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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Cyberpunk
Posted: February 20, 2017 at 7:25 pm
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Doctor Strange Pinball Table Coming in December 2013
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Posted: February 15, 2017 at 9:26 pm
At the start of the 1988 adventure game based on William Gibson’s genre-defining cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, you wake up face down in a plate of spaghetti. Well, it’s synth-spaghetti because this is the future, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable. Like the book’s protagonist Case you’re a down-and-out former console cowboy who has lost the ability to hack, though in your case it’s not due to traumatic surgery but simple poverty. You can’t afford a new computer. Hell, you can’t even afford to pay for the spaghetti.
Author Bruce Sterling summed up the cyberpunk genre as a combination of low-life and high-tech, and that’s a perfect description of both versions of Neuromancer. Later in the game you have the option to sell your internal organs for cash, and hack a computer at Cheap Hotelits actual nameto pay the rent. Your life is about as low as they get.
In 1993 Syndicate went in the opposite direction, casting you as the CEO in charge of a corporation bent on global domination. In Syndicate you’re the villain at the top of the dystopian food chain.
While most of the games in the genre that followed explored spaces somewhere in between those two extremes, there’s been a tendency for them to focus on the high-tech and not the low-life. They get the cyber, but not the punk.
Cyberpunk games are rarely about cool losers. They’re usually about cool cops.
Take the heroes of the Deus Ex series. JC Denton is an augmented agent who works for a UN anti-terrorist organization. Alex D is an augmented agent-in-training at the Tarsus Academy with a bright future in the WTO, and Adam Jensen is the augmented chief of security for a biotech corporation. All of these characters go through learning experiences that show their employers are untrustworthy and their world is more complex than they thought it was, but they all start on the privileged side of the fence.
When low-life characters do show up, they’re pushed to the periphery. Adam Jensen walks past some punks gathered around a bin-fire in the streets of Detroit so he can overhear a conversation about getting a dog cybernetically enhanced to take part in a pitfight.
In the Lower Seattle of Deus Ex: Invisible War, Alex D also meets two people huddled around a burning bin, one of whom is Lo-town Lucya pierced punk who provides some basic info on the area while reprimanding you for being an Upper Seattle tourist. She points out how out of your element you are in the poor part of town, but in doing so makes it clear you’re out of place in the genre as well.
That’s not to say that there are no cyborg badasses who learn the law isn’t always right in cyberpunk outside of games. Robocop and Ghost in the Shell are both classic examples of this kind of story, but in video games characters like Murphy and Kusanagi aren’t rarities. They’re the norm.
The heroes of Crusader: No Remorse, Hard Reset, Final Fantasy VII, Binary Domainall are tough guys who learn the rebels and terrorists have a point. They’re Armitage from Neuromancer, rather than that story’s actual main characters: Case and Molly, the misfits.
Binary Domain is an on-the-nose example of a sidelined punk: a teen hacker with multicolored hair named Yuki who lives in the slums of Tokyo and works as a courier for the resistance. Because it’s a video game the hero of the story is a white American with a big gun instead of her.
A rare counter-example is Remember Me from Life is Strange developer Dontnot, in which you do get to play the terroristwell, Errorist because it’s the future.
Influential as it is, Neuromancer’s not the only flavor of cyberpunk. Blade Runner gave us the archetype of the futuristic investigator forced to see a bigger, more troubling world beyond the next case. Since then, whether detectives like in Psycho-Pass or crusading journalists like in Max Headroom, plenty of cyberpunk stories have been about characters who attempt to solve crimes but stumble into more philosophical questions. Games like the Tex Murphy series, Technobabylon, Anachranox, Westwood’s Blade Runner, and more recently Read Only Memories all fit into this category.
But even here, with shabby heroes who live in cramped apartments the order of the day, the low-lifes often get a raw deal. In Read Only Memories you see two punks named Starfucker and Olli and immediately accuse them of an unrelated act of vandalism and chase them down, after which you’re given the option to call the police like some kind of tool of The Man.
If you dont you get to know them better and learn theyre not bad guys, but then they transition to comedy sidekicksthose two wacky guys!instead. They feel like a token inclusion, cast aside by the climax, when they deserve to be central.
Over time these tropes have been distilled into the core of the genre: all the imagery, with none of the messages.
In the end it turns out Starfucker and Olli are guilty of the vandalism you accuse them of. But still, it’s rough to see the characters with mohawks and shades treated so roughly in a game that’s all about evoking the classic retro cyberpunk feel. Like so many games Read Only Memories borrows visuals from Akira, but in Akira the biker gang are the heroes.
Recycling is an essential part of cyberpunk fiction, its cities full of repurposed junk given new life. The initial wave that followed iconic works like Neuromancer, Blade Runner, and Akira recycled too, using their conceits and visuals in new ways. Over time these tropes have been distilled into the core of the genre: all the imagery, with none of the messages.
One game where the malcontents and outsiders get to star is Shadowrun: Dragonfall. The Shadowrun series is an unlikely mash-up of fantasy and cyberpunk that exaggerates the cliches of each, where the dragon who demands tribute and the TV personality admired by millions are one and the same, Smaug cast as Max Headroom. Perhaps it’s that exaggeration of the basic tropes that makes Shadowrun feel true to cyberpunk fiction, in spite of the elves.
Shadowrunners are hackers and spies who can be hired online, like Uber but for corporate espionage, and in Dragonfall your band of runners have a secret base under a market in the anarchist free state of Berlin. It’s as much about protecting the societal dregs who are your neighbours, drug addicts and shifty coffee dealers, as it is about making money. Also, one of the party members is an actual punk, the former lead singer of a band with the wonderful name MESSERKAMPF!
Shadowrun: Dragonfall gets the heart of cyberpunk right. Quality punks.
Cyberpunk-adjacent games like this weirdly seem more likely to feature the most cyberpunk protagonists. Sci-fi horror games Bloodnet and Magrunner: Dark Pulse are perfect examples, even though they add vampires and the Cthulhu Mythos. The hacker heroes of Watch Dogs 2, Quadrilateral Cowboy, and Else Heart.Break() would all feel at home in glowing near-future cities even though their games are set in the modern day, the 1980s, and a fictional town in Sweden respectively.
As in movies like Sneakers, Hackers, and Inception, they’re telling cyberpunk stories about how information wants to be free and unchecked power is real bad, just without the chromed-up settings.
Right now CD Projekt Red is working on Cyberpunk 2077, a game that promises to be so chromed-up we’ll be able to see our reflections in it. Like Shadowrun it’s based on a tabletop RPG, but this time one with a more purist visionMike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020, in which players are cast as anti-corporate Edgerunners and where getting too many implants can cause cyberpsychosis.
The trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 features a member of MAX-TACcops who hunt those cyberpsychosarresting and recruiting a cyborg killer. But while the tabletop game has cops among its playable roles, it also features Netrunners, biker Nomads, and Rockerboys and Rockergirls who use the power of music to spread their political messages. It lets players emulate the gang members of Marc Laidlaw’s ‘400 Boys’ or the rockstars of Norman Spinrad’s Little Heroes as well as Judge Dredd.
There’s reason to hope the video game adaptation will follow suit and in doing so, get closer to the under-represented elements of the genre. In a promotional video for Cyberpunk 2077, Pondsmithwho is working with CD Projekt Red on adapting his gametalks about what he considers to be important in cyberpunk. It’s not the technology, he says, it’s the feel. It’s getting that dark, gritty, rain-wet street feeling but at the same time getting that rock & roll, lost, desperate-and-dangerous quality.
Pondsmith goes on to quote one of Gibson’s famous lines from the short story Burning Chrome: the street finds its own uses for things. Cyberpunk isn’t just about the alienation that comes with future shock, or the questions about humanity raised by cybernetic enhancement and artificial intelligence. It’s also about the way powerless people find strength and solace by repurposing the future for their own ends.
Gibson wrote that the street finds its own uses for things, not people who work for security agencies find their own uses for things.
The streets and their inhabitants are central to cyberpunk. It’s the powerless who suffer most in the kind of authoritarian regimes cyberpunk fiction depicts, and games could do with getting back to the idea that the rebels, misfits, vandals, and people who can’t afford a plate of spaghetti matter.
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Posted: at 9:26 pm
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 12:14 GMT By Brenna Hillier
Prey isnt as weird as those early trailers suggested, but it is extremely cool.
In its opening minutes, Prey looks and feels very much like the modern Deus Ex series, with a similar sort of streamlined cyberpunk aesthetic.
Prey is not as weird as Id hoped based on its E3 2016 reveal trailer, but after playing through the first hour or so, Im gagging to see more.
A lot of talk about Prey is going to focus on its lineage; it comes to us from the same sprawling family as Thief, Deus Ex, System Shock, BioShock and Deus Ex. Arkane is home to some of the people who worked on those games, and if you had any doubts about its affection for and connection to the grandaddy of the immersive sim genre after Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic and Dishonored, the in-game Looking Glass technology ought to tip you off.
The more surface phenotypical features of this DNA are all there. For example, you can pick stuff up and throw it around if you want to, flush all the toilets you fancy, and even leave little damage decals on monitors if you press the attack key rather than the interact one when trying to check your email.
The demo is too limited to judge whether the systemic and emergent goodies of this family come through intact, but there are clues. The Gloo gun hints at an interesting combat sandbox which also doubles as environmental and traversal puzzle toolkit, and my discovery of a Nerf crossbow useless in terms of damage, but a silent method of acting on interactive objects at a distance suggests therell be opportunities for interesting stealth gameplay, too.
