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C.T. Phipps

The Cyberpunk thread

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A thread devoted to talking about that most 80s of genres that just keeps coming.

How do we define cyberpunk? Well, I wrote on an essay on it but I tend to think of it as in the name. It's getting ****ed by technology. Cyberpunk is fundamentally a genre about the technology of humankind continuing to advance but the use of that technology being used to make the world worse or unable to resolve humanity's existing social issues. It's a noir view of the world which draws heavily from crime and detective fiction.

It's kind of an interesting genre doubly because of the fact it's also something almost impossible to parody because it is always at the bleeding edge of the ridiculous. One of the most famous examples of the genre is SNOW CRASH which is about a samurai hacker/pizza boy who is the world's second greatest badass as well as named Hiro Protagonist. Yet it's a defining work of the genre.

So this is a thread to talk about your favorite books, what you liked about the genre or dislike, and thoughts on whether the time has passed for it since we've kind of become a near-future cyberized corporate-run society since the 80s.

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There's actually a TV trope about this that I think applies well called The Unbuilt Trope.

The short version being that a work of fiction feels like it's playing with the conventions of a genre and deviating from them but it predates the genre itself (and is probably the inspiration for the genre itself) so that the rules don't yet apply. In effect, Blade Runner isn't cyberpunk the way The Hobbit isn't epic fantasy. It was created before the rules had been codified (in the case of TH because Tolkien made those rules for LOTR) and a lot of people draw from it as the model to create most of what people now think of as cyberpunk.

There's even an entry for Blade Runner.

While Blade Runner (1982) is the Trope Codifier of Cyber Punk films, it is essentially a Film Noir remade with a cyberpunk backdrop. It also takes the Artificial Human concept further than most later works; when the film starts, replicants have already been invented, extensively introduced, and gone rogue; the plot is about destroying some of them; a literal deconstruction. Fantastic Racism is also lampshaded in the introduction, before any replicant even enters the set. Also, unlike a lot of "emotionless Killer Robot" sci-fi movies, the Replicants are depicted tragically; essentially they're just young children lashing out against their inevitable deaths. Deckard, meanwhile, is shown as a bit of a scumbag and potentially a rapist.

William Gibson, father of cyberpunk, famously said he was shocked when Blade Runner came out as he was writing Neuromancer and knew people would think he was ripping off the film.

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9 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

Jesus, I'm thinking of steampunk, ignore me.

Although I would still argue that

1. tvtropes is ass

2. Blade Runner isn't really cyberpunk


Well I'm not using TV tropes as anything other than shorthand here. But to re-explain without referencing the forbidden site: Blade Runner is an inspiration for Bubblegum Crisis, Deus Ex, Ghost in the Shell, Snatcher, Soldier, Ex Machina, Battlestar Galactica, Cyberpunk 2020, and God knows how many other stories involving robotics.

It's also a work which created the kind of neon-visual comspolitan yet impoverished and technologically advanced city that is the staple of the genre. It's not cyberpunk in the context it existed before cyberpunk became a genre. However, if you define cyberpunk as "A noir crime or detective story involving dystopian themes as well as high technology" then it absolutely qualifies.

DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP is also another example of the proto-cyberpunk in action since many of the elements NOT in Blade Runner show up in cyberpunk works like the internet before it was even a concept.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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The SFE entry is highly instructive.Cyberpunk is often defined as the blending of the real world with a virtual world inside a computer network. Stricter definitions therefore count A Dream of Wessex (1977) by Christopher Priest - which is set in the countryside with no neon-emblazoned megacities but VR environments generated inside a computer - as cyberpunk whilst Blade Runner, which lacks any VR/augmented reality/AI elements whatsoever - is not. Of course, one interpretation of Priest's later work is that the Dream Archipelago of many of his novels is a VR construct and many of the otherwise mainstream or mundane characters are actually plugged into the Dream of Wessex VR system, which would explain a lot.

A lot of cyberpunk also feels like it owes a lot to the work of J.G. Ballard, whose weird dreamscapes prefigure VR worlds, although Ballard himself never really worked in the genre.

