Monday, 24 December 2012

Cyberpunk 1984

Two things have given me cause to think more about Cyberpunk of late; my very belated embarkation on reading Gibson's Blue Ant trilogy and the announcement that a certain cyber-world will be making a big come-back in 2013. So far it seems the latter is replete with art that, to be honest, doesn't really float my boat. The images feel like an unhappy blend of ideas from the early 90s rendered in a modern, digital style. I was therefore given to thinking what the genre means to us today and how could it still be explored in a relevant way.

Although Cyberpunk is still valid, it's no longer part of our zeitgeist. The proliferation of derivatives and even the coining of the term 'Postcyberpunk' is a clear indication that Cyberpunk is no longer a notch on the barometer of the cutting edge. Lawrence Person pointed out in a Slashdot essay that it is partly a product of the genre being nearly thirty years old. Today's authors grew up reading Cyberpunk and it is therefore just another flavour of sci-fi to them and not the revolutionary force it was to older generations. The genre has, of course, transpired to be uncannily prophetic. We are now living amongst the things Cyberpunk predicted. The ubiquitous world wide web, black market trading of data, drone warfare and virtual religions are now staples of our tabloid headlines. Cyberpunk is no longer near-future. It's now.

How, then, could one continue to explore Cyberpunk in a way that's relevant? TRON Legacy did a good job of this. It eschewed the plot of the original TRON of a man trying to escape from a computer and instead made Kevin Flynn and his son freedom fighters concerned with the overthrow of an autocratic regimen (AKA a corporation). The Matrix looked at the philosophical side of our virtual existence by asking the question, 'what is real?'.

I am most interested in Cyberpunk as an aesthetic movement and I feel it can be mined for its value as a retro vision of the future. In the same way as we might compile pulp covers and ephemera from the 50s to understand the invasion-fearing sci-fi of that era, so we can understand Cyberpunk's vision better with equivalent collections. Such a compilation would also timely. The children of the 80s are having their decade in the creative limelight. We are seeing endless remakes of 80s kids' TV shows and the fashions of the day re-hashed without remorse. Consequently an exploration of Cyberpunk would seem fitting at this juncture.

Thus I am embarking on a little personal project I dub 'Cyberpunk 1984'. It's an exercise in submersion of the early-mid 80s visual culture with Cyberpunk at the narrow end, sci-fi in the middle and pop culture of the period at the wide end. I am not sure what form it will take (possibly a Gimme Bar library or maybe an out-of-place artifact as per Beyond the Black Rainbow) or how long it will be sustained for, but I am looking forward to it. Most of all, I am excited by what you readers think and what you might dig up for me!

Oh, by the way, it's '1984' not because it's Orwellian, but because that was when Neuromancer was published.