I ask for Black Ice, and all I get is Angry Birds

I ask for Black Ice, and all I get is Angry Birds

It's like a how-to guide for living in the present!
It's like a how-to guide for living in the present!

The year which we have so long awaited is finally upon us. 2013. Finally, our dreams of a cyberpunk-style distopia can be fully realized. Let’s do a rundown, shall we?

Corporate personhood? Check! Finally, the mega-corporations have revealed the iron fists beneath their velvet gloves! Pharmaceutical companies are now pursuing legal actions allowing their salespeople to basically say whatever they want to under the premise that the corporations are exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech. Can Second Amendment rights be far behind? This is like manna from heaven to those of us longing to live in a cyberpunk-fueled future.

Private mercenary armies? Check! Blackwater now seems sort of quaint (they are so 2006), but, with their newly-minted and ultra-sinister moniker Xe, private armies have never been so fashionable! I look forward to hearing rumors of other shadowy organizations such as this in the near (very near) future!

The Net? Check! Sure, it isn’t the virtual reality I’d been hoping for, but Second Life is doing its best. While not really the shady underbelly of society, where net-running uber-hackers wield super-technology in the service of wresting the Truth from those in power, we do have Wikileaks, and Anonymous. Of course, the web needs a bit of an attitude adjustment, since social media tries so hard to make people more connected. What I hope to see in the new year is an anti-social media site, where members can become more jaded, cynical, and disconnected from friends and family alike. Then we’d see some real societal dysfunction! Angry Birds and Farmville just don’t go far enough!

Drones? Check! While not yet equipped with autonomous AI (or so they tell us), drones have the potential to really usher in a new level of intrusive governmental and corporate oversight, which will, hopefully, bring about the sort of repressive techno-regimes cyberpunk writers have always promised, but the real world failed to deliver. Without the booted heel of stylish technological oppression, the sorts of anti-heroes envisioned by William Gibson and Walter John Williams are less likely to rise up against the system.

Vast Systemic Inequality? Check! On this score, the real world has really delivered, and it makes me proud to see it. The ultrawealthy have truly gone the extra mile here, doing their part to bleed the general populace of opportunity, and ratcheting up the desperation quotient to new levels. It think we need to give them their due appreciation for helping to speed the arrival of the cyberpunk future.

At least someone gets to live the cyberpunk dream.
At least someone gets to live the cyberpunk dream.

Simplified access to excessive firepower? Check! For a group that pretends to be stodgy and boring, the US Supreme Court has really shown its true colors as an elite cadre of cyberpunk-fueled dream-makers.  It’s just plain exciting!  With their asserting that the right to bear arms is a personal right, and can’t be meaningfully restricted, I can imagine that the emerging cyberpunk underground will be running smuggling rings using cybertanks and ultralight military fighters, while street gangs can finally face off using the very latest smartware.

Out of Control Media? Double-check! When the hosts of business-oriented shows have long segments about religious matters, and reality TV has made winning the presidency a game, you just know that our longed-for future has almost arrived. Presidential debates have corporate sponsors, and are moderated by television personalities. Members of Congress stage elaborate shows for the ever-present cameras in place of boring speeches that try to convince their fellows to switch positions. The cameras just keep sending out whatever passes in front of them, and nobody seems to be responsible for it. It’s absolutely perfect.

But there are problems getting in the way of the rise of the new cyberpunk ideal, too. As Gibson correctly pointed out in Neuromancer, you need a group capable of a shadowy plot, and those in power just seem a bit too bumbling. So we need to encourage a newer generation of shadowy elite to take the reins. With the elections of 2012, I think we can do a lot to further the cause by advancing the William Gibson/Walter John Williams presidential ticket. It can’t fail!

Soon to be a Constitutional Amendment.
Soon to be a Constitutional Amendment.

