New Old Treachery

This is the final assignment for ‘Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature’ at P2PU.org (yes, it’s late), writing a short work of fiction based on what we’ve, uh, learned. So here is the first story I’ve written in about 18 years, presented for your reading pleasure in what ‘The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing Science Fiction’ tells me is the ancient traditional manuscript format.

“Somehow in between jerking off Bruce with one hand and using the other to piss all over this generation’s social network practices, economical and environmental crises, you managed to put Magritte in a crackpipe and smoke him. o_O” Benjamin Becker

Download New Old Treachery (.pdf, 2500 words.)

Comments are welcome, especially if you have any actual editorial experience your feedback would be wildly appreciated. Send me email. If you would like to swear at me for wasting your time that’s cool too, but do keep in mind that your submission will be subject to review. Only the very best insults will make it through, so please put some effort into it.

Thanks to Laurian for having run this course even though nobody actually adhered to the schedule in any way at all. I was entertained and informed, so the whole P2PU must be good for something. Now I’m going to have to go and find something else to rant about.

Atemporaneous Continuality

This is the fourth assignment for ‘Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature’ at P2PU.org. This penultimate assignment asks where we are going, and whether or not we have a choice. We will look at the developments since the days of Cyberpunk and some of the trends currently emerging from, in and around Science Fiction.

“Cyberpunk is just science fiction by another name. It’s just another attempt, another wave of technical development, and another wave of literateurs trying to jump the gap between the two cultures.” – Bruce Sterling

The heyday of Cyberpunk was almost 30 years ago now, so before we attempt to look forward to where we’re going we should first look back at where we’ve been and what mutant offspring the genre has spawned since then. The first freak appeared in the early 90’s when Bill & Bruce put away their mirrorshades for a while and donned their monocles instead, bringing us widespread acceptance of the first Cyberpunk derivative; Steampunk, and a naming conventional meme that has also assisted the bastard births of Biopunk, Atompunk, Clockpunk, Dieselpunk, Stitchpunk, Salvagepunk, Mythpunk, Elfpunk, Splatterpunk, Nanopunk, Greenpunk, Stonepunk, Sandalpunk, Cattlepunk, Vegapunk, and for fuck’s sake can somebody just do Derivativepunk and get this shit over with.

The progeny with the purest genes and Cyberpunks’ primary heir is the imaginatively named Postcyberpunk. In the 90’s the original movement authors were no longer running around doing coke off laser beams or whatever they did in the 80’s but buying houses and raising children, so Science Fiction lightened up a little. The chrome lost its shine, dire dystopic settings gave way to not-half-bad places to live, characters attempted interaction with society instead of just being loner assholes and the general hard edged doom and gloom gave way to a more optimistic near-future view. This all makes perfect sense as you wouldn’t want to spend your days projecting the future as a dog-eat-dog shithole while you watch your kids grow up in it. Besides this a new generation of authors were being published who had matured under the influence of cyberpunk. They didn’t write their first novels on typewriters, the computer and a networked world were a given for them, not groundbreaking ideas, and as all good Science Fiction writers do they concentrated on the exploration of issues reflecting their own present perceptions and concerns.

Of course Cyberpunk never really died, it just went to Switzerland for a cryo-treatment and a blood change (as you do) and was recently reported to be seen trading biocores in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our man on the ground is Jonathan Dotse, current owner of the portmanteau afrocyberpunk. He’s working on his first novel and judging by the first few entries on his blog, he is the guy to watch if you prefer your cyberpunk served raw.

“You don’t have to predict the future when you live in it.” Bruce Sterling

Where then, as this assignments asks, are we now going? The wave of Post-modernism is over and we have moved into a new age of our cultural development. In this place the waves of technical development, social development and artistic response have reached incredibly high frequencies and emanate from multiple locations in space and time, creating crazy interference patterns, standing waves and eerie deadzones. Call it network culture, remix culture, transcontemporaneity, atemporality or nowdernity, whatever it is by the time we settle on a name it will just about be through. One response to this has been to drop the idea of the future as a place we have yet to reach altogether in what Cory Doctorow has called ‘Radical Presentism’. A prominent example being the recent work of William Gibson, as Cory commented; “a science fiction novel so futuristic that Gibson set it a year before it was published.”