The opening sequence is a soft tutorial and largely linear, branching just once very slightly as you choose how to bypass a closed door, where a popup message informs you that later in the game youll encounter obstacles with multiple possible solutions and can choose your own path. This explicit promise of the old Looking Glass approach is more subtly echoed in the branching of the skill trees as well as the the many terminals, puzzles and routes Morgan cannot investigate in the opening sequence but must return to later in the game.
These familiar elements will almost certainly please genre fans, but flushing toilets, a crowded combat sandbox and freedom of playstyle are not enough to shift units. In its opening minutes, Prey looks and feels very much like the modern Deus Ex series, with a similar sort of streamlined cyberpunk aesthetic although its tempered by Arkanes distinctive character design. I couldnt help but suppress a sigh as I realised the environments were full of heavy objects Id be able to move once I bought a leg augmentation sorry, spent Neuromods in the appropriate tree. Your mileage will vary on that, but as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided so recently demonstrated, mass appetite for that kind of experience has diminished.
Prey gets more interesting when Morgan moves into the main environment the Transtar space station is clearly part of the same universe but lacks the pretty, frictionless future-urban look of Morgans apartment. The decor here instead favours corpses, combat damage and warren-like layouts that loop and interconnect, each packed with props, resources, story hooks and alien ambushes.
The first main objective is to reach the hub at the centre of the station, almost overwhelmingly riddled with doors over four levels. Most of these were closed off, but it was easy to see that players would be wandering back and forth between locations throughout the game, gradually exploring and unlocking the whole station; the maps found in most areas are going to be a lifesaver. This freedom of moment means theres no need to hoover up all the crafting materials Morgan finds around the place, which rapidly gum up her inventory, and a Metroidvania-style element means puzzles and secrets will reward those who return to past scenes.
As an example of this last point, theres a combination safe in one of the earliest rooms Morgan can access. Fresh from Dishonored 2s safe combinations, I dutifully scoured the room for clues, eventually putting together a grand conspiracy theory about the solution involving emails found on various terminals nearby and then giving it up in disgust when I couldnt make the numbers work out for me. Later I asked a PR rep about it, and she laughed: nobody in the office had been able to solve it, and an email from Arkane confirmed the solution was not available in the demo. Well, then.
The upshot of everything Ive said so far is that Prey seems like a decent enough game of the immersive sim lineage, promising a wealth of exploration, combat and throwing-things-at-other-things-to-see-what-happens in the finest traditions of the genre. (In case you were wondering, hitting an explosive gas canister with a wrench results in you being blown up. I checked. If anybody asks, it was on purpose. For science.) Without seeing more of the gameplay, the differentiating feature at this stage has to be the setting and plot.
Without spoiling the story, Prey presents a more straightforward narrative in the first hour than I had expected based on the initial reveal. Looking back on E3 2016, I think I made too much of director Raphael Colantonios promise of an immersive sim with a psychological twist. I should have paid more attention to the fact that the secrets hidden in the reveal trailer were pretty obvious, and to Bethesdas more matter-of-fact description of Prey as a game about being the first human enhanced with alien powers aboard a desolate space station under assault.
There is a nice twist right there in that first hour, but it was resolved by the end of the demo; I was disappointed by how every question I had was answered almost immediately. By the time I was finished I felt like I knew exactly what had happened on the station, identified an antagonist, and had an overall purpose. All very admirable in terms of video game storytelling goals, and even from the start it feels more cohesive than Dishonored (which for all its truly glorious lore does feel like a story stitched together from excellent level design). But not necessarily super compelling stuff to anybody versed in literate sci-fi, even with all the aliens and eyeball stabbing.
This is often the case in the first hour of a game, and the fact that Prey didnt leave me with a boatload of questions does not mean things wont get super weird later on. I cant help comparing it to BioShock Infinite, though; I remember spotting the glitching Lutece statue in those opening few minutes and feeling a building sense of excitement that here was something I didnt understand at all. I hope Prey can offer that same sense of mystery for all of us, and to satisfy my personal tastes I hope it goes off the rails so hard it ends up upside down, in another country and on fire.
Prey seems like a decent enough game of the immersive sim lineage, promising a wealth of exploration, combat and throwing-things-at-other-things-to-see-what-happens in the finest traditions of the genre.
Straight forward narrative and familiar immersive sim gameplay: a solid package but not mind-blowing. So what Im having trouble working out is why Prey has been nagging at my mind for the past week, while its close cousin Deus Ex: Mankind Divided has been gathering dust since about 20 minutes after release.
