A dystopia (from the Greek δυσ- and τόπος, alternatively, cacotopia, kakotopia or anti-utopia) is a fictional society that is the antithesis of utopia. A dystopic society is characterised by negative traits the author chooses to illustrate, such as poverty, dictatorship, violence, and/or pollution.
Some academic circles distinguish between anti-utopia and dystopia. As in George Orwell's 1984, and Irrational Games' "BioShock", a dystopia does not pretend to be good, while an anti-utopia appears to be utopian or was intended to be so, but a fatal flaw or other factor has destroyed or twisted the intended utopian world or concept.
The first known use of the term dystopia appeared in a speech before the British Parliament by Greg Webber and John Stuart Mill in 1868. In that speech, Mill said, "It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians,or caco-topians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable." His knowledge of Greek suggests that he was referring to a bad place, rather than simply the opposite of Utopia. The Greek prefix "dys" ("δυσ-") signifies "ill", "bad" or "abnormal"; Greek "topos" ("τόπος") meaning "place"; and Greek "ou-" ("ου") meaning "not". Thus, Utopia means "nowhere", and is a pun on "Eutopia" meaning "happy place" - the prefix "eu" means "well," or "good."
The only trait common to all dystopias is that they are negative and undesirable societies, but many commonalities are found across dystopian societies.
In general, dystopias are seen as visions of "dangerous and alienating future societies," often criticizing current trends in culture.
It is a culture where the condition of life is "extremely bad," as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.
Many dystopias, found in fictional and artistic works, can be described as a utopian society with at least one fatal flaw. Whereas a utopian society is founded on perfectionism and fullfilment, a dystopian society’s dreams of improvement are overshadowed by stimulating fears of the “ugly consequences of present-day behavior”..
Most dystopias impose severe social restrictions on the characters' lives.
This can take the form of social stratification, where social class is strictly defined and enforced, and social mobility is non-existent (see caste system). For example, the novel Brave New World's class system is prenatally designated in terms of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, who lack the very ability to advance.
Another, often related form of restriction lies in the requirement of strict conformity among citizens, with a general assumption that dissent and individuality are bad. In the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, people are permitted to live out of public view for only an hour a day. They are not only referred to by numbers instead of names, but are neither "citizens" nor "people", but "numbers." In the lower castes, in Brave New World, single embryos are "bokanovskified", so that they produce between eight and ninety-six identical twins, making the citizens as uniform as possible.
Some dystopian works emphasize the pressure to conform in terms of the requirement to not excel. In these works, the society is ruthlessly egalitarian, in which ability and accomplishment, or even competence, are suppressed or stigmatized as forms of inequality, as in Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron". Similarly, in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the dystopia represses the intellectuals with particular force, because most people are willing to accept it, and the resistance to it consists mostly of intellectuals.
In a typical dystopia, there is a total absence of any social group besides the state, as in We, or such social groups being subdivisions of the state, under government control, for example, the Junior Anti-Sex League in 1984.
Among social groups, independent religions are notable by their absence. In Brave New World, the establishment of the state including lopping off the tops of all crosses (as symbols of Christianity) to make them "T"s, (as symbols of Henry Ford's Model T). The state may stage, instead, a personality cult, with quasi-religious rituals about a central figure, usually a head of state or an oligarchy of some sort, such as Big Brother in 1984, or the Well-Doer of We. In explicitly theocratic dystopias, such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the religion is the state, and is enforced with the same vigor as any secular dystopia's rule; it does not provide social bonds outside the state.
Even more than religion, family is attacked by dystopian societies. In some societies, it has been completely eradicated, but clearly at great effort, and continuing efforts are deployed to keep it down, as in Brave New World, where children are reproduced artificially, where the concept of a "mother" or "father" is obscene. In others, the institution of the family exists but great efforts are deployed to keep it in service of the state, as in 1984, where children are organized to spy on their parents. In We, the escape of a pregnant woman from the United State is a revolt; the hostility of the state to motherhood is a particularly common trait.
The dystopia often must contain human sexuality in order to prevent its disrupting society. The disruption often springs from the social bonds that sexual activity foments rather than sexual activity itself, as when Ayn Rand's Anthem features a hero and heroine whose revolt stems from a wish to form a human connection and express personal love. Therefore, some dystopias are depicted as containing it through encouraging promiscuous sexuality and lack of ideals of romantic love, so that the characters do not impute importance to the activity. In Brave New World, Lenina Crowne confesses to having sexual intercourse with only one man and is encouraged by her friend to be more promiscuous, and in We, "numbers" (people) are allowed sexual intercourse with any other number by registering for access. Alternatively, antisexualism is also prevalent as a way of social control (the Junior Anti-Sex League in 1984), where the state controls so heavily the lives of its citizens that sexual activity is often an act of rebellion.
The society frequently isolates the characters from all contact with the natural world. Dystopias are commonly urban, and generally avoid nature, as when walks are regarded as dangerously anti-social in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
Dystopian politics are often characterized as one or several types of governments and political systems. These systems include, but are not limited to, bureaucracy, capitalism, communism, fascism, chaos, totalitarianism, dictatorships and other forms of political, social and economical control. These governments often assert great power over the citizens, dramatically depicted in 1984 as the authority to decree that Two + Two = Five.
