As a child of the 80s, I grew up with the cyberpunk genre as the cutting edge. From Blade Runner to Bubblegum Crisis, Robocop to Judge Dredd Comics, cyberpunk was the new wave, the avant garde. It’s a genre that I love and always have loved. The world of disposable everything, where style matters more than substance, it was something that made sense to me.
Cyberpunk is, ultimately, a parody however. It is meant to look at our society and caricaturize it into a darker, neon future. It was a hallmark of growing up in a nuclear age, in the wake of the personal computer singularity, in the rise of the multi-national corporations that made more money than some countries. Take real life and exaggerate it. The problem with that is that real life can out-exaggerate fiction.
A friend of mine used to run a cyberpunk role-playing game that was set in the near-future. He was going to introduce a narrative around food producers and grocery stores branding directly onto eggs and fruit. Get designs and decals right on the shells or the skins. And about three days before he was going to add that to the game, I heard a radio ad from a local grocery store offering to do that as a special for consumers. You could pay extra to have your name ‘engraved’ on eggs or bananas or oranges. Want to get your school’s logo on oranges? Easy thing to do now. Similar to that is the Hunger Games, inspired by the author Suzanne Collins famously flipping between coverage of a war and a reality show and losing track of which channel was showing which.
Now, today, it’s getting even harder to parody the world when the ludicrousness seems unbound. For years, I heard and believed ‘put personal cameras on the police and it will curb violence’. And now I’m growing hesitant to even go on Facebook because my feed is littered with the recorded, documented deaths of civilian after civilian, seemingly innocent after innocent. The corporate megaliths of the cyberpunk genre get away with the crimes they do because their inability to be prosecuted is an exaggeration…until investment bankers tanked the economy, bankrupted millions, and then retired with their golden parachutes intact.
It’s hard to parody that level of absurdity.
I say all of this because I’m working on a follow-up to Rhest for the Wicked (have you gotten your copy? If so, have you left a review?). Set firmly in cyberpunk, it seems so easy to give into a pessimism, into a cynical nihilist fantasy and I refuse to do that.
I’m not sure things get bad; I think they just change. They seem bad because we don’t understand or react optimally to the change. But in change there is opportunity. And the world is changing, so if we focus on the opportunity, maybe we can find the hope.
I don’t like writing with a purpose. I prefer stories that are just stories and to let the readers find their own meaning. I don’t like going into a project, deadest on it being a certain way. But in my mind, the world is really ugly right now. And I don’t want to contribute to that, nor do I want my art to contribute to that.
My stories will never be sugar-coated fanciful works, but I refuse to give into cynicism. I refuse for my readers to close the book feeling anything but better than when they opened it.