Another response can be found in new narrative formats that have emerged with our new media, allowing Science Fiction to extend itself past the scope of its traditional story conventions. On one end of the scale there are vast collaborative world building exercises such as Orion’s Arm and The Mongoliad, on the other the micro-shrapnel fiction of works like Windsor Executive Solutions and everything ever published on Thaumatrope.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Alan Kay

Most interesting is the increasingly common occurrence and consequent recognition of Design Fiction, which mixes fact, design and fiction in new ways allowing the narrative techniques of literature to be applied to the creation of objects and worlds both virtual and material. The ubiquitous availability of digital design tools now allow all who wish to do so not only to envision the future, but also immediately instantiate a prototype of it to play with. Sandboxing the future is no longer the domain of a select group of authors or highly funded labs but anyone who cares to learn a simple set of tools. Of course having some talent helps too. The democratization of design has been decried by some, but the cost of failure has been reduced to the point that if someone has an idea, it’s almost more expensive not to try it out.

“Fiction is evolutionarily valuable because it allows low-cost experimentation compared to trying things for real.” Dennis Dutton

So do we have a choice? We have more choices than we can possibly make, people are having to hack their actual lives just to get enough time in to deal with them. Even in the cases where we don’t have a choice there are increasingly more ways for us to track down who does and hassle them to get our way. The future as far as any of our experiences is concerned consists only of the time we have left to live, so choosing how we spend our precious time and what consumes our space should bear some serious consideration. You can instantiate a personalized future that would make the previous century’s hardest-edged surrealists look about as exciting as registered accountants, or stand around and stare in abject horror as the world around you completely removes itself from any conservative baseline of normality. You can have all the choice you want, unless you choose for nothing to change. Then it sucks to be you.

“I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring.” J.G Ballard

Recommended Reading

Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto – Lawrence Person, 1999 Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction – Julian Bleecker, 2009 Design Fiction – Bruce Sterling, 2009 Radical Presentism – Cory Doctorow, 2009 Book Expo America Luncheon Talk – William Gibson, 2010

Recommended Viewing

[fractal’09] Cyberpunk & Post-Cyberpunk The editors of the Rewired anthology discuss Cyberpunk & Post-Cyberpunk at Fractal’09, an conference about the future held in Colombia. – James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel, 2009

Atemporality & The Passage of Time Using a different approach to a human standpoint of time, Bruce Sterling attempts to examine futurity, history and the present from the standpoint of contemporary temporalism. Aka wtf is happening to us. – Bruce Sterling, 2009

Design fiction [Lift Asia09 EN] Imagining the near future through “design fictions” and prototypes of networked artifacts. This presentation is about the relationship between design and science fiction, and the new narrative forms they have enabled. – Julian Bleecker, 2009

Bidirectional Penetration

This is the third assignment for ‘Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature’ at P2PU.org. An essay on where the line should be drawn between humans and machines, and whether or not such a distinction is necessary. Androids will be discussed briefly, with more deserved attention going largely to cyborgs.

“The physical union of human and machine, long dreaded and long anticipated, has been an accomplished fact for decades, though we tend not to see it.” – William Gibson

The term ‘android‘, referring to an automaton in semblance of the human form has been around since the late 19th century, predating ‘robot‘ and making it an altogether pretty old-fashioned idea. Somehow though it still manages to cause people enough discomfort to avoid obsolescence and toils away in steady employ as a tired science fictional trope. Androids are often confused with cyborgs, a confusion far reaching in our culture at large and in my estimation mostly due to Hollywood screenwriters being lazy, poorly informed hacks. Let’s have a quick pop-culture line-up to illustrate the difference. Here’s team Android:

