Cyberpunk

So, we finally get to the subgenre I know the very least about. I have a few friends and acquaintances who are in love with it, but I honestly never got the bug.

The most important thing I have learned (the hard way) about Cyberpunk is: It is NOT Steampunk. The technology that is the main theme of Steampunk is steam-driven technology. The technology that is the main theme of Cyberpunk is computer technology and cybernetics.

Cyberpunk is usually set in the nearby future, but certainly does appear in far-future settings as well. Here and there cyberpunk even crosses the technology/magic boundary to include races like elves and dwarves and so on (Shadowrun, a role playing system and computer game).

Society is often run by large, heartless corporations (I immediately see Zorg Enterprises from The Fifth Element in my head). Computer technology and cybernetics is a source of power for the establishment  and, hence, the resistance often comprises of hackers and the like. Moral values and humane treatment of others are no longer the rule most live by.

Common features of this setting:

  • Bionic (i.e. electromechanical) and cybernetic limbs or other implants
  • Society has become dominated by computer technology and cybernetics
  • The protagonists are often part of a subversive anticulture
  • Human life has become as expendable as money
  • Post-apocalyptic setting
  • Robots (may) rule humans
  • Giant corporations rule society
  • Breakdown of moral values

Examples:

  • Ghost in the Shell (animé movie)
  • The Ship Who Sang – Anne McCaffrey
  • Battle Angel Alita (animé and manga)
  • The Matrix (movie and comic books) – though, apparently, it’s not considered Cyberpunk by all
  • Neuromancer – Tom de Haven and Bruce Jensen
  • Blade Runner (movie)

Honestly, just like any of the other subgenres I have discussed, there is much dispute about the true definition and true examples. I’d love some comments and discussions on this one.

Disclaimer:

Yes, yes, I know. But I don’t have any of the more “pure” cyberpunk stories out there in my collection just yet. I’ll fix it later if I can.

The deeper meaning

When I was studying languages at uni, I had to wade through three years of soul-crushing literature analysis courses for English. We tore books apart and analysed aspects of characters that the author never gave a second thought. I hated it with a passion. It felt like we were putting messages in the authors’ mouths and claiming that they had meant to communicate them.

Then, after I had finished my degree, I realised movies and books had ultimately changed for me. I saw patterns and themes. I followed character growth, regression or lack of either. I was far more aware of stilted story telling and (actually mostly) lack of plot. As a matter of fact, for a few years, I didn’t enjoy any of the stories I read or watched. My uni training had made me too critical. Even good stories have plot holes and inconsistencies.

Then came a turnaround for me. My husband was following the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind and I decided to try and catch up to him. Though the main characters’ whining got to me more than the first time I had read the first book, I was just enjoying it. But in book five I found my gripe: I had realised that the underlying moral of every book came down to how people become brainwashed by their community or circumstances to believe things regardless of proof that indicates otherwise.

At first, I was disappointed to realise that all those books had that theme. It took all the fun out of the reading for me. But, then, it dawned on me: Every author has some sort of message. Every author has a need to express some truth about life. For Goodkind, it’s a journey with his readers to lead them to disillusioned awareness about the influences in their lives. For me, it’s most notably about the awareness that people are all broken in some way and that your own, unique brokenness does not have to get in your way to becoming awesome.

Have you found deeper messages buried deep in the pages of the books by your favourite author?

Some of the deeper messages I have encountered:

  • Things are not what they seem
  • Do not judge on first appearances
  • We are destroying the planet with our own ignorance
  • All people are alike deep down inside
  • Everyone just wants to be heard
  • Words can destroy more easily than they create
  • The road to Hell is paved with good intentions