Redefining Cyberpunk

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Thanks to movies like 1982’s Blade Runner and 1999’s The Matrix, it’s safe to say most of the world has heard of the Cyberpunk genre.  But what is Cyberpunk, and how has our high-tech world re-defined it? 

Cyberpunk has its roots in film-noir and hard-boiled detective novels.  Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was the source material for Blade Runner.  I’ve both read the novel and seen the movie, and feel that it’s the film version that really lays into the Cyberpunk genre.  The book has definitely more of a 1940s detective feel to it, but both media explore the same themes of what it means to really be human.

William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer is considered the real origin of Cyberpunk, and was the main influence for The Matrix.  The main components to this genre include not only high-tech computers and hacking, but also a dystopian society where the heroes (Cyberpunks) fight the power.   The production design on Blade Runner is a major influence on the look of subsequent genre media like graphic novels, books and movies.

Now that we’re living in the third decade of the 21st Century, much of the tech that was science fiction in the 80s and 90s is part of our day-to-day reality.  So we can look back on those old sci-fi movies and see where they predicted some things we’re actually living through, and where some of their predictions failed.

Most of Cyberpunk has depicted a hardware-heavy world with big machines, lots of circuit boards, big VR helmets and cyber-gloves.  Even the relatively recent book and movie Ready Player One gives homage to 80s Cyberpunk.
But our reality puts all of this tech into the smartphones in our pockets.  Yes, we have self-driving electric cars, “hoverboards” and motorized scooters/bicycles.  We even have real cyborgs, people who have medical tech implants helping to keep them alive, or artificial limbs that can be controlled via nerve implants.  And this tech is so integrated into our lives that we barely notice it.  It’s definitely “not your grandfather’s Cyberpunk.”

Not to mention, social media has taken over our lives so much that an entire generation is plagued with mental-health issues that weren’t so prevalent a mere two decades ago.  We have opioid addiction, rising incidents of violence, and a worldwide pandemic straight out of a dystopian sci-fi novel.  There is an increasing pessimism that makes the dystopian visions of prior Cyberpunk works seem nostalgic in comparison.
So, if our world has diverged from these original visions, how can we re-define the genre?  And if we try to re-define it, are we no longer telling a Cyberpunk story?

Enter my book CYBER FIGHTER.  The very title hints at the genre, but when you read it, it feels more like a spy action novel with martial arts fights.  Yes, there are no dark neon city lights with constant rain, underground hackers fighting the oppressive government or ubiquitous hardware everywhere you look…at first.

But when you dive deeper into the story, you’ll see that it has more of a software-based Cyberpunk feel.  You have the “oppressive” corporate giant Kirkman Enterprises who’s created this app called Cyber Fighter to train military recruits.  Our hero, Brian Baldwin is the guinea pig for the Beta test and finds himself chased by a whole cadre of international elements who all want to kill him to take the tech that was “implanted” into his brain.

The production design for the film gives a nod to past Cyberpunk epics with our set for “The Farm” – the underground computer lab hidden in the Kirkman corporate building where the experiment on Brian takes place.  We’ve built this set in Unreal Engine and are going to integrate it into the live action much like Lucasfilm does with The Mandalorian and other Star Wars projects.  So in a way, even our filmmaking has gone Cyberpunk!

What are the elements that make a good Cyberpunk story?  For me, it’s not just the tech and look, but more importantly, how technology is affecting our humanity.  How is it hurting us, and at the same time, how are we using it to overcome obstacles (or oppressors).  Tech is just a tool.  It can be used for both good and for evil.  A good Cyberpunk adventure can restore optimism for humanity and the future…and it can also be a lot of fun!