In When the Sleeper Wakes, H. G. Wells depicted the governing class as hedonistic and shallow. George Orwell contrasted this to the world of Jack London's The Iron Heel, where the dystopian rulers are brutal and dedicated to the point of fanaticism, which he considered more plausible; this is, indeed, more typical of dystopias in general.
Utopian politics are often considered as idealistic in practice towards the society in which they are dictated and enacted. Dystopian politics, however, are considered flawed in some way or have negative connotations amongst the inhabitants of the dystopian “world”. Dystopian politics are portrayed as oppressive.
Dystopias are often filled with pessimistic views of the ruling class or government that is brutal or uncaring ruling with an “iron hand” or “iron fist.” These dystopian government establishments often have protagonists or groups that lead a “resistance” to enact change within their government.
Examples of dystopian politics in literary fiction can be read in Parable of the Sower, 1984, and V for Vendetta. Dystopian politics are portrayed in films such as Fahrenheit 451, Brazil and THX 1138.
The economic structures of dystopian societies in literature and other media have many variations, as the economy often relates directly to the elements that the writer is depicting as the source of the oppression. However, there are several archetypes that such societies tend to follow.
A commonly occurring theme is that the state is in control of the economy, as shown in such works as Ayn Rand's Anthem and Henry Kuttner's short story "The Iron Standard". Some dystopias, such as 1984, feature black markets with goods that are dangerous and difficult to obtain, or the characters may be totally at the mercy of the state-controlled economy. Such systems usually have a lack of efficiency, as seen in stories like Philip Jose Farmer's Riders of the Purple Wage, featuring a bloated welfare system in which total freedom from responsibility has encouraged an underclass prone to any form of antisocial behavior. Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano depicts a dystopia in which the centrally controlled economic system has indeed made material abundance plentiful, but deprived the mass of humanity of meaningful labor; virtually all work is menial and unsatisfying, and even very few of the small group that achieves education is admitted to the elite and its work.
Even in dystopias where the economic system is not the source of the society's badness, as in Brave New World, the state often controls the economy. In Brave New World, a character, reacting with horror to the suggestion of not being part of the social body, cites as a reason that everyone works for everyone else.
Other works feature extensive privatization. In this context, big businesses often have far more control over the populace than any kind of government, as can be seen in the novel Jennifer Government. This is common in the genre of cyberpunk, such Blade Runner and Snow Crash, which often features corrupt and all-powerful corporations, often in the form of megacorps.
Dystopia is generally considered a subgenre of science fiction.
Because a fictional universe has to be constructed, a selectively-told back story of a war, revolution, uprising, critical overpopulation, or other disaster is often introduced early in the narrative. This results in a shift in emphasis of control, from the good old days to corporations, totalitarian dictatorships or bureaucracies.
Because dystopian literature typically depicts events that take place in the future, it often features technology more advanced than that of contemporary society. Usually, the advanced technology is controlled exclusively by the group in power, while the oppressed population is limited to technology comparable to or more primitive than what we have today.
In order to emphasize the degeneration of society, the standard of living among the lower and middle classes is generally poorer than in contemporary society (in America or a European country, but far superior to any third world country). This is not always the case, however; in Brave New World and Equilibrium, people enjoy much higher material living standards in exchange for the loss of other qualities in their lives, such as independent thought and emotional depth.
Unlike utopian fiction, which often features an outsider to have the world shown him, dystopias seldom feature an outsider as the protagonist. While such a character would more clearly understand the nature of the society, based on comparison to his society, the knowledge of the outside culture subverts the power of the dystopia. When such outsiders are major characters—such as John the Savage in Brave New World—their societies are not such as can assist them against the dystopia.
The story usually centers on a protagonist who questions the society, often feeling intuitively that something is terribly wrong, such as Winston Smith in 1984, or V from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta. The hero comes to believe that escape or even overturning the social order is possible and decides to act at the risk of life and limb; in some utopias, this may appear as irrational even to him, but he still acts.
A popular archetype of hero in the more modern dystopian literature is the Vonnegut hero, a hero who is in high-standing within the social system, but sees how wrong everything is, and attempts to either change the system or bring it down, such as Paul Proteus of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Player Piano.
In many cases, the hero's conflict brings him to a representative of the dystopia who articulates its principles, from Mustapha Mond in Brave New World to O'Brien in 1984.
There is usually a group of people somewhere in the society who are not under the complete control of the state, and in whom the hero of the novel usually puts his or her hope, although he or she still fails to change anything. In Orwell's 1984 they are the "proles" (Latin for "offspring", from which "proletariat" is derived), in Huxley's Brave New World they are the people on the reservation, and in We by Zamyatin they are the people outside the walls of the One State. In Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, they are the "book people" past the river and outside the city.
The hero's goal is either escape or destruction of the social order. However, the story is often (but not always) unresolved. That is, the narrative may deal with individuals in a dystopian society who are unsatisfied, and may rebel, but ultimately fail to change anything. Sometimes they themselves end up changed to conform to the society's norms. This narrative arc to a sense of hopelessness can be found in such classic dystopian works as 1984. It contrasts with much fiction of the future, in which a hero succeeds in resolving conflicts or otherwise changing things for the better.