Partly I think its a product of the nature of the demo; we got a tantalising glimpse of the games possibilities without the opportunity to get to grips with them. The enemies through the demo were all the same type of grunt, for example, with another, more interesting type shown only very briefly and never engaged. The crafting and upgrade systems were available, but without enough resources on hand to put them to significant use. The story stood up and shook itself, and although the hairs settled back down straight away, theres the chance it could do it again or perhaps stand up and savage the cat.
I guess I want to play more Prey to find out if all these things, combined with the obviously solid bones it is built on, turn out to be as much fun as they could be. Thats a stickier start than most games manage.
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Ghost In The Shell TV Spot Ramps Up The Cyberpunk Action, Full Trailer Arrives In Time For Valentine’s Day – We Got This Covered
Posted: February 11, 2017 at 8:34 am
Ghost in the Shell was one of the many, many 2017 blockbusters to roll out new footage during last weekends Super Bowl LI (see: The Fate of the Furious, Transformers: The Last Knight, and more), but if sources close to Trailer Track are to be believed, Paramount had originally planned to unveil a full-length promo for Rupert Sanders live-action manga movie just prior to the annual sporting event, only to pull said trailer at the eleventh hour.
Fast forward three weeks and change and TT is reporting that the new and likely final full trailer for Ghost in the Shell will be with us on Monday, February 13th, and a tantalizing new TV spot is here to drum up excitement. Embedded above, the promo in question features much of the footage seen during the films Super Bowl stinger, with the marketing campaign continuing to draw attention toScarlett Johanssons missing (stolen?) identity.
ScarJo will anchor Ghost in the Shell asMajor Motoko Kusanagi or The Major for short a one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid and the flagship product of Hanka Robotics. The casting of the former Avengers star has proved contentious, and earlier today,Johansson offered up her own two cents regarding those whitewashing claims. Spoilers: Johansson stressed that she would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity.
On March 31st, Scarlett Johansson will finally take point as Paramounts Ghost in the Shell. Its the first major manga-inspired tentpole to grace these shores in quite some time, and will soon be followed by Adam Wingards Death Note movie and Alita: Battle Angel, which just added Jennifer Connellyto its stacked ensemble.
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Posted: February 9, 2017 at 6:20 am
Earlier this week, always-excellent comics site The Nib published a piece declaring 2017 to be a 1990s cyberpunk dystopia. Theres a good argument that weve been moving toward a cyberpunk present for years, especially as science fictional technologies get closer to reality among other things, the comic cites personal drones, hackable smart appliances, and smartphones. But its punchline was specific to the two-week-old Trump administration: Most dystopian of all, we now have a villainous business tycoon running the nation with the biggest army of killer robot drones in the world.
Dystopian may be the right word for the current political environment, but cyberpunk is the completely wrong one.
Cyberpunk as an actual literary genre is too diverse and complex to be pinned down in a few bullet points, even before it’s been splintered into post-cyberpunk and biopunk and splatterpunk and whatnot. But as a cultural reference point, it evokes a few instantly recognizable tropes. Youve got the street-smart techno-wizards, for instance. The virtual fever dreams. The barrage of brand names. The hardboiled cynicism. And, perhaps above all, cyberpunk pivots on unfathomable corporate power.
2017 is all about the limits of the megacorp
If there’s one thing that defines our popular conception of cyberpunk, it’s the grandly ruthless multinational company, often some kind of computing or biotechnology powerhouse, that transcends mere state authority. Sometimes the company makes government irrelevant; sometimes the company is a government, as in the million franchised states of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The hackers-versus-suits mythos transcends any specific story: its as universally recognized as (when its not outright crossed with) Tolkiens orcs and elves. But so far, 2017 is not the year of the megacorp it’s the year we’re reminded of the megacorp’s limits.
Last week, for example, President Donald Trump passed an executive order on immigration: a drastic ban on not just new refugees, but initially current green card and visa holders from a number of Muslim-majority nations. It was a direct threat to the largely pro-globalization tech industry, stranding some employees overseas and making it dangerous for others to go abroad in the future. And Silicon Valley a place full of people who want to cure death, rewrite reality, and fight the rise of killer artificial intelligences metaphorically cast its eyes down, shuffled its feet, and tried to formulate an objection.
At best, companies reacted immediately with vocal dismay, decrying the order in public statements and lobbying for change. At worst, they expressed vague concern and quietly provided their employees with logistical strategies, until public pressure was strong enough to do more. They were cautious, conciliatory, and pragmatic: Elon Musk, a multibillionaire who thinks nothing of declaring hell colonize Mars, determined that getting rid of the ban was “just a non-zero possibility” and asked his Twitter followers to help him rewrite it. The world’s most cyberpunk-y businesses, the ones busy developing virtual reality headsets while enmeshing humanity in massive data networks that track our every move, didn’t ready their salaried assassins and killer viruses as their sci-fi stand-ins would. Their leaders donated money to the ACLU and showed up at airport protests. They may have far more power than the average citizen, but they seemed just as dependent on the whims of the White House as the rest of us.
