It was only recently that I read Neuromancer. In my defence, I’ve seen all the different cuts of Blade Runner, which has to count for something. Right?
Anyway, there was an interesting video essay from Just Write that I thought I’d share. It discusses the cyberpunk genre and how the aesthetic has lost its relevance.
I actually quite enjoyed the Netflix series Altered Carbon, based on Richard Morgan’s novel of the same name. There were some interesting comments about inequality and inherited wealth that is often overlooked in discussions about living longer. But I have to agree with the video’s comments about the cyberpunk aesthetic of the show being off.
Not that it didn’t fit, but that it didn’t feel that different from what we have now, as the video stated. How can we watch a troublesome/dystopian future that is essentially our now? These aesthetic elements then undermine much of the narrative comment by reminding us that many of the plot points have already happened. It is a little bit hard to have a cautionary tale of where we are headed in the future when we have already arrived at that point (e.g. wealth isn’t made but instead it tends to be inherited unless there is some sort of inheritance tax in play or dissipation – 1, 2, 3).
So does that mean that Mr Robot and other contemporary cyberpunk stories are the way forward for the genre? Are there other ways to update the genre? Do we need another Blade Runner movie?
Some things to ponder.
Update: Future Tense/Slate published an article suggesting cyberpunk has cast a long shadow over science fiction. It alludes to some of the same points whilst trying to discuss reinvigorating sci-fi. I think the point it fails to make is that the prefix-punk genres were never going to have the same impact as cyberpunk because they were prefix genres following in the wake. If you want to reinvigorate sci-fi* you have to start with something different, not just another prefix.
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Walker-Emig, Paul. The Guardian. “Neon and corporate dystopias: why does cyberpunk refuse to move on?” October 16, 2018.
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Usher, Tom. Vice. “How ‘Akira’ Has Influenced All Your Favourite TV, Film and Music.”
Giles, Matthew. Vulture. “Taxi Driver, Girls, and 7 Other Big Influences on Mr. Robot.”
The United Federation of Charles. “What is Cyberpunk?”
The ‘Self-Made’ Myth: Our Hallucinating Rich by Sam Pizzigati
*I’m not sure I accept the argument that sci-fi needs reinvigorating. Has some of it disappeared up its own butthole? Quite possibly. But that’s a whole argument and discussion on its own… Come to think of it, I’m betting there are endless articles on that topic somewhere.