The destruction of dystopia is frequently a very different sort of work than one in which it is preserved. Poul Anderson's short story "Sam Hall" depicts the subversion of a dystopia heavily dependent on surveillance. Robert A. Heinlein's "If This Goes On—" liberates the United States from a fundamentalist theocracy, where the underground rebellion is organized by the Freemasons. Cordwainer Smith's The Rediscovery of Man series depicts a society recovering from its dystopian period, beginning in "The Dead Lady of Clown Town" with the discovery that its utopia was impossible to maintain. Although these and other societies are typical of dystopias in many ways, they all have not only flaws but exploitable flaws. The ability of the protagonists to subvert the society also subverts the monolithic power typical of a dystopia. In some cases the hero manages to overthrow the dystopia by motivating the (previously apathetic) populace. In the dystopian video game Half-Life 2 the downtrodden citizens of City 17 rally around the figure of Gordon Freeman and overthrow their Combine opressors.
If destruction is not possible, escape may be, if the dystopia does not control the world. In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, the main character succeeds in fleeing and finding tramps who have dedicated themselves to memorizing books to preserve them. In the book Logan's Run, the main characters make their way to an escape from the otherwise inevitable euthanasia on their 21st birthday (30th in the later film version). Because such dystopias must necessarily control less of the world than the protagonist can reach, and the protagonist can elude capture, this motif also subverts the dystopia's power. In Lois Lowry's The Giver the main character Jonas is able to run away from 'The Community' and escapes to 'Elsewhere' where people have memories.
Sometimes, this escape leads to the inevitable: The protagonist making a mistake that usually brings about the end of a rebel society, usually living where people think is a story. This concept is brought to life in Scott Westerfeld's novel Uglies. The main character accidentally brings the government into the secret settlement of the Smoke. She then infiltrates the government to escape, but chooses to join the society for the greater good.
Occasionally, the escape from dystopia is made possible by time travel and changing history. Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, though chiefly concerned with the protagonist's time-travel to a future utopia, also has her travel to a dystopia, and in the current time, stymies the efforts that will lead to that future. Poul Anderson's The Corridors of Time has a protagonist recruited by one future society to fight another, dystopian one; learning that both societies are dystopian (in very different ways), he acts to prevent either one gaining the upper hand in their time-traveling wars, enabling the future emergence of a utopian state. In its time, such a dystopia can be quite as powerful as any other. However, the time travel necessarily moves portions of the story, and usually quite large portions, out of the time of the dystopia, making it less an overwhelming presence in the novel. Finally, the film La Jetée (and, to a lesser degree, the La Jetée-inspired 12 Monkeys) involves the protagonist's travel through time both into the future and the (as of 1962) present-day, in the hope of saving his dystopian present.
For the reader to engage with it, dystopian fiction typically has one other trait: familiarity. It is not enough to show people living in a society that seems unpleasant. The society must have echoes of today, of the reader's own experience. If the reader can identify the patterns or trends that would lead to the dystopia, it becomes a more involving and effective experience. Authors can use a dystopia effectively to highlight their own concerns about societal trends. For example, Ayn Rand wrote Anthem as a warning against what she saw as the subordination of individual human beings to the state or "the We." Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale as a warning against the rise of what she saw as religious fundamentalism in the United States and the hypocrisy of 1970s feminism actually aiding the cause of their worst enemies.
||This section may contain original
research or unverified
Please improve the article by adding references. See the talk page for details. (November 2007)
Just as some modern philosophers, political theorists, and writers have dismissed ideas of perfect societies or "utopias", many have also expressed skepticism regarding the likelihood of a real-life dystopia of the kind described by Orwell and others. Anthony Burgess however labelled Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four a Cacotopia claiming that 'most visions of the future are cacotopian'. Although there have been many absolutist states in human history, Gregg Easterbrook has argued that such societies tend to rapidly self-destruct or be destroyed by neighbors. Dictatorships and similar regimes tend to be short-lived, as their policies and actions are almost continually leading to the creation of new potential opponents. For example, the killing or "disappearance" of critics and activists only serves to anger their family or friends, who in turn continue the struggle against the regime. However, such a criticism of dystopian literature is dependent upon two key conditions: 1) that the government lacks the ability to firmly quell any uprising, allowing for a substantial resistance to form, and 2) that other countries or states exist which offer a substantially greater standard of living from the dystopia in question. Authors generally address these conditions by establishing a "world government" within the story which does not present the characters with a higher standard of living than the current dystopia, thus quelling the urge to "fight for something better." Furthermore, many dystopian authors apply heavy levels of government propaganda or elements of mind control to their stories, thus eliminating civil unrest. This is evidenced in Orwell's 1984, as well as Huxley's Brave New World. Should this tactic fail, the government is often capable of full military suppression of the masses, making it a formidable adversary (see V for Vendetta). Were these conditions to actually exist, they could conceivably combine to form a real-life dystopia when coupled with issues such as overpopulation, warfare, starvation, and other social issues. The brutal manner in which many modern-day military regimes maintain their power stands as strong evidence of this point.
Other commentators would say that such a criticism misses the point. For example, Sam Lundwall wrote that dystopian fiction "should be read with a pinch of salt," but that it is "as a means of powerful social criticism, unsurpassed."
Dystopias are a common theme in many kinds of fiction. The lists linked below contain extensive lists of works with dystopian themes.
|This article may contain original
research or unverified
Please improve the article by adding references. See the talk page for details. (November 2007)
Cyberpunk is a science fiction genre noted for its focus on "high tech and low life". It is also a musical subgenre of industrial rock. The name is derived from cybernetics and punk and was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story "Cyberpunk" published in 1983, though the style was popularized well before its publication by editor Gardner Dozois. It features advanced science such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or a radical change in the social order.
