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.

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Science Fiction

As a subgenre of fantasy, Science Fiction (or SciFi, as most of us call it,) is actually a broad genre on its own. There are very few hard and fast rules for this subgenre. It can be far in the future, like Battle Star Galactica, or even a “long, long time ago”, like Star Wars. The only real factor is technology or a not-yet-realised scientific future.

Some SciFi is very pointedly a story that takes place in space (any space that’s beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, really) – think Star Trek or Alien – but others may use Earth or a planet like Earth to give the story a more subtle SciFi angle – Æon Flux and Real Steel can give you a bit of insight on this angle.

If you have looked at some of the older SciFi, you will even see that some of the elements that were Science Fiction in those days, are now a reality – like the Internet and nano-machines.

Popular themes:

  • Space exploration
  • Intergalactic politics with alien races
  • Aliens
  • Bio-engineering
  • Nanotechnology
  • Reviving extinct species (think Jurassic Park)
  • Colonisation of other planets/solar systems
  • Space pirates
  • Bionics
  • Robots
  • Cyborgs
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Domination of the human race by aliens/machines
  • Mystical forces from space (2001: A Space Odessy, AvatarStar Wars  and many more)
  • Alternate realities
  • Mutliverse
  • Time travel
  • Teleportation
  • And lots, lots more…

It’s really so broad, one could write volumes about this subgenre. But, for me, it is important to note that it can easily be used as a flavour in the other fantasy subgenres. Examples of fantasy that typically contain SciFi elements are: Steam Punk, Cyberpunk, Dying Earth and Other Planet.

Never for a moment think that subgenres are mostly found in their pure forms. The very way they have found their way into existence is by developing from other forms of the main genre. The rules are hardly ever set in stone.

Science Fantasy – Other Planet

Science Fantasy is any form of fantasy that does not exclude technology as a whole. This means that it can be set in almost any time period (meaning, the setting can appear to be mostly mediaeval like Melanie Rawn’s The Ruins of Ambrai or it can be in a futuristic setting like Frank Herbert’s Dune). There are two main subgenres under this banner: Other Planet (this post) and Dying Earth (next post).

In Other Planet stories, the story takes place on another planet and may or may not include in-your-face technological advances. I originally thought I wasn’t entirely sure that I’ve encountered this kind of fiction, but, as I sat down to think about it, I realised that I have books by different authors and even some movies on DvD that are set on other planets – but are still fantasy.

To be fair, the Dying Earth stories often spill over into Other Planet stories. So, these two subgenres are really not typically used in exclusion of each other.

In a purely Other Planet setting, humans have typically ventured into space and have started colonising other planets, though humans may have been forcibly taken to the other planet(s) by alien races. Humans may or may not be taking colonisation overboard. There may or may not be other races/alien races. In some stories, the fact that it is a planet other than earth hardly ever come up as a theme. In others, the fact that Earth is the original planet the humans come from is part of the normal facts and it is often referenced.

Examples of Other Planet in literature include:

  • Melanie Rawn – The Exiles: The Ruins of Ambrai
  • Anne McCaffrey – The Dragon Books (there are many)
  • Frank Herbert – Dune

And in the movies:

  • Titan A.E.
  • Pitch Black
  • Avatar

Fantasy in all its forms

Fantasy in all its forms

So, fantasy… It’s this neglected and mostly looked-down-upon genre that only a small group of geeks and weirdoes like, right? In fact, many shops don’t even allocate dedicated shelf space to it at all.

Well, let me tell you. It is not that small. Seriously. If you get right down to it, fantasy has an amazing spectrum of literature within its scope. Some of the classics – like Gulliver’s Travels – even fall under this overarching genre.

Fantasy is a broad term encompassing any work of fiction that has within its themes and elements anything that does not coincide with current reality as we know it. This means that even literature that contains speculation about the future is fantasy.

Yes, it certainly includes the mediaeval type fantasy with dragons and magic (e.g. The Lord of the Rings and games like Dungeons and Dragons). But you’re forgetting about the other big guns: Dark (or Supernatural) Fantasy – vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night – like Dracula, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Underworld, and Science Fiction, like Star Trek and Star Wars.

And then, there are the smaller guns…and what a range of them there is!

Essentially, you can break up fantasy into three subdivisions:

Past              Present                Future

Under “Past”, you get the forms of fantasy most people immediately think of when you say “fantasy”.

  • High Fantasy
    (magic and magical races are common)
  • Low (or Hedge) Fantasy
    (magic and magical races are very rare)
  • Epic Fantasy
    (kings and gods clash and potentially destroy the world)
  • Fairy Tales
    (those stories you are traditionally told as a kid)
  • Mythic Fantasy
    (typically Norse mythology is used as a flavour)
  • Steam Punk
    (all sorts of steam technology is used in the Edwardian and Victorian eras, typically also in the Wild West)
  • And some of the more obscure ones, like:
    • Dark
      (Medieval setting with witches, vampires, werewolves, evil fairies, demons and/or other nasties)
    • Wuxia
      (Maaagical martial arts)
    • Magical Girl
    • (An animé and manga – that is, Japanese animation and comic books, respectively – theme where the main character is a girl that has some sort of skill that sets her apart from others)
    • Bangsian Fantasy
      (Fantasy involving some sort of historical figure from actual history)

Under “Present”, you get (what I’d like to think of) the more hidden fantasies. These works of fiction, as my classification here suggests, is set in the present. It is also set on Earth as we all know it today.

  • Dark (or Supernatural) Fantasy
    (As above, in the “Past” section, it involves werewolves, vampires, demons, witches, evil fairies and other nasties)
  • Urban Fantasy (AKA Contemporary Fantasy/Indigenous Fantasy)
    (Typically this involves the hidden realm of the fairies or the existence of magic)
  • And once again some of the more obscure ones, like:
    • Fantastique
      (A French genre that often smushes science fiction, horror and fantasy into one)
    • Wuxia
      (same as in “Past”)
    • Magical Girl
      (same as in “Past”)
    • Bangsian Fantasy
      (same as in “Past”, except that sometimes the historical figure is actually placed into the present from their time in the past)

Under “Future”, you get the forms of fantasy most people prefer not to link to magic too much.

  • Science Fantasy
    (Here, the focus is not so much on the technology, but rather on the following aspects:)

    • Other Planet
      (The story takes place on another planet and may or may not include in-your-face technological advances)
    • Dying Earth
      (Humans and/or aliens have depleted Earth’s resources through exploitation or catastrophic wars and now live in a bleak and harsh future)
    • Science Fiction
      (Typically set in space, on a space ship or revolves around the fact that space travel is now a common day thing; it may also be Earthbound, but with significant and very in-your-face technological advances compared to present day)
    • Cyber Punk
      (Set in a future where people are slowly becoming one with technology – bionic organs/limbs and performance-enhancing stimulants have become the norm)

It is also rather important to note that many of these genres can be and are often mixed. In future posts, some of these sub-genres will be explored to give you a better idea of what each of them entails. 😀