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Cyberpunk: A Primer Part 2

March 9, 2019

 

 

Last week we discussed the Science Fiction sub-genre Cyberpunk, what it is, its origins, and why it's important. This week, as promised, is a list of important and worthwhile Cyberpunk works across all mediums. Let's jack in.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick (1968) - Not technically a cyberpunk novel, but it's so influential on the genre that I'm including it here. It's adapted as…

 

Blade Runner (1982) - Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a "blade runner" whose job is to hunt down synthetic humans called replicants. A sequel, Blade Runner 2049 was released in 2017, 35 years later.

 

Software by Rudy Rucker (1982) - Cobb Anderson is a disgraced computer scientist accused of treason for attempting to develop true artificial intelligence. He's approached by a mysterious man who offers him immortality, of course, everything is more complicated than it seems. It was followed by three sequels, Wetware, Freeware and Realware.

 

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984) - The Cyberpunk novel to read. Burnt out hacker Henry Case teams with razor girl Molly Millions to pull off a heist job for a mysterious figure known as Armitage. It became the first book in The Sprawl Trilogy. It was followed by Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.


Another side note: Blade Runner and Neuromancer both made heavy use of Japanese culture and imagery. These elements often combined with seminal Japanese films, have made Japan and its culture an important part of Cyberpunk, whether its Japanese corporations taking over the world, deadly cyborg geisha, or street samurai.

 

Dr. Adder by K.W. Jeter (1984) - Dr. Adder is an underground surgeon in future L.A. who modifies sex organs. Interestingly enough, the book was actually written in 1972, but publishers were uncomfortable with the amount and graphic nature of the sex and violence depicted. So, it went unpublished for a decade. When it was finally released, it was overshadowed by Neuromancer, which came out the same year.

 

Schisimatrix by Bruce Sterling (1985) - In the far future, humans have colonized the solar system and split into two factions. The Shapers, who use genetic modification; and the Mechanists, who use cybernetic modification.

 

Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams (1986) - A favorite of mine, it has the single greatest book cover ever. A pair of cybernetically enhanced smugglers fight for freedom against the oppressive Orbital Corporations. Partially inspired by Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley. WJW wrote a sourcebook based on his novel for the original Cyberpunk roleplaying game by Mike Pondsmith.

 

Mirrorshades (1986) - A short story collection edited by Bruce Sterling. Probably the most important collection of Cyberpunk stories.

 

Burning Chrome (1986) - A collection of William Gibson's early short stories that share the setting with Neuromancer.

 

Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling (1988) - A major work which became unfortunately dated rather quickly. The novel presents the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the 2020s. In reality, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, only three years after the book's release. Personally, I find the datedness of many older cyberpunk works to be part of the fun.

 

Cyberpunk: The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future (1988) - The tabletop RPG created by Mike Pondsmith, and the basis for the upcoming video games Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekct Red. It's best known by its second edition, Cyberpunk 2020, released in 1990.

 

Shadow Run (1989) - A seminal tabletop Role Playing Game that mixes cyberpunk with D&D-esque fantasy. Street Samurai fight elven magic users, and mega-corporations are run by dragons. Its complete insanity, and a favorite of mine.

 

Akira (1998) - Anime film based on the manga (Japanese comic book) of the same name. In a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, the government is kidnapping children to run experiments on them. It goes about as well as you'd expect. It also has the coolest bike in cinema history.

 

Battle Angel Alita (1990) - A classic Cyberpunk manga that was the basis for the recently released film. You can read my review here.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992) - The insane anarcho-capitalist future where the mafia runs pizza delivery and Hong Kong is owned by one Mr. Lee. The only thing that remains of the U.S. government is the postal service, and someone has used ancient Sumerian language to create a datafile capable of crashing someone's brain. It's just as insane as it sounds, and it is GLORIOUS.

 

Demolition Man (1993) - In the future, the world has become so politically correct, that when a violent criminal (Wesley Snipes) is awakened from being cryogenically frozen, no one knows how to catch him. So, they wake up LAPD John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), who was also cryogenically frozen, in order to bring him to justice. Also stars Sandra Bullock in one of her earliest roles.

 

Hackers (1995) - Another piece of media that became hilariously dated rather quickly. That said, it's still a lot of fun. Red Letter Media did a review of this recently that encapsulates it better than I can. Stars Angelina Jolie at her absolute hottest. #HackThePlanet

 

Ghost in the Shell (1995) - Anime film based on the manga of the same name. Security Section 9, an anti-terrorist division composed of mostly cyborgs, attempts to track down the hacker known as the Puppet Master, who is capable of hacking people's brains.

