Tor Publishing is running a cyberpunk week on their site. The very first post, It’s Not Fiction, It’s Our Lives, really struck a chord with me.
A few decades ago the “cyberpunk” genre was purely fiction. Now, it is a reality that humanity struggles to navigate on a daily basis. Bodyhacking, information networks, megacorps… these concepts, borne from fiction, now shape our lives in very serious ways. And just as reality grows from forward-looking stories, so too does new fiction grow in response to the present day. What is a cyberpunk, or even “post-cyberpunk,” story when that is the world you live in?
That is prevalent in all our works, the idea that the future is now. Many of the things we do daily were considered science-fiction not so long ago. Access to information, anytime, anywhere? Real-time translation with augmented reality? Body-tracking, disposable drones, restaurant recommendations via an accurate algorithm? They’re all here, it’s not even shocking anymore.
In our exploration, three important aspects of cyberpunk become apparent:
- Administration: Much of cyberpunk fiction drew inspiration from corporate structures that were only just beginning to solidify in the late 20th century, and what those stories extrapolated out towards isn’t too different from what we experience now in the early 21st century. Cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk fiction is uniquely suited to exploring the intricacies of the systems that govern us, whether those systems are controlled by corporations, governments, or the people themselves. Information is the currency of cyberpunk, and increasingly the currency of the present day. How can we use it to make something better? How should we use it?
- Identity: Information technology is on the cusp of merging the biological and the mechanical into one seamless being, but what then does that being become? What is a person who can exist outside their body? Is there a purpose to gender and race classification? Especially when we are capable of creating programming that can think for itself, and does not require a gender or race? We live in an age where a person can fine-tune their appearance to a degree never before experienced, and cyberpunk fiction is at the forefront of imagining how a humanity consisting entirely of self-fashioned people works.
- Culture and Commerce: We tell stories, regardless of form or circumstance, so what stories are told by those living in our world; a world imagined by cyberpunk fiction? What appeals to us?
Tor’s first point is really spot on (hell, fleek even). Google made it’s billion dollar empire on information alone. If you were to write that twenty years ago, you’d be called excessive. Things don’t work like that. Governments can’t be asking their citizens to vote on every little thing via their mobiles and laptops. Or maybe, in Estonia’s case, they can.
The second point is well explored in science fiction, but I don’t like the political American debate on gender classification. Excuse me, but yes there is a biological reason for gender classification, it’s silly to presume otherwise. On race I agree, we’re all one species. Regarding the appearance, yes, I believe from the data points of body modification up till now, that it will become extreme. I truly believe that there will be people addicted to modifying their bodies, not cosmetically, like they do now, but with technology, horns, extra limbs and more unimaginable things.
Commerce seems to be the king. If something sells, the people behind it are willing to bend laws to their will, ignore morals, slave children to factories, fire family-men and replace them with robots, trademark common everyday words. There is literally no limit. Culture is slowly becoming one sloshy gray goo, with Asians celebrating Christmas (just because they like the holiday), American culture invading every other one with Hollywood and (apparently) superhero movies now. India is a strong counterpoint in this, spreading it’s culture all over the world but in a different light, it’s more of the same.
Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be a manifesto. These are just observations on the current state of things, plus some wishful thinking. Cause it’s not all bad. I recently had a conversation with some people of the earlier generation, and they claim that despite the Greek crisis here, we are still living relatively nice compared to the past. People didn’t used to have employee rights, air-conditioning or even shoes to wear.
There are medicines now for diseases that used to kill thousands. My father keeps a box of the pills that could have saved my grandfather on his desk. Just a stupid, tiny silly pill that if it had existed 50 years ago, my grandfather wouldn’t have to endure a lifetime of sickness and surgeries.
People can re-educate themselves in an open university if they like or through online courses. We have access to most of the books ever written with Project Gutenberg, and for the daily stuff, we have every shop we need just a short walk away. Mostly. Our cars are reliable, our homes are comfortable and travel is becoming faster and faster.
Corporations are making things nicer, easier and cheaper for us. But just because it helps with their sales.