What the old and new Cyberpunk genres share is a detailed immersion in societies enmeshed with technology. They explore the emergent possibilities of connectivity and technological change. What Post Cyber Punk has that separates it from pure-Cyperpunk works, is an emphasis on positive socialization. In Lawrence Person’s Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto he describes typical Post-Cyberpunk protagonists as “anchored in their society rather than adrift in it. They have careers, friends, obligations, responsibilities, and all the trappings of an ‘ordinary’ life.” For this reason, character goals also differed characteristically, “Cyberpunk characters frequently seek to topple or exploit corrupt social orders. Postcyberpunk characters tend to seek ways to live in, or even strengthen, an existing social order, or help construct a better one.” In other words, there is a notable absence of ‘punk’ elements as found in most other Punk Punk genres. And in recent years several works that rely heavily on the post-cyberpunk conventions and tropes and have a strong post-cyberpunk atmosphere managed to drop most of the ‘cyber’ aspects as well. (see Inception and Mirror’s Edge as examples.)
—  “Postcyberpunk”
Mirror Shading, Part 2: A Dead Channel


            Cyberpunk distinguished itself in two ways. The first was its view on the interaction between man and machine. Long ago the elder prophets of science fiction had taken technology and placed it upon an alter as an idol to be worshiped, interacted with solely by a scientific priesthood, safely kept away from the ignorant masses. The cyberpunk theorists turned this on its head, predicting a wide spread proliferation of technology (even to the poor and criminally inclined), existing in an intimate relationship with its human operators.

            To the cyberpunk the epitome of technology was not a starship cruising through interstellar space or massive orbital habitats (though all those things are still very much cool); instead the apex could be found inside one’s pocket, under one’s skin, and burrowed deep within one’s brain. It was living a life married to your gadgets, exploring virtual worlds, and opting for robotic limbs even if you were not an amputation victim.

            Just as the mechanisms of capitalism kept driving down the price of every other consumer good (for better or worse) there really was no reason for the cyberpunk of the 1980s to believe this would cease in the future and not include every possible technological advancement to come. What emerged from that thought process was some of the first depictions of BCI (brain-computer interfacing), the coining of the term cyberspace, and a myriad of gadgets that halfway resemble devices we use today.

            A personal favorite was the cyberpunk crisis of radical individualism vs. societal pressures in regards to the man-machine interaction. Cybernetic enhancements could be as variable and unique as a piece of good tattoo art today, or as bland and stereotypical as tribal ink. It seemed that a character’s personality was always competing with prevalent trends to be the determinate factor in how they modified themselves.

            This was the honesty that went into cyberpunk that I think so many consumers of its media greatly appreciate. It was a reality check to the utopian, but not so dark as to be apocalyptic. It said that even if the world goes to shit, we can possibly still have fun along the way.


            The second defining characteristic of cyberpunk was how it viewed the implications of high level technology on culture, government, and economics, and more importantly a belief that scientific advancement would never produce the alchemy that might turn men into angels. Cyberpunk inserted the human element into the abstract and fanciful theories of the futurist. Excluding any possibility of operator error or societal friction to change, the mind’s eye can conjure an age of tomorrow that is all pristine white plastic, unblemished chrome, and streak free glass. The cyberpunk firmly denounces this as intellectual dishonesty.

            The whole genre explored the numerous ways man could use and abuse technology. An idealistic technocrat could very well invent the clarktech replicator tomorrow and feed the poor, but I would bet money that within hours, days, maybe a week max of tech like that going open beta it would be hacked to produce guns, drugs, bombs, and probably synthetic sexual organs. This is more or less the case with the 3D printer now, so why not?

            In the cyberpunk landscape there is corporate warfare, oppressive governments, and waves of fundamentalist technophobia. The societal counter to this was black markets, decentralized authority, and an odd mix of nihilistic technophiliacs and underground resistance movements. The ethical environment is just as grey here as it is in the real world, if not greyer, with more extremes of white and black swirling about into a smoggy mess of indistinguishable battle lines.

            This chaos firmly rejects the traditional picture painted by space operas of mankind’s moral excellence as achieved through an acceptance of science as the new religion. There is an error in judgment that gives rise to this kind of thinking, believing that morality can ever arise from technological progress. It’s a blind spot to the truth that the biological motivators of a human creature (sex, revenge, greed, and plain vindictiveness) are not likely to be cured anytime soon… if ever. Cyberpunk brings to light what will be the true obstacle to science realizing the transhuman ascension (à la singularity), and that obstacle to mankind is mankind.