Trump isnt a manifestation of cyberpunk, hes the backlash against it
Yes, Trump himself is a businessman but not the kind that cyberpunk fiction immortalized. He’s not a menacing executive mastermind or a decadent posthuman, but an emotionally fragile real estate mogul who decided that the presidency was a step up from building gaudy towers and allegedly scamming his biggest fans. His particular mix of business and politics looks less like an omnipotent fusion of government and corporation than a petty kleptocracy, bent on filling overpriced hotel rooms and personally enriching some fellow billionaires. Its the traditional mainstream Republicans, with whom Trump has a distinctly strained relationship, who are pushing hardest to outright privatize the country.
Individual pieces of cyberpunk-related fiction certainly evoke our political reality. (Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan is eerily apt, if you fuse its election arcs fascist-lite presidential candidate with his vindictive, blankly jovial opponent.) But the genres broadest tropes are rooted in exactly the kind of world order that Trump declares hell break up. Trump isnt a manifestation of our cyberpunk future, hes a backlash against it.
Late last year, author Emmett Rensin wrote an essay in The Outline decrying the idea of tech entrepreneurs as mythical heroes and villains, which Resnin argued allows them to project power in excess of its reality.” While Resnin primarily contended that this perception lets modern-day robber barons get away with building a financial oligarchy, framing companies as all-powerful also obscures the larger dynamics of US politics. If you see everything through the lens of corporate warfare or sociopaths drinking Soylent, you lose track of whos holding the nuclear codes. (You also end up ignoring the threat of chemical and fossil fuel companies, whose sci-fi endgame is an all-purpose environmental apocalypse.)
Look, for all I know, Google does have corporate assassins
A company like Google wields a great deal of control over our lives. But the biggest threat right now is not that its mission statement suddenly changes to Be Evil, as popular cyberpunk plots might suggest. Its that it confidently pursues idealistic missions without accounting for how that work could be hijacked by outside forces, whether or not its a willing participant in the process. This has already occurred with mass surveillance of email metadata; what happens when the FBI reprograms ubiquitous service robots as an ad hoc police force?
Of course, were only seeing the surface level of things, so I could always be wrong. Maybe Elon Musks measured tweets are just a cover while SolarCity completes a hostile takeover of the US electrical grid while planting Russian false flags. Maybe Trump is secretly deferring to his Silicon Valley adviser Peter Thiel in exchange for a shot at eternal life in one of Thiels cyber-gothic vampire covens. Maybe the levers of power are not in the hands of people who want to pull America back to an ugly past, but ones who will dispassionately push us into a terrifying new future. At this point, though, that seems almost like a comforting fantasy.
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Posted: at 6:20 am
This is Niche Spotlight. In this column, we regularly introduce new games to our fans, so please leave feedback and let us know if theres a game you want us to cover!
Adult Swim Games is publishing Askiisofts stylish, murderous action-platformer Katana ZERO. The game is currently in development for Windows PC, and its already shaping up quite nicely.
The game is focused on the hardcore end of the spectrum, where one hit means death for you and your enemies. Instead of absorbing lots of comparisons to things like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and Mark of the Ninja, you should hit play on the above video to see the game in motion.
Described as a fast paced neo-noir action platformer, focusing on tight, instant-death acrobatic combat combined with a dark 80s neon aesthetic, even the games soundtrack oozes a stylish, cyberpunk feel.
The protagonist primarily wields a katana, while also making use of a time-warping drug named Chronos. Youll have to traverse hand-built levels and overcome the onslaught of enemies all in the hope of taking back what is yours.
Heres a rundown on the game, via Askiisoft:
Katana ZERO is a fast paced neo-noir action platformer, focusing on tight, instant-death acrobatic combat, and a dark 80s neon aesthetic. Aided with your trusty katana, the time manipulation drug Chronos and the rest of your assassins arsenal, fight your way through a fractured city, and take back whats rightfully yours.
A release date for Katana ZERO is currently not known, however for now you can view the games Steam page.
If youre a developer and want your game showcased on Niche Spotlight, please contact us!
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Posted: October 27, 2016 at 12:04 pm
If any genre of science fiction is actually right about the future, its probably cyberpunk: rule by corporations, high tech and low life, cybernetics, the use of technology in ways its creators never intended, and loners wandering a landscape covered with lenses and screens. Hell, I dont call that science fiction; I call that Tuesday.
by Charles Stross 2005
It is the era of the posthuman. Artificial intelligences have surpassed the limits of human intellect. Biotechnological beings have rendered people all but extinct. Molecular nanotechnology runs rampant, replicating and reprogramming at will. Contact with extraterrestrial life grows more imminent with each new day.