Annoying little shit, Rachael, Futura, T-800 M-101 & Bishop

These are machines built in humanoid form. They come from labs & factories, and require programming that allows them an attempt to pass themselves off as human. You can get into a “Well what if they are such perfect replicas we can’t tell the difference?” type debate, but the simple fact of the matter is that in reality, that isn’t going to happen. Us humans are all products a of dirty, diseased earth, millions of years of evolutionary compromise and the compound effect of each individuals experience on their severely strange psychology. No machine will ever have that. Once they get anywhere close they will already be something else entirely. The machine-human replica is a trope and is more than likely to remain just that. Now here’s team pop-cyborg:

Colonel Steven ‘Steve’ Austin, Locutus, Luke, Batou & Murphy

Here we are dealing with humans, augmented to varying degrees with machine parts. Again you can go down the philosophical rabbithole of questioning at which point they no longer retain their humanity, but the direction of transformation should make the distinction clear. An additional and more important difference is that cyborgs are not just the domain of fiction but an everyday reality. They are omnipresent as active members of our society, making them far more interesting subject matter than the rather quaint android.

The term cyborg was first coined in the mid 20th century, as a couple of NASA scientists kicked around the idea of altering the human body in order to allow it to survive the harsh conditions of space travel. The apex of this ‘classical’ notion of the cyborg finds itself in Frederick Pohl‘s 1974 novel ‘Man Plus‘. Around the same time the potential horror of the cyborg was also being explored by David R. Bunch through his ‘Moderan‘ sequence, in which mans’ mechanization leads to a dehumanized, denaturalized world where war is the social currency, hate is to be cultivated and any truth realized is to be inflicted by means of suffering and pain.

The cyborg became a real staple of science fiction in the 1980’s. New levels of consumer individualism, enhanced commodification and personalization of technology were being reached, putting previously ‘high-tech’ tools into the hands of anyone. Anyone who could afford them anyway, but the constantly decreasing cost meant that would be practically everyone soon enough. Being culturally perceptive avant-gardists, the cyberpunk movement were quick to co-opt the cyborg as a means through which to express this trend, and kitted it out to suit the age. Now cyborgs were no longer a chosen few individuals who had their modifications imposed on them through advanced military medical programs, but started to come thick and fast in many flavors. The element of horror is retained in order to keep the reader turning pages, but the nature of the cyborg has become far more trivial. People undergo heavily invasive body modifications in street clinics as matters of practicality and in many cases, mere vanity.

“It’s easier to depict the union of human and machine literally, close-up on the cranial jack please, than to describe the true and daily and largely invisible nature of an all-encompassing embrace.” – William Gibson

Steve Mann in 1980, the mid 80’s, early 90’s, mid 90’s & late 90’s

An important work in cyborg theory is Donna Haraway‘s 1985 ‘Cyborg Manifesto‘, which utilizes the image of the cyborg as a means to argue an forward looking, post-modern world view. Unfortunately Haraway’s intended irony is wasted on many and the paper has since been misconstrued in almost every way imaginable, leaving a long slimy trail of derivative academic drivel in its path.

The inevitable backlash to these dregs of papers came in the 90’s with Charlie Laughlin‘s Evolution of Cyborg Consciousness, which deplored the metaphorical and fuzzy application of the concept of the cyborg and attempted to bring some sense to the discourse by steering it back towards relevance and practicality. The inevitability and cultural mustability of the cyborg being sincere grounds for us to consider in depth its impact on the evolution of human consciousness.

“Female body-builders and fashion models, are cyborgs. They’re made; they’re more artificial than human.” Bruce Sterling

The people shown above are not victims of an experimental bionic-scout leg transplant program. They just really like to ride their bikes. Are they cyborgs? The fuzzy metaphorical post-modernist may say so. It is certainly the case that an intimate relationship with a machine plays a large part in shaping their bodies and lives. Others however will argue that some degree of invasiveness or nervous connection is required in order for the relationship to qualify them as actual, matter-of-fact cybernetic organisms.

What should be clear is that there is no line that can be drawn to divide man and machine, you couldn’t even draw a line to connect the dots. There is an infinitely multidimensional spectrum of interdependent configurations connecting us, the very survival of our species depends on ever more efficient machines and continuing advances in science and technology. Any attempt to look forward viewing their realms as distinct from ours would not only be unnecessary at this point, but even counter-productive.