 

Armitage III (1995) - In 2046, Mars has been colonized and males outnumber females by a large margin. In order to boost the population, a new type of Android capable of giving birth, has been created. Someone is killing them, and two cops are tasked with tracking down the killer. It's a lot better than I'm making it sound.

 

Eden: It's an Endless World (1998) - A manga by Hiroki Endo. Following a pandemic that kills 15% of the population and cripples even more, the son of a South American drug lord sets out to rescue his sister who has been kidnapped by the powerful Propater Federation. It's actually WAY more complex than just that, and it would take forever to go into the full thing.

 

The Matrix (1999) - A group of human rebels fight back against the robots that have enslaved humanity in a virtual reality called the Matrix. It was followed by two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

 

Deus Ex (2000) - The first in a series of video game RPGs that have received critical acclaim. The most recent game, Mankind Divided, was released in 2016.

 

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan (2002) - The first in the Takeshi Kovacs Trilogy. In the future human personalities can be stored into a device in the spinal column, allowing people to switch between bodies easily. Takeshi Kovacs, a former mercenary is hired to solve the murder of a rich man. As per usual, everything is more complicated than it seems. Was adapted by Netflix in 2018.

 

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) - My personal favorite cyberpunk work. Set in an alternate timeline from the original film, this anime series ran for two seasons and was followed by a film. Because of the length, the world and characters are fleshed out more than in the film.

 

The Animatrix (2003) - A collaboration between American and Japanese animation studios, this anthology film collects 9 animated shorts set in the world of The Matrix. Each segment was written and directed by a different director, and the animation styles vary wildly. It's way better than the live-action sequels.

 

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) - Mamou Oshii's follow up to the 1995 film. Following the events of the original film, Section 9 partners Batou and Togusa investigate a series of deaths caused by malfunctioning gynoids (sex dolls). While not as groundbreaking as the original, it's still a very good film.

 

Mirror's Edge (2008) - A first person platformer, the main character is a runner, transmitting messages while avoiding government surveillance. A sequel, Mirror's Edge: Catalyst, was released in 2016.

 

Ready Player One (2011) - A love letter to 80s pop culture. It doesn't bring anything new to the genre, but it's a lot of fun. Was made into a film by Steven Spielberg in 2018.

 

Dredd (2012) - A faithful adaptation of the long running comic series Judge Dredd, starring Karl Urban in the titular role. Go watch this.

 

Transistor (2014) - The second video game by Supergiant Games. Players control Red, a singer who has lost her voice as the city she lives in is overrun by a machine intelligence. The game uses an isometric view and a combination of real time and turn based combat. While I wouldn't call this game bleak, it does have a very melancholy tone.

 

Dex (2015) - a 2D side scrolling RPG with an art style reminiscent of the 16-bit era of video games. It would look right at home on the Genesis or the Super Nintendo.

 

Ghost in the Shell (2017) - The live action adaptation of the original movie, starring Scarlett Johansson as the Major. There was some controversy over the casting since Scarlett Johansson is white, and the character she portrays, Major Motoko Kusanagi, is Japanese. However, series creator Shirow Masamune, as well as the director of the original film, Mamoru Oshii, were both pleased with Johanson's casting and performance. While not a great film, I confess I did enjoy this as I felt they got the look and feel of the world right.

 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) - The sequel to the film that started it all. Despite coming 35 years later, it was a worthy follow up. I saw it with my dad, and we both enjoyed it immensely. As did my friend David, who could probably recite every single line of the original film from memory. In fact, director Denis Villeneuve did such a good job, that he's been given the reins of attempting to adapt Dune for the big screen, which will be the fourth major time that's been attempted.

 

Altered Carbon (2018) - The Netflix adaptation of the novel by Richard K. Morgan. A second season has been ordered.

 

Ready Player One (2018) - Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the book. It's a lot of fun.

 

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) - You know what this is by now and it's still in theaters. Go see it.

 

Upcoming:

 

Cyberpunk 2077 - I don't think I need to add anything about this. CD Projekt Red has confirmed they'll be at E3 this June. Fingers crossed for a release date.

 

The Last Night - An indie cinematic platform game with gorgeous artwork. Unfortunately, the game has lost most of its funding, and it's currently unknown if it will ever be released. It's a shame because it looks really cool and it set to do something new with cyberpunk. Here's hoping it can get the funding needed to get completed.

 

Cyberpunk Red - A new edition of the pen and paper tabletop RPG. Supposedly it will coincide with the release of Cyberpunk 2077. Bare minimum, it means I need to buy some new dice.

 

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