According to Lawrence Person:
Cyberpunk music often features heavy bass, bass drums, and synthesized sound effects. It is considered a subgenre of metal or EBM (electronic body music). Lyrics tend to lean toward the obscene, but usually include a message of some meaning that fits in with the classic punk. These meanings are often modernized and anti-establishment messages are not quite as common as in regular punk music.
Cyberpunk plots often center on a conflict among hackers, artificial intelligences, and mega corporations. They tend to be set in a near-future Earth, rather than the far future settings or galactic vistas found in novels like Isaac Asimov's Foundation or Frank Herbert's Dune. The settings are usually post-industrial dystopias, but tend to be marked by extraordinary cultural ferment and the use of technology in ways never anticipated by its creators ("the street finds its own uses for things"). Much of the genre's atmosphere echoes film noir, and written works in the genre often use techniques from detective fiction.
Postmodernist investigation of cyberpunk became a fashionable topic in academic circles, and the genre reached Hollywood to become one of cinema's staple science-fiction styles. Many influential films such as Blade Runner, Hackers (film), the Matrix trilogy or the more recent adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly can be seen as prominent examples of the cyberpunk style and theme. Computer games, board games and role-playing games (such as Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2020) often feature storylines that are heavily influenced by cyberpunk writing and movies. Beginning in the early 1990s, some trends in fashion and music were also labeled as cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is also featured prominently in anime, Ghost in the Shell being the most notable.
As a wider variety of writers began to work with cyberpunk concepts, new-subgenres of science fiction emerged, playing off the cyberpunk label, and focusing on technology and its social effects in different ways. Examples include steampunk (cyberpunk themes in the early industrial age), pioneered by Tim Powers, K. W. Jeter, and James Blaylock, and biopunk (cyberpunk themes dominated by biotechnology, including Paul Di Filippo’s half-serious ribofunk). In addition, some people consider works such as Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age to be postcyberpunk. Some of the more popular cyberpunk bands include Angelspit, ASP, Chiasm, Combichrist, Das Ich, Seraphim Shock, Suicide Commando, and Zombie Girl.
Cyberpunk writers tend to use elements from the hard-boiled detective novel, film noir, and postmodernist prose to describe the often nihilistic underground side of an electronic society. The genre's vision of a troubled future is often called the antithesis of the generally utopian visions of the future popular in the 1940s and 1950s. (Gibson defined cyberpunk's antipathy towards utopian SF in his 1981 short story The Gernsback Continuum, which pokes fun at and, to a certain extent, condemns utopian SF.)
In some cyberpunk writing, much of the action takes place online, in cyberspace, blurring the border between the actual and the virtual reality. A typical trope in such work is a direct connection between the human brain and computer systems. Cyberpunk depicts the world as a dark, sinister place with networked computers which dominate every aspect of life. Giant, multinational corporations have for the most part replaced governments as centers of political, economic and even military power. The alienated outsider's battle against a totalitarian or quasi-totalitarian system is a common theme in science fiction (cf. Nineteen Eighty-Four) and cyberpunk in particular, though in conventional science fiction the totalitarian systems tend to be sterile, ordered, and state controlled.
Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling summarized the cyberpunk ethos in Cyberpunk in the Nineties as follows:
Protagonists in cyberpunk writing usually include computer hackers, who are often patterned on the idea of the lone hero fighting injustice: Robin Hood, Zorro, etc. They are often disenfranchised people placed in extraordinary situations, rather than brilliant scientists or starship captains intentionally seeking advance or adventure, and are not always true "heroes"; an apt comparison might be to the moral ambiguity of Clint Eastwood's character in the Man with No Name trilogy. One of the cyberpunk genre's prototype characters is Case, from Gibson's Neuromancer. Case is a "console cowboy," a brilliant hacker, who betrays his organized criminal partners. Robbed of his talent through a crippling injury inflicted by the vengeful partners, Case unexpectedly receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be healed by expert medical care, but only if he participates in another criminal enterprise with a new crew.
Like Case, many cyberpunk protagonists are manipulated, placed in situations where they have little or no choice, and although they might see things through, they do not necessarily come out any further ahead than they previously were. These anti-heroes — "criminals, outcasts, visionaries, dissenters and misfits" do not experience a Campbellian "hero's journey", like the protagonist of a Homeric epic or an Alexandre Dumas, père novel. Instead, they call to mind the private eye of detective novels, who might solve the trickiest cases but never receives a just reward. This emphasis on the misfits and the malcontents (what Thomas Pynchon called the "preterite") is the "punk" component of cyberpunk.
Cyberpunk literature is often used as a metaphor for the present day-worries about the failings of corporations, corruption in governments, alienation and surveillance technology. Cyberpunk can be intended to disquiet readers and call them to action. It often expresses a sense of rebellion, suggesting that one could describe it as a type of culture revolution in science fiction. In the words of author and critic David Brin,
Cyberpunk stories have also been seen as fictional forecasts of the evolution of the Internet. The virtual world of what is now known as the Internet often appears under various names, including "cyberspace", "the Wired", "the Metaverse" or "the Matrix". In this context it is important to note that the earliest descriptions of a global communications network came long before the World Wide Web entered popular awareness, though not before traditional science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and some social commentators such as James Burke began predicting that such networks would eventually form.