However, I think the general consensus among SF critics is that the first recognisable work of cyberpunk is John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider (1975), although his earlier Stand on Zanzibar (1968) and The Sheep Look Up (1972) both separately deal with elements of cyberpunk (overpopulation/megacities and massive environmental damage). Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is not really cyberpunk, although it does establish some of the more visual stylings and even moreso in Blade Runner).

The 1983 short story "Cyberpunk" by Bruce Bethke gave the genre is name though, as Gardener Dozois picked up on it and started popularising it, and Bruce Sterling then went to town with it. 

I would categorise important texts of the genre as including (but are not limited to) the following

  • Neuromancer and sequels, William Gibson
  • The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner
  • The Artificial Kid and Schismatrix, Bruce Sterling
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  • Headcrash, Bruce Bethke
  • MindplayersSynners and Fools, Pat Cadigan
  • Hardwired, Walter Jon Williams
  • Vurt, Jeff Noon
  • Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan

A big problem with post-early 1990s cyberpunk is that the genre got subsumed or linked up with other genres, so for example Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy has lots of cyberpunk elements but these are arguably subsumed by the space opera and military SF sides of the story.

There's also the Cyberpunk RPG by Mike Pondsmith (1988) which is probably the most in-depth and detailed exploration of a cyberpunk world (expect its popularity to explode thanks to the new forthcoming video game in the same world, Cyberpunk 2077). The Shadowrun RPG (1989), with its numerous video game adaptations, is also cyberpunk, with the amusing twist that our world has collided with an epic fantasy one, so you have dwarves, elves and trolls running around with heavy machine guns, jacking into the Matrix and stealing from megacorps.

In comics Judge Dredd (1977) is highly cyberpunkish in style, and later on easily segued into outright cyberpunk stories. Probably the most important cyberpunk story in that medium is Ghost in the Shell (1989) and its assorted spin-offs and media adaptations. Akira (1982-90) is more proto-cyberpunkish, borrowing many of the tropes of the genre but not necessarily cyberpunk itself (that debate continues to rage though).

In video games the most important work of cyberpunk is easily Deus Ex (1999), it's wonky sequel and far superior prequels. Syndicate (1993) was also another important game in that medium. Cyberpunk video games have never really gotten to grips with the sheer scale and dizzying freedom of the genre, but Cyberpunk 2077 should (hopefully) take care of that.

Edited by Werthead

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A Cyberpunk Media List which would help for this:


* Akira: Post-apocalypse Tokyo where the future is decided by angry biker kids.

* Bubblegum Crisis: The original OVA if you can swing it and the AD Police one even more so.

* Ghost in the Shell: The words "well, duh" in Marge Simpson's voice come to mind.

* Serial Experiments Lain: Honestly, my friend Michael Suttkus swears by it but it never really won me over.


* Bladerunner: Whether you agree or not.

* Johnny Mnemonic: One of the classic B-movie cyberpunk works and why Keanu is an icon of the genre.

* Dredd: Judge Dredd is always cyberpunk but this was a nice low key example of it.

* Strange Days: Technology as a means of showing just how screwed up the human condition is.

* Robocop: Social satire, ultraviolence, and crime at its finest.

* The Matrix: Which skirts the edges a bit but still has a lot of the tropes.


* Judge Dredd: Need more be said about a future where technology has actually made things worse but only because people suck?

* Ronin by Frank Miller: The quintessential combiner of Japanophilia with Western high tech as well as shitty worlds was a natural fit for cyberpunk. I really love this comic because it's one of those things which gets better the more you read it.
Mainstream Books

* Neuromancer by William Gibson: The original cyberpunk novel is a heist story about a group of oddball criminals being hired to hack the world's most powerful A.I. by another A.I.

* Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson: A black samurai pizza boy and hacker teams up with a fifteen year old girl to fight the Church of Scientology's equivalent along with an Inuit assassin who rides a nuclear bomb-equipped motorcycle. Somehow more awesome than it sounds.

* Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick: Another pre-Cyberpunk novel which follows the original Replicant Hunter as he deals with the mind-numbing bureaucracy of killing Replicants if they fail the "empathy" test (a lot of people miss the inherent joke in that).

* Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan: Takeshi Kovas is a body hopping former U.N assassin who gets hijacked by a 300 year old trillionaire's clone who wants him to solve his "suicide." The sequels are also cyberpunk but not as good, IMHO.

* Mirrorshades: It is a crying shame this anthology isn't available electronically. I own mine in physical form.

Indie Books

* Prime Suspects: A Clone Detective Mystery by Jim Bernheimer: The book which got me and Jim acquainted. A famous detective is murdered by his own clone but since ALL of the police force on a colony are clones, they're all suspects and they make another to investigate.

* Technomancer: To Beat the Devil by Michael Gibson: The apocalypse happened but God didn't show up and now the world is ruled by demons--demons who have let humanity adapt by using technology to amuse them. A pure action romp but still fun.

* The Immorality Clause by Brian Parker: I review this everywhere I can because it's just purely awesome. It and its sequels are cyberpunk set in New Orleans' cyborg and robot fueled Red Light District. They're called the Easytown novels.

* Self Promo: I know, I know, but I've started my own cyberpunk series in the Agent G novels. A mind-wiped cyborg assassin has ten years to fulfill his contract and get his memories back. Funnily enough, he suspects he may not be working for people who will keep their word.

Video Games

* Deus Ex
* Perfect Dark
* Syndicate and Syndicate Wars
* Metal Gear: Revengeance
* The upcoming Cyberpunk 2077

Western Animation:

* Batman Beyond: Silly but true.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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16 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

Robocop is not even remotely cyberpunk. Neither is Akira.

How...in the world is Robocop not cyberpunk?

That's kind of what the folk at reddit asked when this was brought up.


Ditto Akira.


Edited by C.T. Phipps

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12 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

Also as wert said, Cyberpunk is older than Neuromancer

I think of it as the work which popularized the genre, though.


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What? How in the world IS Robocop cyberpunk? What's cyberpunk about it? Dystopian future != cyberpunk.


Edit: I'm using wert's above definition and also wiki's here. Just having a future where things suck and some robots shouln't make something cyberpunk. Heck, I don't remember technology playing a part in Akira at all, although I haven't seen that film in ages.

Edited by Darth Richard II

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28 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

What? How in the world IS Robocop cyberpunk? What's cyberpunk about it? Dystopian future != cyberpunk.

Edit: I'm using wert's above definition and also wiki's here. Just having a future where things suck and some robots shouln't make something cyberpunk. Heck, I don't remember technology playing a part in Akira at all, although I haven't seen that film in ages.


Well I consider Robocop to be one of the defining works of 80s cyberpunk despite the fact it takes place from the perspective of the cops (who are employees of OCP and ineffectual aside from Murphy and his partner anyway). OCP is, indeed, one of the defining cyberpunk megacorporations who also remain weirdly prescient ("We've invested in many industries regarded as non-profit such as prisons, space exploration, and medicine).

For me, it's the fact Robocop is fundamentally a anti-establishment critique of 80s greed and the misuse of technology against the public with ED-209 and Robocop 2 in the sequel representing the kind of casual militarization used against the public even if Robocop, himself, only uses it against genuinely evil people. Verhoven really has the great sense of humor needed to make truly wicked satire and Frank Miller helped with its sequel.

For me, Robocop works because technology is massively powerful but it's used to intimidate the poor and make the rich richer. Even our hero pays a horrific cost for his "powers" and in Adam Jensen's words "Didn't ask for this."

Or in simple terms: "It's about a cyborg fighting an evil megacorporation and their army of criminals in a impoverished near-future dystopia."

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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8 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

Yeah I don't think we agree on what cyberpunk is.

It'd be a pretty boring thread if we did.

Please share and share alike.

:thumbs up:

I love a good discussion about topics I love and am happy to be convinced otherwise or proven wrong.

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21 minutes ago, Darth Richard II said:

Pretty much the definition wert gave up thread. Generally, if a work doesn't explore some sort of vr/dream reality I don't consider it cyberpunk.

Really, you are all about the virtual reality/cyberspace huh?


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