            We’re now hitting the thirtieth anniversary of Neuromancer’s publication. It has also been over twenty years since Snow Crash first hit shelves and Billy Idol’s mediocre album Cyberpunk released. In truth the whole cyberpunk movement really boomed and busted in the space of a decade or two, with a few shuttering gasps here and there ever since. Back in 1985 Bruce Sterling, a key founder of the literary genre, had gone so far as to pronounce cyberpunk as dead. So where does that leave us? Did cyberpunk mean anything? Is there a pulse? And if so, does the movement hold any relevance to us today?

I’ll be addressing this and wrapping everything up “20 Minutes into the Future,” Part 3 of Mirror Shading.

So ok, let me explain this as simply as possible. You…you and your [expletive deleted] existence isn’t healthy for us. Ok so yeah maybe we’re a cancer to you, but to us your way of life is poison. I tried ok? I tried so [expletive deleted] hard to do all the [expletive deleted] you wanted. I went to school, I had a job, I was a real part of things. You know what I got? I got sick ok?
—  _Transcript from “Digital Dropouts” Good Morning America June 9th 2040
Mirror Shading, Part 1: A Consensual Hallucination


          From time to time I find it amusing to look back at what those in the past thought would come or what may become possible in the future. The future is today, and today is a pretty good vantage point to analyze history and their predictions.

            But why?

            Well, perhaps to look around and really judge how far we have come, or how little we’ve truly progressed. However, there is difficultly in this process. Much of the science fiction and futurist writings of the previous century were typically limited in scope via their production budgets or imaginations, or were profoundly optimistic or doomsday dystopian.

            Yet there is one genre that did take itself seriously enough to give a fair try at it, painting with post-modern neon acrylics a halfway realistically possible landscape of a time period near enough temporarily adjacent to our contemporary environment to justify deeper inspection. This was the cyberpunk movement of the 1980’s.

            Any who is somewhat familiar with the genre and its connected subculture(s) may also be aware of the criticisms that have been levied against it. There was in fact a whole counter-genre of sorts, known as post-cyberpunk, which reveled in mocking and parodying it to some extent. Even many contemporary singularity theorists and transhumanists and similar cyberpreps show disdain for the dark filter through which cyberpunks view the future.

            With the genre’s focus on “high tech and low life” set against generally corrupt, crime ridden, horror tinged urban backdrops it is understandable why the techno utopians in love with Venus Project-esk interpretations of mankind’s ascension may denounce cyberpunk. In it there does run a strain of mild technophobia and unjustifiably overt cynicism. Historically science and technology has improved the lives of billions, pulling many others up out of poverty. To the starry-eyed futurist the cyberpunk philosophy seems downright insulting to the countless scientists and engineers who have contributed so much to humanity.

            This is a moving and perhaps accurate critique of cyberpunk, but it fails in that it misses the uncontrollable variability of man. While technology is naught but a tool, man is the operator capable of wielding said tool for good or ill. Atrocities and great acts of human inhumanity are bound to occur just as surely as the first use of nuclear fission was to lay waste to large swaths of Japan.

I’ll explore this further in Part 2 of Mirror Shading, “A Dead Channel.”

Watch on www.modempunk.com

210 tiny robots ROLL OUT


They’re a Cyber band featured in Substrate. From left to right, the members are Cosmo, Tillie, and Kieren. They’re popular among the mainstream Cyber movement, and tend to lean closer to pop music about robots and space than the punk and industrial music that traditional Cybers listen to. Duci and Nhu are both fans of them. Ruma, on the other hand, finds them obnoxious and is suspicious of them. For reasons that I can’t fully go into because of spoilers, she has good reason.

These three characters are actually from my Neopets/early Subeta days. I would consider them to be the most annoying characters out of the ones I had back then. The defining characteristic of all three of them was hyperactivity and ~*RANDOOMNESS*~! You remember the type that was popular in middle school (CHEESE PIE LLAMAS!) But lately, since I’ve been giving some of my old characters that didn’t end up turning into other characters cameos in Substrate, I figured that I’d bring these three obnoxious characters back as an obnoxious pop band.