Interesting questions about possible A.I. rights have been introduced using cyberpunk stories as a springboard. Uploads of human minds, such as the Dixie Flatline (Neuromancer) and the Franklin Collective (Accelerando), as well as pure A.I.s such as 'Wintermute' (Neuromancer) or those depicted in A.I., consider themselves to have intelligence and self-awareness. This raises the question as to whether intelligence comparable to humans should give them comparable legal and moral standing.
The science fiction editor Gardner Dozois is generally acknowledged as the person who popularized the use of the term "cyberpunk" as a kind of literature, although Minnesota writer Bruce Bethke coined the term in 1980 for his short story "Cyberpunk", which was published in the November 1983 issue of Amazing Science Fiction Stories. The term was quickly appropriated as a label to be applied to the works of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Rudy Rucker, Michael Swanwick, Pat Cadigan, Lewis Shiner, Richard Kadrey and others. Of these, Sterling became the movement's chief ideologue, thanks to his fanzine Cheap Truth. He also wrote articles on Sterling and Rucker's significance.
William Gibson with his novel Neuromancer (1984) is likely the most famous writer connected with the term cyberpunk. He emphasized style, a fascination with surfaces and the "look and feel" of the future, and atmosphere over traditional science-fiction tropes. Regarded as ground-breaking, and sometimes as "the archetypal cyberpunk work", Neuromancer was awarded the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards. After his popular debut novel, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) followed. According to the Jargon File, "Gibson's near-total ignorance of computers and the present-day hacker culture enabled him to speculate about the role of computers and hackers in the future in ways hackers have since found both irritatingly naïve and tremendously stimulating."
Early on, cyberpunk was hailed as a radical departure from science-fiction standards and a new manifestation of vitality. Shortly thereafter, however, many critics arose to challenge its status as a revolutionary movement. These critics said that the SF "New Wave" of the 1960s was much more innovative as far as narrative techniques and styles were concerned. Further, while Neuromancer's narrator may have had an unusual "voice" for science fiction, much older examples can be found: Gibson's narrative voice, for example, resembles that of an updated Raymond Chandler, as in his novel The Big Sleep (1939) Others noted that almost all traits claimed to be uniquely cyberpunk could in fact be found in older writers' works — often citing J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Stanislaw Lem, Samuel R. Delany and even William S. Burroughs. For example, Philip K. Dick's works contain recurring themes of social decay, artificial intelligence, paranoia, and blurred lines between reality and some kind of virtual reality, and the influential cyberpunk movie Blade Runner is based on one of his books. Humans linked to machines are found in Pohl and Kornbluth's Wolfbane (1959) and Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness (1968).
In 1994, scholar Brian Stonehill suggested that Thomas Pynchon's 1973 novel Gravity's Rainbow "not only curses but precurses what we now glibly dub cyberspace". Other important predecessors include Alfred Bester's two most celebrated novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, as well as Vernor Vinge's novella True Names.
Science-fiction writer David Brin describes cyberpunk as "...the finest free promotion campaign ever waged on behalf of science fiction." It may not have attracted the "real punks", but it did ensnare many new readers, and it provided the sort of movement which postmodern literary critics found alluring. (One illustration of this is Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto", an attempt to build a "political myth" using cyborgs as metaphors for contemporary "social reality".) Cyberpunk made science fiction more attractive to academics, argues Brin; in addition, it made science fiction more profitable to Hollywood and to the visual arts generally. Although the "self-important rhetoric and whines of persecution" on the part of cyberpunk fans were irritating at worst and humorous at best, Brin declares that the "rebels did shake things up. We owe them a debt."
Cyberpunk further inspired many professional writers who were not among the "original" cyberpunks to incorporate cyberpunk ideas into their own works, such as Walter Jon Williams' Hardwired and Voice of the Whirlwind, and George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails. These types of writings do not only form into the work of a book, but cyberpunk knowledge is also leaking into the pages of our magazines. Wired magazine, created by Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, mixes new technology, art, literature, and today’s important topics. It is meant to strike the interest of today’s cyberpunks and has been flying off the newsstands, “Which proves that hardcore hackers, multimedia junkies, cyberpunks and cellular freaks are poised to take over the world.”
As new writers and artists began to experiment with cyberpunk ideas, new varieties of fiction emerged, sometimes addressing the criticisms leveled at the original cyberpunk stories. Lawrence Person writes, in an essay he posted to the Internet forum Slashdot,
Person's essay advocates using the term "postcyberpunk" to label the new works such writers produce. In this view, typical postcyberpunk stories continue the focus on a ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information and cybernetic augmentation of the human body, but without the assumption of dystopia. Good examples are Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or Charles Stross's Accelerando. Like all categories discerned within science fiction, the boundaries of postcyberpunk are likely to be fluid or ill-defined. To complicate matters, there is a continuing market for "pure" cyberpunk novels strongly influenced by Gibson's early work, such as Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon.
As a wider variety of writers began to work with cyberpunk concepts, new sub-genres of science fiction emerged, playing off the cyberpunk label, and focusing on technology and its social effects in different ways. A prominent subgenre is steampunk (cyberpunk themes in the early industrial age), which is set in an alternative history Victorian era that combines anachronistic techonology with cyberpunk's bleak film noir world view. The term was originally coined around 1987 as a joke to describe some of the novels of Tim Powers, James P. Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter, but by the time Gibson and Sterling entered the subgenre with their collaborative novel The Difference Engine the term was being used earnestly as well.
