Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Time for Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk has long been a genre that has fascinated me but that I don't know a lot about. I've tried to educate myself on the genre, but with many things there are some things I love and some things I did not. However, as I reflect on the core tenets of the cyberpunk genre I more and more believe that it is primed for a renaissance.

So, what is cyberpunk? As with many genres nailing it down to a specific definition is not simple. I would say that cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s with a focus on cybernetic, modifications, virtual reality, computers/artificial intelligence, and telecommunications technologies with themes related to the gulf between rich and poor, crime, and oppressive/dystopian urban environments. It often adapts a cynical or pessimistic tone. A few famous entries in this genre are Neuromancer by William Gibson, Blade Runner, The Matrix.  On that definition alone I'm sure it's clear in part why I think we're ready for this genre to dominate culturally. Aesthetically the genre tends to build a lot from its roots in the eighties with heavy Asian influences, neon lights and call backs to Noir.

Given the deep anxieties about the tech sector, the concerns about the concentration of power and influence in the hands of a few corporations and the political, economic and social issues rolling through the world cyberpunk feels quite apt as a tool for critique. Some may argue that this is already happening. Television programs like Westworld are arguably cyberpunk. The Blade Runner revival was critically acclaimed, as were films like Ex Machina. As we routinely have to wrestle with questions of morality and ethics regarding technology creative people will find utility in this genre. Also, as we consider the possibility of birthing true artificial intelligence we will have to deal with that particular fallout.

There is a slight irony that cyberpunk may simply become life. As more of the technology of the cyberpunk future enters reality and grows into the mainstream eventually that aspect may fade in relevance. Still, I think we're sitting at a critical moment in time when the genre could and should undergo a revival to help us culturally deal with these tensions.

Some of my favourite cyberpunk works have been The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, Altered Carbon, and Dredd. That's just a short list. Below is a video game trailer for something that definitely shot my interest in the genre in the arm. If these themes, concepts and topics intrigue you I encourage you to explore the genre.

No comments: