Mind Hacks and Occipital Jacks: Cyberpunk Books and Media

By Isaac H.

Before you think it, this blog post is not about the Borg from Star Trek. Sorry fellow Trekkies and Trekkers. It’s also not about the Cybermen, fellow Whovians. In all fairness it could’ve been about either. It might ‘kinda’ be about either. You know what, it probably will be at some point the future. Lets just agree to put a pin in that.

Sometimes, when reflecting upon the problems facing our world in these turbulent times, rapidly advancing technology, massive data leaks and world conflicts, an easy way to cope is to escape into glimpses of possible futures. Futures where one can honestly say “Well, at least this is much worse!” Welcome to the world of Cyberpunk fiction and media! Cyberpunk is a genre of science fiction that deals with themes of advanced technology, futuristic telecommunication systems, hyper-commercialism and often anarcho-capitalist dystopias.

While there’s no shortage of popular cyberpunk movies and books in the public eye, I would be remiss not to mention that part of my recent excitement has to do with the upcoming release of Polish software studio CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 role playing game. The subject material for which originated in the 1980’s table-top RPG Cyberpunk 2020, created by author Mike Pondsmith. Pondsmith is something of a legend among the blerd community, of which I myself am a member. It suffices to say, the genre has a history of diversity and inclusion that isn’t always included or addressed in other areas of science fiction. Below are a few examples of books, movies and television shows that immediately come to mind when I think of the word “Cyberpunk.”

Diaspora, by Greg Egan

Australian author Greg Egan’s Diaspora is one of the most in-depth explorations of what being “Human” is. Diaspora takes place a millennium in the future, when humanity exists broadly in three separate forms: Humanistic artificial intelligences living in virtual environments in gigantic servers, artificial intelligences residing in anthropomorphic android bodies in the real world, and environmentally customized biological forms descended from the original forms of humanity. The story regards how each faction responds to a threat to all biological life on Earth. There’s a lot going on in this novel, and the main story only scratches the surface of a long and very familiar history of evolution and interaction between the human variations. Diaspora presses the limits of cyberpunk fiction as well as science fiction in general.

Max Headroom: The complete series

If you are a fellow Generation X’er, you probably remember Max Headroom. Even if you had never seen the original “20 Minutes to the Future” movie, you’ll probably recall his ‘New Coke’ commercials that ran in the late 1980s. The story to the original Max Headroom involved a television reporter who, after discovering that his network is broadcasting dangerous subliminal messages to the public, suffers an accident prior to whistle-blowing on the corporation. In order to keep his show on the air while its host is comatose, the company digitizes his mind and airs the digital version of the reporter in place of the original. But the process suffers a few hiccups, and the digitized version is flawed: thus Max Headroom is created. This show was different from anything else on television when it aired. The follow-up television season was an “MTV classic” style music video show with Headroom acting as video jockey (for the young folks out there, video jockeys or “V.J.s” were hosts who introduced music videos on cable television shows). The second season had him as a talk show host. To my mind there haven’t been any successful shows to replicate the cult series since it’s release.

Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson

Warren Ellis’s cyberpunk graphic novel about Spider Jerusalem, a future gonzo journalist fighting the good fight against a corrupt government in a merciless world. You don’t have to read too far into this graphic novel to feel the influence that deceased real-life gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (1937 – 2005) on Spider Jerusalem’s character. Spider ends his self imposed five year exile from society after receiving a call from his publisher notifying him that he owes them three new books. He returns to the city and jumps back into the journalism game just in time to cover the latest oddities of near-future California: Alien cults, psychotic politicians, hate crimes and two headed cats. Transmetropolitan is a wild ride of a graphic novel.

Robocop

Robocop may seem like a shallow example of Cyberpunk, but there is a lot going on if you take a closer look. Bear with me here, it’ll all make sense in the end…or the middle. It’ll make sense. Trust me. On the surface, Robocop is a standard fair 1980’s shoot-em-up action flick. The main story is about an officer in the near (now alternate) future who is nearly killed in the line of duty, only to be resurrected and uploaded into a cyborg body as a beta test for a new line of cyborg cops. If you’ve never seen or heard of this movie, yes I know, it sounds ridiculous. I think it made more sense back then. But under the surface, you have what I consider the real story. Three different antagonists, each from a different moral alignment. Each contributing towards the destruction and reconstruction of both the protagonist and the city. Dick Jones, ruthless corporate boss and lawful evil. Bob Morton, slimy corporate upstart and neutral evil, and Clarence Bodicker, unhinged gang leader and chaotic evil. I’ve always felt the interaction between the three villains contributed to a deeper story than that of the protagonist, Robocop himself.

If you enjoy Cyberpunk books and media as much as I do, below is a list of items in our collection that fit the bill. Are there any cyberpunk stories you enjoy that don’t see above? Share them below!

Mind Hacks and Occipital Jacks: Cyberpunk Fiction and Media

 

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Comments

4 responses to “Mind Hacks and Occipital Jacks: Cyberpunk Books and Media”

  1. Jennifer says:

    How about Feed by M.T. Anderson? A very grim novel about the consequences of having information downloaded directly into your brain.

    • Isaac H says:

      Thanks Jennifer! I’ve seen recommendations for Feed before but hadn’t gotten to checking it out yet. I would definitely say that uploading content into the mind fits into the Cyberpunk genre. I’m checking the digital copy out now!

  2. bobnearseattle says:

    Hi Isaac,
    I would be remiss in representing my older generation if I didn’t share with you a few other titles which, I think, fit into this category:
    The film: “Metropolis” by Fritz Lang;
    The books: “The Shape of things to Come” and “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells (the original films, too!);
    Of course, the classic: “1984” by George Orwell;
    The novel; “In High Places” by Arthur Hailey;
    The book: “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler;
    The 1968 counterculture film: “Wild in the Streets” (with a young Richard Pryor);
    The cult classics: “Logan’s Run” and “Soylent Green”
    The too-close-to-reality book recently written by Albert Brooks: “2030”;

    And what list like this would be complete without the film, “Idiocracy?!”

    I know there are plenty of other examples from books to television to films to live theatrical performances that span many generations and will continue to open the imagination and even, perhaps, give us all pause to really think with our heads rather than just nodding them in numb compliance.

    Alas, so many good reads, idea’s, and visuals, so little time…
    😉

    • Isaac H says:

      Wow, that is an amazing list Bob! While I’ve read and seen most of the books on that list, I am ashamed to say I’ve never read Future Shock or In High Places. I also wasn’t familiar with 2030, even though it was written by one of my favorite actors and is in one of my favorite book genres! And thank you for including Wild in the Streets, not many people are familiar with that classic (or recall that a young Richard Pryor was in it).

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