Another subgenre is biopunk (cyberpunk themes dominated by biotechnology) from the early 1990s, a derivative style building on biotechnology rather than informational technology. In these stories, people are changed in some way not by mechanical means, but by genetic manipulation of their very chromosomes. Paul Di Filippo is seen as the most prominent biopunk writer, including his half-serious ribofunk. Bruce Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist cycle is also seen as a major influence. In addition, some people consider works such as Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age to be postcyberpunk.
The film Blade Runner (1982), adapted from Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is set in 2019 in a dystopian future in which manufactured beings called replicants are slaves used on space colonies and are legal prey on Earth to various bounty hunters who "retire" (kill) them. Although Blade Runner was not successful in its first theatrical release, it found a wide viewership in the home video market. Since the movie omits the religious and mythical elements of Dick's original novel (e.g., empathy boxes and Wilbur Mercer), it falls more strictly within the cyberpunk genre than the novel does. William Gibson would later reveal that upon first viewing the film, he was surprised at how the look of this film matched his vision when he was working on Neuromancer. The film has since been the staple of many cyberpunk movies, such as The Matrix and The Gene Generation.
The short-lived television series Max Headroom also spread cyberpunk tropes, perhaps with more popular success than the genre's first written works.
During the 1989/1990 television season, the setting of the science-fiction show War Of The Worlds was retooled into a post-apocalyptic, dystopian, cyberpunk setting. It is believed this change was made in order to accurately depict the aftermath of the 1953 invasion of Earth.
The number of films in the genre or at least using a few genre elements has grown steadily since Blade Runner. Several of Philip K. Dick's works have been adapted to the silver screen, with cyberpunk elements typically becoming dominant; examples include Screamers (1996), Minority Report (2002), Paycheck (2003) and A Scanner Darkly (2006). But unfortunately for cyberpunk's arguable originator, the films Johnny Mnemonic (1995) and New Rose Hotel (1998) were both flops, commercially and critically.
Director Darren Aronofsky set his debut feature π (1998) in a present-day New York City, but built its script with influences from cyberpunk aesthetic. According to the DVD commentary, he and his production team deliberately used antiquated machines (like 5-1/4 inch floppy disks), echoing the technological style of Brazil (1985), to create a cyberpunk "feel". Aronofsky describes Chinatown, where the film is set, as "New York's last cyberpunk neighborhood".
The RoboCop series has a more near-futuristic setting where at least one corporation, Omni Consumer Products, is an all-powerful presence in the city of Detroit. Until the End of the World (1991) shows another example where cyberpunk provides an assumed background, and a plot device, to an otherwise mood and character-driven story. Gattaca (1997) directed by Andrew Niccol is a futuristic film noir whose mood-drenched dystopia provides a good example of biopunk.
Also worth mentioning is 1995's Strange Days. Set on New Year's Eve 1999, it features many key elements of the cyberpunk genre, both technological and social.
In 2006, The Gene Generation, a cyberpunk film by director Pearry Teo begins to make waves from it's grassroots myspace fans. Containing many elements of cyberpunk culture, it also features many bands within the culture like VNV Nation and Combichrist creating a very solid fan base through it's myspace page. It is the first movie where hackers were hacking into our DNA as opposed to computers. The film, with it's new approach, still contains many elements that define cyberpunk culture such as government influence, fashion, music and pays strong homage to movies like Bladerunner and The Crow.
Cyberpunk has been used widely in anime (animation) and manga (comics). In Japan, where “cosplay” is popular and not only teenagers display such fashion styles, cyberpunk has been accepted and its influence is widespread. William Gibson’s Neuromancer, whose influence dominated the early cyberpunk movement, was also set in Chiba, one of Japan’s largest industrial areas, although at the time of writing the novel Gibson did not know the location of Chiba and had no idea how perfectly it fit his vision in some ways. The exposure to cyberpunk ideas and fiction in the time mid 1980s has allowed it to seep into the Japanese culture. Even though most anime and manga is written in Japan, the cyberpunk anime and manga have a more futuristic and therefore international feel to them so they are widely accepted by all. “The conceptualization involved in cyberpunk is more of forging ahead, looking at the new global culture. It is a culture that does not exist right now, so the Japanese concept of a cyberpunk future, seems just as valid as a Western one, especially as Western cyberpunk often incorporates many Japanese elements.” William Gibson is now a frequent visitor to Japan, and he came to see that many of his visions of Japan have become a reality:
One of the earliest Cyberpunk anime was Bubblegum Crisis, with its rock-filled soundtrack, character names cheerfully swiped from Blade Runner (though completely new personalities) and plot line involving high-tech mercenaries squaring off with a giant corporation that all but dominates the world economy, which creating rogue military robots.
Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell is an excellent example of cyberpunk anime (which was in turn based on Masamune Shirow's manga) ,as is Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, based on his manga, and are both the sources of the ideas for The Matrix series by the Wachowski brothers, particularly Ghost in the Shell, but an Akira influence can also definitely be seen in the Matrix films. The story takes place in the future where we are entirely dependent on cyborgs and “illustrates the fluid nature of crime, espionage and geopolitical skullduggery in a world where human personality, vast data networks, and cybernetic technology have essentially fused into a single social matrix.” Ghost in the Shell asks the question whether or not a trace of humanity can remain in a cyborg and the vast span of the Net.