“Our species future is thus as open as anyone could imagine. The human body, human sensing, and human thought are all apt for profound transformations by new forms of intimate technology.” Andy Clark

Recommended Reading:

Cyborgs and SpaceManfred E. Clynes & Nathan S. Kline, 1960 The Evolution of Cyborg ConsciousnessCharles Laughlin, 1996 In the Visegrips of Dr. Satan (with Vannevar Bush)William Gibson, 2003 Interview with Andy Clark – Author of ‘Natural-Born Cyborgs’ – Institute for the Future, 2004 You Are Cyborg – An Interview with Donna Haraway – Hari Kunzru, 2004

Recommended Viewing:

Cyborgs, Dogs and Companion Species Donna Haraway, author of ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ speaking at the EGS. She talks briefly about cyborgs and then gets into what she’s really interested in now that cyborgs are old hat. Then she answers some questions about cyborgs. – Donna Haraway, 2000

Gigantesque Caricature

This is the second assignment for ‘Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature’ at P2PU.org. An essay on the depiction of the environment of ‘Bladerunner’ and ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric sheep’. We will take a look at some of the core visual influences of the film, the relation of its depictions to the situation on the ground today (2/3 of the way into ‘the future’), and hear what one of the key creators of the films look has to say about it.

“When Blade Runner works best, it induces a lyrical sort of information sickness, that quintessentially postmodern cocktail of ecstasy and dread. It was what cyberpunk was supposed to be all about.”

William Gibson

There is no doubt now that the tag-team of Ridley ScottsBladerunner‘ and William GibsonsNeuromancer‘ set the tone for the cyberpunk genre, although neither could have had any conception of this at the time they created their works. The grimy, dark, hard-edged and chaotic futures envisioned by Scott and Gibson were both created almost entirely independently, indicating an overarching sensibility in culture at large that began to take the future more seriously than previously had often been the case. It’s a testament to Scotts vision though that not only was the author of the original story amazed with the films look, the author of its literary counterpart was also seriously impressed.

“About ten minutes into Blade Runner, I reeled out of the theater in complete despair over its visual brilliance and its similarity to the “look” of Neuromancer, my [then] largely unwritten first novel. Not only had I been beaten to the semiotic punch, but this damned movie looked better than the images in my head!”

William Gibson

Color us all surprised then when we later hear about the time Scott & Gibson hung out to talk about comic books, and it turns out they were into the same stuff. ‘The Long Tomorrow’ – a 1976 Proto-Cyberpunk comic by French artist Jean Giraud (aka Moebius) was a great influence on both in shaping their future worlds. You may remember his art from from the René Laloux classic Time Masters, he also did concept art for Ridley Scotts Alien, a never-made Dune and a bunch of other shit. (Willow/The Fifth Element/Tron/The Abyss etc)

Another obvious influence is Fritz Langs seminal movie Metropolis (1927), the first serious science fictional dystopia depicted on screen. To be fair this movie has probably been an influence on almost everyone who created any Science Fiction at all in the last century, but Bladerunner is very clearly its direct descendant. The thematic parallels between Bladerunner and Metropolis include the low value of life, a significant role for artificial life, the violent deaths of its creators, and are expressed very strongly through the parallels in brutally enlarged modern architecture, dehumanizing those unfortunate enough to have to live in its footprint. Here is an example showing one of the similarities between the two works.

Bladerunner is often described as a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic and dystopic in a sense the carries very negative connotations, the scenario is not a place many people imagine themselves wanting to live. On the other hand though there are also those that see the city as a thriving urban environment, with a healthy mix of culture and commerce. One survey of Los Angeles City planners even showed that three out of five saw the environment of Bladerunner as a desirable future. Too bad megacorporate capitalism seems to come at the cost of specialist genetics & bio-engineering contractors not being able to afford decent accommodation.

