Good afternoon! I want to talk about a subgenre of science fiction called cyberpunk because it was one of the precursors to steampunk. We wouldn't have steampunk without cyberpunk. So, I'm going to give a little crash course about the subject. Enjoy the read!
Cyberpunk usually has futuristic or contemporary settings that emphasize high tech elements and low culture. Basically, it takes place in dystopian environments with highly advanced technology. There is a big divide between the wealthy one percenters and everyone else. The majority of people struggle under strict government control, poverty, very few opportunities, and a low quality of life. Cyberpunk stories usually include artificial intelligence that has a mind of its own. This level of independence can be dangerous to human beings. Huge metropolises are common locations in cyberpunk works, but that doesn't mean people are living well. Some protagonists are computers hackers or other anti-heroes who are trying to bring great changes to society. Other times, the protagonist is simply trying to survive in a harsh and competitive environment. Cybernetic body modifications often show the interesting and terrible side of advanced technology. Sometimes, these modifications are not voluntary and they typically come with a price. These cybernetics might give someone awe inspiring abilities, but it could be harmful to the host's physical and mental health. Many cyberpunk stories take dark and gritty elements from film noir and add nihilistic elements. Morality goes out the window in most cyberpunk works. Villains will do anything in the name of progress, power, and personal comfort. Heroes will do anything for their cause. Sometimes, there's a blurry line between virtual reality and the real world, bringing a psychological element to the story. Popular cyberpunk authors include Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, and quite a few others. I would say science fiction authors like Ray Bradbury were probably influential to the development of cyberpunk.
How is cyberpunk related to steampunk? Well, K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers, and James P. Blaylock are usually viewed as the earliest steampunk authors. They were mentored by Philip K. Dick at Cal State Fullerton. He was a highly reputable cyberpunk author and his writings were quite influential to the trio. Jeter, Powers, and Blaylock took many stylistic elements from cyberpunk and changed the setting to 19th century England. Hence, their take on advanced technology had more of an industrial element with influences from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. There you go.
Cybepunk seems to be growing in popularity again. There are countless examples, but I'm just going to name a handful.
One of the most popular cyberpunk films is Blade Runner. It takes place in a bizarre dystopian version of Los Angeles with the typical theme of high tech and low life. The movie has some influences from film noir and features a disgruntled anti-hero. Blade Runner also includes inhumane treatment of genetically engineered replicants, ultimately leading to an uprising. Some people say the film doesn't include enough cyberpunk elements, but it's an early example in cinema. It was based on the novel called Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. A sequel film is being released later this year. I'm curious to see the outcome.
Neuromancer by William Gibson is considered a classic cyberpunk novel. It was the first installment in the Sprawl trilogy. I find the plot and concepts very complex. Neuromancer features a computer hacker named Henry Dorsett Case who's living in the underworld of dystopian Japan. Case is a mentally and emotionally damaged individual who receives body modifications to allegedly fix these issues. A challenging figure in the book is an advanced form of artificial intelligence known as Neuromancer. The story is very dark and depressing with themes like terrorism, drug abuse, and a blur between virtual reality and the real world. Hardcore cyberpunk enthusiasts would probably enjoy this book.
There are some debates about my next example, but I think the Matrix trilogy counts as cyberpunk. It's more of a post-apocalyptic version. The protagonist is a hacker named Neo who discovers that our reality is completely fake. Machines took over the world and keep humans in a form of suspended animation. Their lives are simply dreams implanted by the mysterious Matrix. A small group of human rebels escaped from the Matrix and use virtual reality to combat arsenals of enemies. Ultimately, the rebels want to free mankind from artificial intelligence. The Matrix is a crafty form of AI that uses Agent Smith and other avatars to fight the rebels. There were several spin offs, including video games and an anime film.
The Deu Ex video game series has a lot of cyberpunk elements. Mankind Divided is the most recent installment and it was released last year. The protagonist of the newer games is a super soldier named Adam who has several cybernetic body modifications. He uses a variety of enhanced skill set to combat enemies. Deu Ex takes place in a strict dystopia with a great deal of tension between regular humans and enhanced people called augs. Discrimination, fear, and terrorism are major themes in the Deu Ex games.
Ghost in the Shell is a popular cyberpunk anime series. A live action film is going to be released in the near future. It takes place in a futuristic version of Japan with political conflicts, cyber crimes, cyborgs, and all kinds of wacky high tech elements. I used to watch the series and it seemed really trippy to me. However, it has a lot of great action sequences. Life is weaved together through a powerful electronic network. People use cybernetic bodies called shells with their minds to maneuver through the network. These shells give people unnatural abilities that defy logic and physics. Major Motoko Kusanagi is the protagonist in many of the installments. She's the leader of a law enforcement agency called Public Security Section 9. The Major uses her cybernetic abilities to fight crime. There is also a manga version of the series.
I would like to address a horror version of cyberpunk. The System Shock video games combine cyberpunk with biopunk. You'll encounter grotesque creatures that were once human. Many of the enemies are corpses with cybernetic parts. Other enemies are mutations who lost their humanity. The main antagonist is an artificial intelligence program called SHODAN who wants to take over earth with a mutagenic virus. I would like to see a remake of the series. System Shock was also influential to the BioShock franchise.
I'm just scratching the surface. There are many more cyberpunk works. If you know other great cyberpunk examples, leave a comment and tell us about it. Truthfully, I'm much more of an expert on steampunk than cyberpunk. I know there are cyberpunk experts out there and it would be fun to hear from you. Below is a list of helpful resources. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you learned something new today.