Struggling to survive and thrive in this accelerated world are three generations of the Macx clan: Manfred, an entrepreneur dealing in intelligence amplification technology whose mind is divided between his physical environment and the Internet; his daughter, Amber, on the run from her domineering mother and seeking her fortune in the outer system as an indentured astronaut; and Sirhan, Ambers son, who finds his destiny linked to the fate of all humanity.
About the title: in Italian, accelerando means speeding up and is used as a tempo marking in musical notation. In Strosss novel, it refers to the accelerating rate at which humanity in general, and/or the novels characters, head towards the technological singularity. The term was used earlier in this way by Kim Stanley Robinson in his 1985 novel The Memory of Whiteness and again in his Mars trilogy.
by Richard K. Morgan 2002
Not since Isaac Asimov has anyone combined SF and mystery so well. A very rich man kills himself, and when his backup copy is animated, he hires Takeshi Kovacs to find out why.
Morgan creates a gritty, noir tale that will please Raymond Chandler fans, an impressive accomplishment in any genre.
by Greg Egan 1997
Since the Introdus in the 21st century, humanity has reconfigured itself drastically. Most chose immortality, joining the polises to become conscious software.
Others opted for gleisners: Disposable, renewable robotic bodies that remain in contact with the physical world of force and friction. Many of these have left the Solar System forever in fusion drive starships.
And there are the holdouts. The fleshers left behind in the muck and jungle of Earth some devolved into dream-apes; others cavorting in the seas or the air; while the statics and bridges try to shape out a roughly human destiny.
fans of hard SF that incorporates higher mathematics and provocative hypotheses about future evolution are sure to be fascinated by Egans speculations. -Publishers Weekly
by Bruce Sterling 1998
Its November 2044, an election year, and the state of the Union is a farce. The government is broke, the cities are privately owned, and the military is shaking down citizens in the streets. Washington has become a circus and no one knows that better than Oscar Valparaiso. A political spin doctor, Oscar has always made things look good. Now he wants to make a difference.
Oscar has a single ally: Dr. Greta Penninger, a gifted neurologist at the bleeding edge of the neural revolution. Together theyre out to spread a very dangerous idea whose time has come. And so have their enemies: every technofanatic, government goon, and laptop assassin in America. Oscar and Greta might not survive to change the world, but theyll put a new spin on it.
Sterling once again proves himself the reigning master of near-future political SF. This is a powerful and, at times, very funny novel that should add significantly to Sterlings already considerable reputation. -Publishers Weekly
by Philip K. Dick 1968
When Ridley Scott made the film Blade Runner, he used a lot of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but he also threw a lot away. Instead of Harrison Fords lonely bounty hunter, Dicks protagonist is a financially strapped municipal employee with bills to pay and a depressed wife.
Theres also a whole subplot that follows John Isidore, a man of sub-par IQ who aids the fugitive androids.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a much more sober and darker meditation of what it means to be human than the film it inspired.
by Cory Doctorow 2003
It takes a special mind to combine Disney and cyberpunk, and author Cory Doctorow apparently has it (in his head, or in a jar, I dont know the specifics).
Jules is a young man barely a century old. Hes lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphoniesand to realize his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.
Disney World! The greatest artistic achievement of the long-ago twentieth century, currently in the keeping of a network of ad-hocs who keep the classic attractions running as they always have, enhanced with only the smallest high-tech touches.
Now, though, the ad hocs are under attack. A new group has taken over the Hall of the Presidents, and is replacing its venerable audioanimatronics with new, immersive direct-to-brain interfaces that give guests the illusion of being Washington, Lincoln, and all the others. For Jules, this is an attack on the artistic purity of Disney World itself.
Worse: it appears this new group has had Jules killed. This upsets him. (Its only his fourth death and revival, after all.) Now its war.
Juless narrative unfolds so smoothly that readers may forget that all this raging passion is over amusement park rides. Then they can ask what that shows about the novels supposedly mature, liberated characters. Doctorow has served up a nicely understated dish: meringue laced with caffeine. -Publishers Weekly
by John Shirley 1999
Eclipse takes place in an alternate history where the Soviet Union never collapsed, and has invaded Western Europe but didnt use its nukes. At least, not its big ones.
Into the chaos steps the Second Alliance, a multinational corporation eager to impose its own kind of New World Order.
In the United States, in FirStep (a vast space colony), and on the artificial island Freezone, the Second Alliance shoulders its way to power, spinning a dark web of media manipulation, propaganda, and infiltration.
Only the New Resistance recognizes the Second Alliance for what it really is: a racist theocracy hiding a cult of eugenics.
