Enter the Sprawl

Posted: May 17, 2014 in The Cyberpunk Chronicles

You’re a washed-up former computer hacker, a “console cowboy,” aimlessly wandering the streets of Chiba City, in a near-future version of high-tech Japan. Surgically altered by your former employer as punishment for double-crossing him, you fritter away the time in a suicidal binge of drugs and alcohol. Your luck changes after you encounter a cybernetically-enhanced woman with eyes that look more like permanently-implanted sunglasses. She enlists your aid in a dangerous mission that will take you through the bright lights of Tokyo to the orbital void of space stations, far above the gravitational confines of Earth. For the most part, however, you’ll be navigating  the perilous networks of the Matrix, where the lines between reality and illusion are blurred.

I first heard of William Gibson and cyberpunk back in the early 1990’s. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I picked up a copy of Neuromancer from the library, that I became a believer. He begins thus:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

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From that point on, I was hooked. I had been searching for sci-fi models to emulate. Even after finishing an early draft of my novel, I felt that there was something missing, a particular ingredient that I felt would give it some flavor, some kick. I pored through books, feeling out the vibe of each novel for whatever felt right. I wanted my characters to be more complex, reacting to a setting and circumstances that were as alive and dynamic as they were. Enter William Gibson. Enter “The Sprawl,” the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis, where the bulk of the inner-city action takes place. Cyberpunk Central. Any place, any period in the near future, can have just as dramatic an impact. Low-lives of all stripes have crossed paths in the gliteratti of Los Angeles and the back alleys of Shanghai, dealing in shady transactions.

280Cyberpunk has often been defined as “high-tech, low-life.” While most SF authors concentrate on distant timelines and esoteric technologies, cyberpunk and its derivative genres extrapolate the immediate future, based on the most current trends. It involves a lot of hits and misses. In a way, this has led to the so-called demise of cyberpunk, especially in the advent of social media and smart mobile devices. After speculating about the future for so long, we have become jaded enough to accept them as status quo. “Cyberpunk is dead,” wrote Gibson in the preface to the 20th Anniversary edition Neuromancer. And I’d only just started reading about it! Troubled, I scoured the web for podcasts, discussions, blogs — anything I could get my hands on regarding this storied genre. I realized after some time that I’d already been exposed to cyberpunk early on. Blade Runner (based on Phillip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) was a highly-stylized, neo-noir, high-tech movie that contained all the elements of cyberpunk — two years before Gibson broke out with his seminal work. Various media have come and gone, some done in a halfhearted attempt to capture the essence of the works of Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and others. When done right, cyberpunk is a visually-stunning panoply of physics-defying images, against the stark background of semi-dystopic reality. The Matrix movies is perhaps the best known example. My personal favorite is Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell series. Like most of its contemporaries, the anime has its share of gritty action, but also explores, among others, themes of human-cybernetic interaction, artificial intelligence, disenfranchisement, and consciousness in the internet.

Whether or not cyberpunk is defunct as a movement, one of my main goals now as a writer is to create the penultimate cyberpunk (or post-cyberpunk) work. Which may not be so difficult, considering many of the issues posed in past works will continue to be issues, sadly, despite the breakneck speed of our technological evolution. We will develop the most sophisticated means of connecting everyone and everything together, making instant gratification obsolete. But as humans, will we be any better because of it?

Copyright © 2014 The Anabases

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