasy. It is not written as much by people who were into early internet subculture and 80s overwrought projections of economic disaster; it is instead written by people who played Shadowrun in their teens. Likewise with most fantasy: it's a bad pastiche on Tolkien written by people who don't know or care much about actual ancient or medieval societies, or comparative mythology, or anglo-Saxon lore. It's written by people who read Tolkien.

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On 11/21/2018 at 9:17 PM, Jakob said:

Punk was a movement very closely tied to the 80s, to the idea of no future, to not fitting in in a f***-up world but still navigating it.

Punk is 70s more than 80s, if you live in the UK at least. 80s was a post-punk era.

In terms of the original proposition, I think most of the themes encountered in the original cyberpunk genre are largely integrated into the mainstream now, but the transhumanist science fiction to me is basically just an evolution of cyberpunk ideas. 

Edited by TrippyHippy
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I think literary cyberpunk did move on, but SF movies tend to lag a decade or two behind the written word. In SF literature, cyberpunk has recently become obsessed by environmental collapse - an approach pioneered by the works of Paolo Bacigalupi. 

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1 hour ago, TrippyHippy said:

Punk is 70s more than 80s, if you live in the UK at least. 80s was a post-punk era.

 

In West-Germany, punk was still a big thing in the 80s - but generally, you're probably right. I guess the 80s were the times when punk already had become pretty commercialised ...

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On 11/20/2018 at 8:31 AM, clarence said:

I saw Bladerunner for the first time in many years and it struck me how similar Altered Carbon is. The Guardian seems to have read my mind:

Why does cyberpunk refuse to move on?

It has been largely reduced to an aesthetic, and the literary genre is moribund if not outright dead. Somewhat replaced by Transhumanism, and that is getting old too. The setting that I showed you, the M-Space game I'm running, that's why I called it Solarpunk, to get away from the old tropes; except it's just near future plausible.

 

“The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed."

-William Gibson

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In the movies, cyberpunk is still stuck in a certain space. In literature, it has moved on and outward.

For example, in the Walter Jon Williams novel Hardwired, it is straight cp. Another novel, Voice of the Whirlwind, is set at least a century later, they have moved out of the streets and into space. Cyberware is needed for jobs in space.

The sequels to Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies, cp has been suceeded by transhumanism.

It is not cyberpunk that has not moved on, it is the film versions of it. imho

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On 11/20/2018 at 7:09 PM, clarence said:

One quote from the article stands out:

“Perhaps there has been no need for [cyberpunk] to change: it continues to resonate with us because the world it depicts is the one we live in.”

That’s a bit sad to accept. But it’s even sadder, as the article points out, that the punk attitude is not the solution - and to regain its creative power sci-fi needs to find new approaches to the brutality of neo-liberalism on steoroids.

But would it still be cyberpunk then? Can cyberpunk house well-organised protesters that actually make a change - or is that a new genre?

It might look something like The Dispossessed and similar books by Ursula K LeGuin.

And the Guardian article could well be wrong. It's people with a punk attitude disrupting the status quo who got change to happen. Only they don't always wear pink mohawks.

Sometimes they look like a little old lady riding a bus and refusing to get up to let a white privileged man sit in her chair.

The solution is not to "get privileged," as suggested (and as a hypnotist, boy am I familiar with the power of suggestion). The solution is to challenge the privileged, to disrupt, and to create the changes that the privileged cannot stop.

Cyberpunk stories only look like tragedies because they're written that way. The punk attitude does lay the groundwork for change. It is disruptive, and powerful, and it can find its way to hurting the rich and powerful in places where they cannot stop to scratch. Point being, even if the punks are obliterated, dying on their feet rather than living on their knees, the damage is done. The rich and powerful are no longer unassailable; no longer invulnerable.

And that may be the point of cyberpunk - to show the weaknesses of those impersonal sweeping powers. To show that maybe dogma is wrong, that the corporations are not gods, and that the earth does indeed move.

Edited by Alex Greene
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Cool discussion and one I feel compelled to join. I'm new to Mythras, but are interested in how it could be used to craft a cyberpunk setting or run some cyberpunk adventures.

As much as I hate to admit it, I started reading SciFi as a kid before the word cyberpunk was invented. I started on the genre when some of the "new wave" of SciFi authors were still pumping out pages. I read stories and novels by Dick, Ballard, Ellison and Farmer (authors the early Cyberpunk writers  claimed to be influences) in the 70's, while they were still fresh. Back then the only thing "cyber" written about was cybernetics; the study of systems of control. I remember having the Whole Earth Catalog (the Hippies' directory for everything you could spend $ on) at home and Cybernetics always got a page. I was too young to grok what it fully meant, but I was fascinated by the pictures and words.

Later in High School I made searches and inquiries about cybernetics, but the only thing I could find were older 40s & 50's references on the original subject; none of the cool, heady stuff in Whole Earth. Eventually I got caught up when periodicals arrived with articles about the newer, 2nd Form of Cybernetics. In its new take on the subject, it was as important to study those who studied the systems of control, as the systems themselves. I recall the 2nd Form becoming a buzz topic in the late 70's and my mom once getting pretty pumped up about attending a lecture by one of the theories main proponents. Later on in college when I read more on it, I was quite meh - seemed like just another "new age" academic trend.

So...where am I going with this? If you read Bruce Bethke's description of how he arrived at the term Cyberpunk in 1980, he describes how he had a list of cool sounding terms like cyber and techno and played around with making combos with terms for socially misdirected youth. Out of those, cyberpunk stuck. William Gibson mentions that when conceiving Cyberspace, it emerged out of his thoughts as a cool buzzword, but it didn't really have any true semantic meaning. I'd speculate that the term "cyber" was likely bouncing around in both of those authors grey cells, due to the popular buzz around the time for 2nd Form Cybernetics.

For me the idea of systems of control has stuck and forms part of the foundation of how I view this subgenre. So I paint my definition of cyberpunk with a broader stroke; it's all about punking systems of control in a near-future setting. Systems of control can be as varied as digital terminals that control massive info networks, to cybernetic implants that augment and control muscles and bone, to traditional man-machine interfaces that control legacy systems in the oldest recesses of cities. While the punks are as varied as the systems themselves. They can be the usual suspects like hackers with attitude or back alley implant pushers, but they can also be corporate execs out for personal gain, punking systems via illegal skunk works run from forgotten wings of their corporate towers. 

The punk aspect does of course still needs to include some element of bad attitude or contempt for moral standards. There's a lot of leeway though in how that's expressed in characters. A near-future time frame, is also what separates the cyberpunk flavor of punking systems of control from Steampunk and the even chronologically closer Dieselpunk subgenre.

I side with those posters who don't agree with all of the conclusions of the Guardian article linked in the OP. The portrayal of Cyberpunk through various media has indeed often been made with specific, repeated styles. IMO though, that's more about the particular window dressing that a producer or artist uses to convey stories told within the subgenre and less about the core kernel of what's Cyberpunk is. I don't feel the subgenre has been made irrelevant by the transition to information economies, intro of tech that surpasses that conceived by the formative writers, or social media becoming the prime target of info exploitation. For sure some systems of control become obsolete to be replaced by others, but that doesn't mean there can't be a new cast of characters or archetypes to exploit what's shiny and new. To me Cyberpunk is a dynamic, moving concept with lots of opportunity to tell new kinds of stories in a slightly further along near-future.

Anyhow...sorry for the long ramble. I had an opportunity a few years ago to do some writing for a Cyberpunk setting, so the topic is something I return to and ponder every once in a while.

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