As for Bladerunner being nightmarish and apocalyptic, people have nightmares about all kinds of stuff so the former doesn’t mean much and as for the latter, it’s just not apocalyptic. Apocalypse commonly means the end of the world and the world is obviously still around, it may suck for a lot of people but it hasn’t ended. The original meaning of apocalypse; “lifting of the veil” or “revelation”, is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception. Not exactly what’s going on in Bladerunner.

A dystopia is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government, different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and a state of constant warfare or violence. The impression of all this can be perceived to be conveyed strongly in Bladerunner, but in fact none of these characteristics are explicitly present. However they can be mapped directly to most of our planet right now, making dystopia just everyday normal for a lot of people who would probably like to see them go away. Remove them all though and you’re still left with a smelly, noisy, hot, humid, densely populated, overbuilt, decaying, retro-fitted city, but it can be a pretty cool place to live or at least visit. So how does the future vision of Bladerunner stack up now that we’re two thirds of the way to the time of its imagining?

From top to bottom that’s Los Angeles (2019), Hong Kong (2009), New York (2009) and finally Los Angeles (2009). Note that the LA smog looks way worse today than it does in 2019, this leads me to believe that large incendiary explosions on the tops of tall buildings can somehow be used to combat pollution, I’m looking forward to seeing those implemented soon on high-rises near me.

Looks like we’re doing great as far as the smog goes, how do other elements of L.A.2019 compare to today? Well smoking in bars is banned in most places, I’m not sure if that puts us ahead or behind. P.K Dicks ‘Kipple’ translates to omnipresent urban decay and trash in Bladerunner, both of which are common to most major cities around the world today, so we’re good there. The weather seems strange for L.A but given the mess that our climate is in there’s a good chance strange will become normal for everyone all too soon. And the fashion? Well I’ve seen a lot worse out on the street than most of what is walking around in Bladerunner…

Above L.A. 2019 , below Tokyo today. Neon breaklight umbrella handles haven’t caught on yet, but there is way more advertising now than there apparently will be in the future. Face masks are already a common sight in many Asian cities, on Bladerunner it seems they were mostly just worn by everyone off camera. Of course nowadays we don’t have replicants, off-world colonies and flying cars, neither are we likely to by 2019 but nevertheless the way in which these are presented in Bladerunner keeps their look and feel plausible, and creates a world which at the very least in internally consistent to itself, a crucial element in any good science fictional scenario.

“The fact that real architects are fascinated with the ‘look’ of the film still blows me away!”

Syd Mead

Besides Ridley Scott one of the key figures in the construction of this vision of the future was ‘visual futurist’ Syd Mead, who did a great deal of the work on the various scenes, buildings, vehicles and other props present in the movie.

“We labled our assembly style ‘retro-deco’ and added the additional label of ‘trash-chic.’ The visual style followed Ridley’s original intent to make a ‘noir’ type movie from Philip K. Dick’s story.”

Syd Mead

An interesting coincidence (?) to note here is the parallel with “Gothic Hi-tech” and “Favela chic”, concepts on which our benevolent overlord Bruce Sterling spent a great deal of time enlightening the masses last year. He describes these as two of the main cultural modes of the next ten years, a ‘transition to nowhere’ at the end of which we are placed squarely within Bladerunners chosen year of 2019.

The plausibility of the future world of Bladerunner was very important to Mr. Mead as he created the concept art for the movie, and this is reflected in many facets of his works, even the more fantastic. A prime example is the ‘spinner’ vehicle, a flying car which has a very futuristic look in part due to the removal of the hood area we expect in contemporary cars, yet even this omission is rooted in rational principles, the hood being removed in order to provide the visibility necessary in order to pilot a flying vehicle.

Even props that aren’t likely to ever make it into the real world in any way are given a look that makes them appear possible, and at least consistent with the world in which they find themselves placed, like the Voight Kampff machine which Syd Mead designed with what we could now recognize as having a very steampunkish aesthetic, placing it outside the confines of technology as we have seen it develop and making it an excellent theatrical prop.