Once in power, these two could more readily make their literary visions come true, to the delight of their many constituents who, like myself, wanted to live in a world of stylish decay, surrounded by a miasma of equal parts melancholy, boredom, and sheer terror. Who wouldn’t want to be a reflex-enhanced warrior for a doomed cause, fighting a losing fight against humanity’s darker nature? I know I would!

But I’m afraid that it may be too late for me, and those of my generation. For all my angst-ridden soliloquies shouted out into the uncaring Net (and there aren’t many, really), I’m just not that unhappy. I’ve trained in a few martial arts for years, but I’ve yet to fight for my life with them, no matter how many trash-strewn back alleys I wander (again, not many). And being an uncaring drifter on the edges of society is hard to do when I need to care for a couple of super-cute toddlers. But therein lies hope: the next generation could finally live the dream!

So I tell my girls to learn to fly jet fighters and drive tanks, program AIs, and master robotics and human-machine interfaces. If I can’t have a cyberpunk adulthood, perhaps, just maybe, my children can.

I can dream, can’t I?

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House_of_Artemisia

I am not sure that I WANT to live in a cyberpunk Dystopia, but I am sure we are headed there. But rock on about teaching your girls awesome useful skills!

Sarah Avery

The closest anybody seems to get to living the dream, barring Blackwater, is the Rain City Superhero Movement.

Lugo

The cover of that WJW novel just screams “TOTALLY ’80s!”

TW

A couple of points:

1- Xe no longer exists, it is now Academi.

2- Corporations have had “second amendment” rights since the court case establishing “corporate personhood” went through the SCOTUS in the 1880s. Corporations are even given special exemptions within the NFA of 1934 by the bATFe.

3- Working for Blackwater is about as far from cyberpunk as you can get…

Tyr

Contractors/mercenaries are indicative of a dystopian future? No more than death and taxes. People seem to think this is something new when it has pretty much been a part of all human history. Xenophon anyone?

Dave T

Drones were hardly new or unique to Neuromancer or the cyberpunk movement. Robert Sheckley’s story “Watchbirds” from the February 1953 Galaxy beat the cyberpunks by at least 30 years. The story was even made into a tv episode and was produced on X Minus One in the mid-50s. And Sheckley’s drones were _telepathic_ to boot, reading the mind of the would-be politically incorrect offender before the crime even took place. Sound familiar? Sheckley did it first, and better, than did Gibson and the cy-punks. Just an FYI is all. 🙂

Dave Truesdale

jrcarney52

This is a great post! Thanks! It reminds me how misleading the concept of “speculative fiction” is when used to described some modern genre fiction. Sure, there is a level of “prophesying”, i.e. attempting to anticipate the future, that goes on in some science-fiction texts; however, what SF texts have to say about the future is always, I think, less interesting than what it has to say about their present moment.

For example, Bruce Sterling’s _Schismatrix_ (1985) is less interesting for the so-called “prophecies” it makes and more interesting for the degree to which it portrays a changing relationship us Westerners have with “technology.”

In the golden age of science fiction, technology often (though not always) came through as a benefit to humanity, as the means by which we could create a “more human world”, i.e. the means by which we could master nature, explore the unknown, etc..

You have in Bruce Sterling’s work (and in much of Gibson’s, of course) the arrival of a new relationship with technology: it becomes a constraining influence on humanity, a kind of noose choking us, a enigmatic and slightly threatening spirit that is perhaps transcending us or making us obsolete (e.g. Wintermute and Neuromancer). Furthermore, our technological environments become prison-houses (e.g. think of the Villa Straylight–I would *not* was to live in that gross technological cocoon).

So, in the 80s, we have fiction writers depicting “technologization” as something more akin to a problem/crisis than as an answer to problems. Rather than being a tool for creating Utopia technology becomes the cause of Dystopia.

I’m not saying this largely negative vision of technology was dominant or universal; hell, ST:TNG was totally Utopic. Comparing Villa Straylight to the Enterprise drives home this point. But, you have with Cyberpunk, I think, the arrival of something new, the enunciation of a new kind of relationship to technology experienced by humans.

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