Black Ice & Mirrorshades: An Introduction to Cyberpunk


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This presentation was originally prepared for the Wellesley College Science-Fiction/Fantasy Society in February 2004. It covers the sci-fi sub-genre of cyberpunk, which I would argue has had more influence on mainstream pop culture than any since the vision of opportunity presented in early space opera drove the US/Russian space race.

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Black Ice & Mirrorshades: An Introduction to Cyberpunk

  1. 1. Presented on February the 16th, 2004 To the Wellesley College Science-Fiction/Fantasy Society By Jack Phelps All original content in this document is protected from bad people under a Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike license. All non-original content should be treated as illegal, copyright-infringing material Black Ice and Mirrorshades: An Intro to Cyberpunk Fiction
  2. 2. Contents <ul><li>What Is Cyberpunk? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Definition and Themes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>History </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Works and Concurrent Developments </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cyberpunk in the Mainstream </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bad, Worse, Worst </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Future of Cyberpunk </li></ul>
  3. 3. What is Cyberpunk? <ul><li>Definition: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A cult genre of fiction characterized by “day-after-tomorrow” technological capabilities and ubiquitous networking, and containing at least one of three dueling factions: hackers, corporations, and artificial intelligences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A person affiliated with the movement forwarding the cyberpunk genre </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A person too busy hacking the Gibson to worry about stuff like that </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. What is Cyberpunk? <ul><li>Topical Themes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dystopia </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>almost always takes place in a world where the majority are being, or are about to be, exploited by a rich and powerful minority </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hard-boiled/Noir </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>stage is usually set for unusual crimes or novel situations created by the interactions of humans with new technology </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Body modding </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>the confluence of humanity and technology is represented in cyberpunk not just by plugging people into computers, but also by plugging computers into people </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>characters sport technological or vanity-driven modifications to their bodies such as jacked-up nerves, integrated optical displays, native connectivity, etc. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  5. 5. What is Cyberpunk? <ul><li>Topical Themes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Liberetarian sensibilities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>distributed private ownership, little government intervention, no trade barriers, privatized security, nonexistent large-scale warfare </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Japan orientation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>cyberpunk was initiated in the 80s, a time when many American’s though Japan’s technological progress would establish it as a new economic superpower </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>while most people were scared, cyberpunks thought this was totally awesome and welcomed their new Japanese overlords </li></ul></ul></ul>
  6. 6. What is Cyberpunk? <ul><li>Philosophical Themes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sea Change: Period between “now” and “eventual” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>cyberpunk takes place in the previously unknown space between 1980s (or present) technology and the space-operatic futures of traditionally predicted in sci-fi </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>it occupies the “sea change” in which technological change will outpace the ability of existing world paradigms to adapt </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>the lives of institutions are also in flux; corporations, governments, and families are irrevocably altered </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ubiquitous Networking </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>cyberpunk was the first SFF genre to universally acknowledge the premium placed on information in a world in which technology is ubiquitous and production is cheap </li></ul></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Contents <ul><li>What Is Cyberpunk? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Definition and Themes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>History </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Works and Concurrent Developments </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cyberpunk in the Mainstream </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bad, Worse, Worst </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Future of Cyberpunk </li></ul>
  8. 8. History: Important Works <ul><li>Bruce Bethke </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cyberpunk! (1980/1983) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>William Gibson – ‘Cyber’ in cyberpunk </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Johhny Mnemonic (1981) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Neuromancer (1984) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Virtual Light (1993) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>John Shirley – ‘Punk’ in cyberpunk </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Eclipse (1985) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Bruce Sterling </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cheap Truth (1983) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Islands in the Net (1985) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Neal Stephenson </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Snow Crash (1991) </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. History: Concurrent Developments <ul><li>The Bubblegum Crisis (Japan, 1987) is the first anime series in cyberpunk vein; it lacks black leather, but all the other elements are in place </li></ul>Jaron Lanier coins the term ‘Virtual Reality’ (1982-ish), starts VPL Research, and later creates first multi-person virtual worlds. The company is taken over and run into the ground by the mid nineties.
  10. 10. <ul><li>“ 20 Minutes Into The Future” i.e. Max Headroom (BBC, 1984; Lorimar, 1987); Renegade reporter and his animated alter-ego newscaster Max Headroom fight the evil TV network. Being smart and forward-thinking, it was naturally canceled after one season. In truth, though novel, Max wasn’t really very funny. </li></ul>History: Concurrent Developments Try to tell any real tech geek that Wired contains good commentary on the intersection of culture and technology and they’ll snort derisively, call you “junior,” and go to their rooms in their parents’ basement to read archives of Mondo 2000, the 1992-debuted Berkeley tech rag that taught Wired everything it knows (except how to stay in business).
  11. 11. Contents <ul><li>What Is Cyberpunk? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Definition and Themes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>History </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Works and Concurrent Developments </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cyberpunk in the Mainstream </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bad, Worse, Worst </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Future of Cyberpunk </li></ul>
  12. 12. Cyberpunk in the Mainstream: Bad Nintendo Power Glove (1989) Time (Feb 1993) Aeon Flux (MTV 1995)
  13. 13. Cyberpunk in the Mainstream: Worse Johnny Mnemonic (1995) The Lawnmower Man (Stephen King’s Night Shift, 1992) Wild Palms (1991)
  14. 14. Cyberpunk in the Mainstream: Worst Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk (1993) X-Files First Person Shooter (2000) * VR 5 (1993) *Gibson wrote this episode—in all fairness, he also wrote the episode Kill Switch which was actually good
  15. 15. Contents <ul><li>What Is Cyberpunk? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Definition and Themes </li></ul></ul><ul><li>History </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Works and Concurrent Developments </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cyberpunk in the Mainstream </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bad, Worse, Worst </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The Future of Cyberpunk </li></ul>
  16. 16. The Future of Cyberpunk <ul><li>Literature  Culture </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Gibson, Sterling write regularly for Wired </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Phiber Optic, Kevin Mitnick arrested; worldwide IT security spending to reach $116 billion by 2007 (IDC) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wearable computing (and more!) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Literature  Literature </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Harder-Boiled: Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mainstreaming: The Matrix </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Evolving: The Diamond Age (Stephenson) & Spook Country (Gibson) </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. The Special Neal Stephenson Section Smartwheels Michelin’s answer to pneumatics, these tires have telescoping spokes that allow point-sensitive wheel flexibility for a smoother ride. YT’s Jacket Jackets that carry current strong enough to stun/disable attackers. One prototype has fur that bristles when activated as a warning system.
  18. 18. The Future of Cyberpunk <ul><li>Q: Is Cyberpunk Dead? </li></ul><ul><li>A: No, because it is already here. </li></ul><ul><li>- We’ve circled back to “change one factor” sci-fi literature (either “now” or “eventual”) </li></ul><ul><li>- Culturally, the ideas have mainstreamed and the concepts are in application every day (i.e. IT security industry). </li></ul><ul><li>- Literature is still strong as techno-noir, but will probably not innovate as much as the greats did. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Nonobvious Citations <ul><li>Cyberpunk image gallery </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Cyberpunk timeline </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>IMDB </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>TV Tome </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>X-Files screencaps </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Online copy of Neuromancer </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Jaron Lanier’s homepage </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Security spending sizing by IDC (also contains good anecdotal references) </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ Smartwheels” </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“ YT’s Jacket” </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Layout Art </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Title slide: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Top bar: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Bottom bar: Chad Michael Ward & Digital Apocalypse “Cyberpunk” </li></ul></ul>