“I didn’t ‘get’ the story at all…”

Syd Mead

All of the above has contributed to Bladerunner having become what we see it as today, over the years its look has never become dated, as it has skillfully placed itself just outside the confines of reality but close enough for the parallels to be very clear, allowing it to both engage and disturb its viewers even almost 30 years after its production. As far as near future fictions go in film Bladerunner is still one of the best, and as with all good speculative fiction the exploration of its ideas has hopefully allowed us to avoid many of the problems that people find so disconcerting about its vision.

Recommended Reading:

Beyond Blade Runner: Urban Control – The Ecology of Fear – Mike Davis. 1992

The Least Scary Option: Blade Runner and the Future City – Stephen Rowley, 1998

The Future of our Discontents – William Timberman, 1999

From dystopia to myopia: Metropolis to Blade Runner – Dave Clements, 2003

Recommended Viewing:

Syd Mead with Joel Johnson, part 3: BLADE RUNNER – 2008

Stewart Brand proclaims 4 environmental ‘heresies’ – 2009

Bohemian Dyspepsia

This is the first assignment for ‘Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature’ at P2PU.org, writing a short essay on what makes Cyberpunk stand apart from the rest of Science Fiction. To this end I will recount an horrifically incomplete history of the genre, attempting to describe the interrelation of the advances in culture and technology that influenced the authors, the concepts they explored and the day to day realities of their audience.

“Rooted as they are in the facts of contemporary life, the phantasies of even a second-rate writer of modern Science Fiction are incomparably richer, bolder and stranger than the Utopian or Millennial imaginings of the past.”

Aldous Huxley

Rockets glared red throughout the Golden Age of Science Fiction as space cowboy yarns matured into sprawling space operas and the bleep-blorp robots of the preceding pulp era grew more complex personalities. The industrial age had raised the average standard of living considerably, and as luxury goods became more commonplace consumerism took its hold. The atom was split, electronic devices became standard household items, and consumer well-being never ceased to improve. This material progress seemed unstoppable, inspiring authors to extrapolate fantastic visions of the coming Space Age, but as their heroes went forth in adventure there was no way for readers to actually live these fantasies. The miracles of modern science brought them fridge-freezers and TV’s but there was nothing much that allowed them participate in the fictional worlds that had been created besides the scope of their own imaginations.

Modernity attempted to rationalize the world by inflicting optimal configurations of form following function on its surroundings and the dream of space culminated in the largest media event ever seen. Man set foot on the moon, and then the excitement soon wore off. Meanwhile a cultural revolution was underway, bringing forth the New Wave as Science Fiction reviewed its old ideas, explored inner space and expanded its reach into a wider range of social and political issues. Now fictional scenarios were being described that a lot more people were able to directly relate to as they acted out their own experiments on how the future should be lived. And so while the children of the Golden Age took drugs, got laid and danced, Modernism gave way to Postmodernism. The computer began its rise, and the electronic age shifted towards the digital as technology spread and the fledgling networks grew, talking amongst themselves.

“You have a group of bohemians armed with digital technologies and a certain kind of gloomy optimism. I see a great deal of dyspepsia about technology along with a willingness to embrace anything that comes along. Cyberpunk seems to be filled with grim predictions about the future coupled with a willingness to hasten its advent by whatever means possible.”

John Perry Barlow

So you’re a young author based firmly in counterculture, fed up with the current state of establishment Science Fiction, very well aware of new futures on the horizon and in need of a vehicle to explore them in. What do you do? Take a hard boiled detective noir set, re-dress it with mega corporations, mob cartels and data pirates, then add some blades, leather and neon for good measure. Pick out plausible locations amidst the networked, media rich futures envisioned by the likes of Vannevar Bush and Marshall McLuhan. Have the actions of your characters be informed by the social ineptitude and behavioral quirks you observe in the academics and hackers who have access to this new computer hardware, and splash on the erratic violence, backstabbing and general sleazy depravity of romanticized street lowlifes. Last but not least charge the mixture with a vital ingredient, a new virtual realm of data and thought called Cyberspace and you’re off on fire.