Another anime of note is Texhnolyze. Texhnolyze takes place in an underground city called Lux which is aggressively controlled by three rival gangs, all who are "texhnolyzed" (a scientific procedure in which a person's limbs are replaced with artificial limbs) . Although this series may not be as cyberpunk as Ghost in the Shell, it does have most of the hallmarks of a cyberpunk work; a hard-boiled dystopia, human evolution through science and it's consequences and ruminations on humanity's will to survive.
Cyberpunk has influenced many anime and manga including Appleseed, where the focus is on the urban cyberpunk conflict in a post World War III environment. Akira would be a representation of Armageddon. In director Rintaro's movie Metropolis which was rewritten by anime legend Katsuhiro Otomo from the original comic by Osamu Tezuka the main plot concentrates on a “Puppet Master” for the cyborgs, just like the hunt for one in Ghost in the Shell.
Anime has also provided examples of the "steampunk" sub-genre, particularly in much of the work of Hayao Miyazaki, but also notably in Last Exile (2003), created by studio GONZO and director Koichi Chigira, which features a curious blend of Victorian society and futuristic battles between ships of the sky. Also of note is 2004's Steamboy directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Here Otomo focuses on a nuclear holocaust and the arms race and how a cyborg is less human and more machine. Sakura Taisen, originally a video game released in 1996 by SEGA, features mecha and turn of the century technology literally powered by steam, set in an alternate reality 1920s Japan. Another series with both steampunk and biopunk elements in its script is Ergo Proxy, released in 2006 by Manglobe. One other notable Anime is Cowboy Bebop.
|This section needs additional citations
Please help improve this article by adding reliable references. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.
This section has been tagged since November 2007.
The term "cyberpunk music" can refer to two rather overlapping categories. First, it may denote the varied range of musical works which cyberpunk films use as soundtrack material. These works occur in genres from classical music and jazz — used, in Blade Runner and elsewhere, to evoke a film noir ambience — to "noize" and electronica. Electronica, electronic body music, industrial, noise, futurepop, alternative rock, goth rock, and IDM are at times associated with the Cyberpunk genre.That kind of music more than often produces powerful club hits ranked highly at numerous national alternative charts like the Deutsche (German) Alternative Charts or the Hellenic Alternative Charts. The same principles apply to computer and video games; see the discussion of Rez below. Of course, while written works may not come with associated soundtracks as frequently as movies do, allusions to musical works are used for the same effect. For example, the graphic novel Kling Klang Klatch (1992), a dark fantasy about a world of living toys, features a hard-bitten teddy bear detective with a sugar habit and a predilection for jazz.
"Cyberpunk music" also describes the works associated with the fashion trend which emerged from the SF developments. The Detroit techno group Cybotron, which arose in the early 1980s, drew influences both from European synthesizer pioneers Kraftwerk and from Toffler's Future Shock, producing songs which evoke a distinctly dystopian mood. In the same era, Styx released the concept album Kilroy Was Here (1983), the story of a rock star living in a dark future where music has been outlawed. Kilroy and in particular its hit single "Mr. Roboto" may easily be "appropriated" into the cyberpunk genre, whether or not the term was applied at the time. However, starting around the year 1990, popular culture began to include a movement in both music and fashion which called itself "cyberpunk", and which became particularly associated with the rave and techno subcultures. Cyberpunk artists used technology in their music just because they could; it was “the wizardry of the hacker meets the alienation of the punk.”
A good example of the techonological side of cyberpunk would be Lisa Sirois: By day she is a free-lance graphic designer who hunkers down over a computer keyboard. By night, she simply switches terminals to help make the aggressive, dissonant, computer-generated music of D.D.T., a local band. She talks warmly of the computer hacker/cracker mantra that information should not be proprietary. And she speaks the musical language of Apple rather than Fender. "We're no longer playing instruments, we're programming," she explains. "We sequence the music on a computer, store it on a hard disc, and then record it onto digital audio tape. Then, when we perform, we supplement it with live drums and keyboards. We're `live' and on tape. We play on an electronic stage." 
With the new millennium came a new movement of industrial bands making "laptop" music. Homeless traveling squatter punks armed themselves with digital equipment and fused technology into their street sounds- El-wire and the Vagabond Choir. The hacker subculture, documented in places like the Jargon File, regards this movement with mixed feelings, since self-proclaimed cyberpunks are often "trendoids" with affection for black leather and chrome who speak enthusiastically about technology instead of learning about it or becoming involved with it. ("Attitude is no substitute for competence," quips the File.) However, these self-proclaimed cyberpunks are at least "excited about the right things" and typically respect the people who actually work with it — those with "the hacker nature".
Arriving toward the tail end of both the initial cyberpunk boom and his own career, pop singer Billy Idol released an album called Cyberpunk, which included a song called "Neuromancer." The album contained a floppy disc on which “compactly combines full lyrics, a biography, wild graphics, snippets of sound from the CD and a bibliography for compuphiles to learn more about computer subculture.” The album was neither a critical nor commercial success.