Enter Rick Rickenharp, a former rocknroll cult hero: a rock classicistout of place in Europes underground club scene, populated by wiredancers and minimonos but destined to play a Song Called Youth that will shake the world.
the novel offers a thrashy punk riff on science fictions familiar future war scenario. -Publishers Weekly
by Lewis Shiner 1984
Ten years ago the worlds governments collapsed, and now the corporations are in control. Houstons Pulsystems has sent an expedition to the lost Martian colony of Frontera to search for survivors. Reese, aging hero of the US space program, knows better. The colonists are not only alive, they have discovered a secret so devastating that the new rulers of Earth will stop at nothing to own it. Reese is equally desperate to use it for his own very personal agenda. But none of them has reckoned with Kane, a tortured veteran of the corporate wars, whose hallucinatory voices are urging him to complete an ancient cycle of heroism and alter the destiny of the human race.
Lewis Shiners Frontera is an extraordinarily accomplished first novel his pacing is brisk, his scientific extrapolation well-informed and plausible, and his characterization nothing short of outstanding This is realism of a sort seldom found in either commercial or literary fiction; to find it in a first novel makes one eager for more. -Chicago Sun-Times
by Masamune Shirow 1989
Chances are, if youre reading about cyberpunk, youve seen the anime film Ghost in the Shell. If you havent, give it a shot and see what you think. Notice the little details in addition to the wild cyborg violence: a single drop of water hitting the ground, the heaviness with which a tired person collapses on a chair, and more.
Deep into the twenty-first century, the line between man and machine has been inexorably blurred as humans rely on the enhancement of mechanical implants and robots are upgraded with human tissue. In this rapidly converging landscape, cyborg superagent Major Motoko Kusanagi is charged with tracking down the craftiest and most dangerous terrorists and cybercriminals, including ghost hackers who are capable of exploiting the human/machine interface and reprogramming humans to become puppets to carry out the hackers criminal ends. When Major Kusanagi tracks the cybertrail of one such master hacker, the Puppeteer, her quest leads her into a world beyond information and technology where the very nature of consciousness and the human soul are turned upside down.
Masamunes b&w drawings are dynamic and beautifully gestural; he vividly renders the awesome urban landscape of a futuristic, supertechnological Japan.- Publishers Weekly
by Walter Jon Williams 1986
The remnants of a war-ravaged America endure in scattered, heavily armed colonies, while the wealthy Orbital Corporations now control the world. Cowboy, an ex-fighter pilot who has become hardwired via skull sockets connected directly to his lethal electronic hardware, is now a panzerboy, a hi-tech smuggler riding armored hovertanks through the balkanized countryside. He teams up with Sarah, an equally cyborized gun-for-hire, to make a last stab at independence from the rapacious Orbitals. Together, they gather an unlikely gang of misfits for a ride that will take them to the edge of the atmosphere.
[a] heavy-metal adventure buried under an elaborate techno-punk style of the sort William Gibson popularized in Neuromancer. In both cases, it is a pose, a baroque nostalgia for Hemingway and film noir; it only plays at nihilism, terror and despair. The best effect is Williamss future version of a brain-scrambled vet: a dead buddy of Cowboys whose scattered bits and pieces of computer memory now constitute a ragged semblance of a man. -Publishers Weekly
by Harlan Ellison 1967
Pissing off science fiction writers everywhere, Ellison wrote the story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream in a single night in 1966, making virtually no changes from the first draft. He won a Hugo award for it, too. Bastard.
by Pat Cadigan 1987
Allie Haas only did it for a dare. But putting on the madcap that Jerry Wirerammer has borrowed was a very big mistake. The psychosis itself was quite conventional, a few paranoid delusions, but it didnt go away when she took the madcap off. Jerry did the decent thing and left her at an emergency room for dry-cleaning but then the Brain Police took over. Straightened out by a professional mindplayer, Allie thinks shes left mind games behind for good but then comes the fazer: she can either go to jail as mind criminal or she can train as a mindplayer herself
by William Gibson 1984
Gibson rewrote the first 2/3 of this book (his first novel) twelve times and was worried people would think he stole the feel from Blade Runner, which had come out two years earlier. He was convinced he would be permanently shamed after it was published.
Fortunately for Gibson, Neuromancer won science fictions triple crown (the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards) and became the seminal cyberpunk work.
by Melissa Scott 1997
Young Ista Kelly is a foundling, the only survivor of a pirate raid on an asteroid mine. In a future where one cannot live without an official identity, this is the story of Istas harrowing journey back to the asteroid to find her true identity.
Scott here presents a well-developed future rife with cybertechnology, space travel, artificial habitats and asteroid mining. The primary cyber-innovations in this era are hammals, computer programs that function independently, devour each other, reproduce and mutate Scott explores the ramifications of virtual life through the very human eyes of her principals; this is most artful cyberpunk, told with heart. -Publishers Weekly
by China Miville 2000
Perdido Street Station borrows from steampunk, cyberpunk, fantasy, and a few other genres that couldnt run away fast enough.
Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to no onenot even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.
Mivilles canvas is so breathtakingly broad that the details of individual subplots and characters sometime lose their definition. But it is also generous enough to accommodate large dollops of aesthetics, scientific discussion and quest fantasy in an impressive and ultimately pleasing epic. -Publishers Weekly
by Ernest Cline 2011
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when hes jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wades devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this worlds digital confinespuzzles that are based on their creators obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wades going to survive, hell have to winand confront the real world hes always been so desperate to escape.
This adrenaline shot of uncut geekdom, a quest through a virtual world, is loaded with enough 1980s nostalgia to please even the most devoted John Hughes fans sweet, self-deprecating Wade, whose universe is an odd mix of the real past and the virtual present, is the perfect lovable/unlikely hero. -Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)
by Neal Stephenson 1992
Stephenson explained the title of the novel as his term for a particular software failure mode on the early Apple Macintosh computer. He wrote about the Macintosh that When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television seta snow crash.’
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzos CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse hes a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus thats striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse.
Although Stephenson provides more Sumerian culture than the story strictly needs (alternating intense activity with scholarship breaks), his imaginative juxtaposition of ancient and futuristic detail could make this a cult favorite. -Publishers Weekly
by Jeff Somers 2007
Avery Cates is a very bad man. Some might call him a criminal. He might even be a killerfor the Right Price. But right now, Avery Cates is scared. Hes up against the Monks: cyborgs with human brains, enhanced robotic bodies, and a small arsenal of advanced weaponry. Their mission is to convert anyone and everyone to the Electric Church. But there is just one snag. Conversion means death.
Somerss science fiction thriller has an acerbic wit. -Publishers Weekly
by K.W. Jeter 1985
Despite this books obscurity, it consistently shows up on the majority of best cyberpunk lists out there.
Schuyler is a sprinterone who outruns government particle beam satellites to deliver computer chips to the European black market. He becomes a media celebrity and the icon of a new religious cult.
An endless maze of shadows and reflections, cameras and monitor screens, desert and snow, chrome and glass. Nothing is real and the only way to find this out is to self-destruct. -Justin Farrar, random person on Goodreads
by Alfred Bester 1956
The Stars My Destination anticipated many of the staples of the later cyberpunk movement. For instance, the megacorporations as powerful as governments, and a dark overall vision of the future and the cybernetic enhancement of the body.
Marooned in outer space after an attack on his ship, Nomad, Gulliver Foyle lives to obsessively pursue the crew of a rescue vessel that had intended to leave him to die.
Science fiction has only produced a few works of actual genius, and this is one of them. -Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War
Posted: August 14, 2016 at 7:16 pm
As the title suggests, the story returns to some of the core icons of the Gernsback tradition of technological utopianism. A young reporter seeks to document the remains of a future which never came to pass, the future foretold at the New York Worlds Fair and in films like Things To Come. As he investigates further, he finds himself staring face to face with that future as a “semiotic ghost” and he is horrified by his vision of a man and a woman from that other future:
They were blond. They were standing beside their car, an aluminum avocado with a central shark-fin rudder jutting up from its spine and smooth black tires like a child’s toy. He had his arm around her waist and was gesturing toward the city. They were both in white: loose clothing, bare legs, spotless white sun shoes. . . . They were heirs to the Dream. They were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes. . . . Here, we’d gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, of foreign wars it was possible to lose. They were smug, happy, and utterly content with themselves and their world. . . . Behind me, the illuminated city: searchlights swept the sky for the sheer joy of it. I imagined them thronging the plaza of white marble, orderly and alert, their bright eyes shining with enthusiasm for their floodlit avenues and silver cars. It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda.
The images of a technological utopia of white marble, glass, and steel, have devolved here into a dehumanizing utopia, a world closer to the regimentation of Nazi Germany than to the visions of corporate America. “The Gernsback Continuum” was a radical text, an assertion that science fiction had to challenge and perhaps surrender its utopian and optimistic impulses, that it must speak to an age full of ambivalent feelings towards technology, a world created by intimate machines and digital media, a disorderly world where various groups from complex cultural backgrounds must interact and struggle for control.
The cyberpunk writers set their stories in the near future, not the distant future of the Gernsback tradition. One can understand something of how science fiction has evolved by comparing the time-frames in older science fiction with those of contemporary writers. The genre first emerged in response to the dramatic changes occurring in the late 19th and early 20th century. Still, the earliest science fiction writers told stories set thousands and even millions of years in the future, in order to envision social and technological change. The time frame has dwindled, decade by decade; much contemporary science fiction is set only twenty or thirty years in the future. We now live in a state of constant change, and the anxiety/thrill of permanent transition shapes the science fiction we read and write.
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