As the future unfolded over the course of the following decades, the internet spread out from universities and businesses into schools and homes, and then further still into backpacks, purses and pockets, all the way bringing the new cyberculture along with it. This allowed what had recently just been a set of tropes to evolve into a fully blown subculture complete with an underground elite, scenesters, posers, art, literature, music, fashion, cashing in, selling out and the hallmark of any culture with staying power; being declared dead as soon as it hit the mainstream. The Cyberpunk label stuck, but the culture it represented has raged on past it and permeated the everyday lives of us all.

“The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”

William Gibson

A kid growing up reading the Science Fiction of the first half of the 20th century could have been inspired to study real hard and become an astronaut, but there was no way he or she would ever be able to experience the dreams of interstellar exploration, starships, strange new worlds and android sidekicks. There was little to no overlap between the future visions of their time and the day to day reality of the world they inhabited.

Now if you’ve ever grabbed your laptop and gone to a friends house to use the internet, congratulations. You just became a vagrant net surfer, possibly even a data pirate. With your hardware strapped to your person in its carrier you set out on a quest to return to cyberspace. Hopefully you wore black. If you had to cross town you probably told a junkie or two to get lost, and maybe made an effort to avoid some random crackhead. Your journey is now wrought with hidden perils, backed by the power struggles that constantly strain the structures of the criminal underworld. Maybe you rolled up a quick spliff for the walk and grabbed your Walkman on the way out, well then welcome to the drug induced paranoia that is your voyage through space and time, fueled forward by a soundtrack of whatever electronic audio experiments have made their way back from the frontiers of musical innovation to the output of your personal media device. Shit if its dark, rainy and hot outside I hope you’re headed through an area where there’s some brightly lit advertising going on, because you are about to live the dream.

This is Cyberpunk. There is an almost complete overlap between the features of the fictional and real worlds and the hi-tech of old has become cheap, disposable and omnipresent, leaving wave after wave of disruptive emergent futures in its wake.

“In the future it will be everywhere, but it won’t be called cyberculture, it will just be called culture.”

Stranger

Today we are well into the information age and the net holds together the fabric of society. Bruce Sterling has raised the threat level from ‘gloomy optimism’ to ‘dreadful euphoria’, and everyone is scrambling just to figure out what the fuck is going on. In the Postcyberpunk era, Science Fiction has almost completely caught up with reality, and we all have the means to exert our influence on progress in the areas where it hasn’t. We have gained tools that allow us to shape our own visions of the future, and they are only ever going to get more powerful.

Recommended reading:

Cheap TruthVincent Omniaveritas, 1983-1986 Trillion Year SpreeBrian W. Aldiss, 1986 Rocket RadioWilliam Gibson, 1989 Cyberpunk – Terminal Chic?Nathan Cobb, 1992 Fiction that bleeds truth Jon Lebkowsky, 1992 Cyberpunk in the NinetiesBruce Sterling, 1998

Recommended viewing:

Freedom and the Independence Declaration of Cyberspace On the Independence Declaration of Cyberspace and founding the Electronic Frontier Foundation. John Perry Barlow, 2006 Reboot 11 closing talk On Favela Chic, Gothic High Tech, Dreadful Euphoria, Stuffed Animals and your dead Grandfather. Bruce Sterling, 2009

Thanks to Benjamin Becker.

Introduction to Cyberpunk Literature

I’m currently enrolled in this course at P2PU.org, an Open Education Resource exploring the future of higher education in a peer to peer world where technology is constantly accelerating the changing ways in which we use knowledge and are forced to learn.

The stated aims of the course are to illustrate the contrast between Space Opera and cyberpunk, and to discuss the consequences of the relations between humans and androids. Personally I’m more interested in the cultural influences of the genre, but a lot of interesting material I wasn’t familiar with and viewpoints I hadn’t earlier been exposed to have already cropped up, so as far as learning experiences go I think the course is going to be a success.

There will regularly be written assignments that need to be done as part of the course, I’ll be posting those here as they come over the next few weeks. Any interesting and relevant links I come across will be tagged up and bookmarked on this Diigo group.