A current band that claims to “emit the kind of sound William Gibson must have heard in his head in the 1980s when he invented the cyberpunk novel,” is Aerodrone. They are a neo-retro dancepunk band from Eugene, Oregon. The band’s use of synths, heavy beats, guitar riffs could all “fit right in with the pre-Windows world of hard-core hacking in "Neuromancer." Popular Japanese DJ Ken Ishii supports the cyberpunk rebel image. His techno music is experimental and yet danceable; “Ishii's brand of sound — a mix of hard-driving dance beats and weird synthetic noises — invokes postapocalyptic visions of Tokyo straight out of cyberpunk fantasies like Akira, Neuromancer and Blade Runner. The award-winning manga-style video that accompanied his 1995 single EXTRA cemented his radical underground image in the West.” Ken Ishii used the anime video to back up his claim as a rebel.
Many modern "cyberpunk" bands could easily be classified as industrial metal with techno influences, to the connoisseur, or simply computerized noise with lyrics to the new listener. Many bands, Angelspit and Hanzel Und Gretyl among the foremost, combine a kind of gothic theme with fetish and industrial elements, and their music reflects these aspects as well as a heavy industrial influence. Some bands debatably labelled cyberpunk are also counted part of the synthpop genre or other "lighter" musical categories. Whether these bands, having traded the traditional metal influences of cyberpunk for portions of the lighter sound of pop or alternative rock, are truly cyberpunk is a debated issue. Cyberpunk, in the end, seems to be free of a true, concrete definition, existing more as a term used to represent an eclectic variety of musical (sub)genres (as well as those of literature and other media), and so an accurate, comprehensive list of bands is near impossible. The only defining aspect to this genre is influences of the modern and futuristic, with a significant punk element.
In cyberwear, function comes after fashion; the belief of many cyberpunks is that a real cyberpunk should be chromed out, with clothes and equipment that not only can actually perform, but also enhance you. The Cyberpunk Project says that “To be able to talk the talk on the streets, look the part and be able to take them out when you need to be the ultimate goal for any cyberpunk.” This means cyberfashion consists of plugs, neural processors, reflex boosts, shine and bling that you can’t buy in any regular clothing store. One girl may be wearing a “cyberarm,” and another “chromed cyberoptics.” It seems that as long as your clothes are functional, dark and looking slick, you are then dressed in cyberpunk fashion. In the United Kingdom this is better known as cybergoth, and is tied into the EBM side of the Goth scene. Cyberdog, a clothing shop in Camden Market, London, is probably the best-known exponent of this look in the region (the music that is played in the shop, however, is more adequately described as psychedelic trance rather than EBM). Cyberprep fashion is a derogatory term used to refer to yuppie trends that reflect the flip side of cyberpunk fashion.
Several role-playing games (RPGs) called Cyberpunk exist: Cyberpunk (aka Cyberpunk 2013), Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk v3 (aka Cyberpunk 203X), by R. Talsorian Games, and GURPS Cyberpunk, published by Steve Jackson Games as a module of the GURPS family of RPGs. Cyberpunk 2020 was designed with the settings of William Gibson's writings in mind, and to some extent with his approval, unlike the approach taken by FASA in producing the transgenre Shadowrun game (see below). Both are set in the near future, in a world where cybernetics are prominent. In addition, Iron Crown Enterprises released an RPG named Cyberspace, which was out of print for several years until recently being rereleased in online PDF form.
In 1990, in an odd convergence of cyberpunk art and reality, the U.S. Secret Service raided Steve Jackson Games's headquarters and confiscated all their computers. This was allegedly because the GURPS Cyberpunk sourcebook could be used to perpetrate computer crime. That was, in fact, not the main reason for the raid, but after the event it was too late to correct the public's impression. Steve Jackson Games later won a lawsuit against the Secret Service, aided by the freshly minted Electronic Frontier Foundation. This event has achieved a sort of notoriety, which has extended to the book itself as well. All published editions of GURPS Cyberpunk have a tagline on the front cover, which reads "The book that was seized by the U.S. Secret Service!" Inside, the book provides a summary of the raid and its aftermath.
2004 brought the publication of a number of new cyberpunk RPGs, chief among which was Ex Machina, a more cinematic game including four complete settings and a focus on updating the gaming side of the genre to current themes among cyberpunk fiction. These tropes include a stronger political angle, conveying the alienation of the genre and even incorporating some transhuman themes. Another game of note is OGL Cybernet, published under the Open Gaming License for the D20 system.
2006 saw the long-awaited publication of R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk v3, the followup to Cyberpunk 2020, although many see the new edition as more Transhumanist or Postcyberpunk than truly Cyberpunk. 2006 also saw James Norbury's Corporation published, taking an unusual viewpoint in that rather than having players take on the traditional cyberpunk role of the lone anarchist fighting an oppressive social order they instead take the role of agents for one of the five great megacorporations of the world. Taking inspiration from videogames such as Syndicate and Deus Ex, Corporation includes themes of transhumanism, particularly cybernetic and biopunk elements - agents are universally exceptional individuals who's capabilities are pushed far beyond the human by cybernetic and genetic enhancements.
Role-playing has also produced one of the more original takes on the genre in the form of the 1989 game Shadowrun. Here, the setting is still that of the dystopian near future; however, it also incorporates heavy elements of fantasy, such as magic, spirits, elves, and dragons. Shadowrun's cyberpunk facets were modeled in large part on William Gibson's writings, and the game's original publishers, FASA, have been accused by some as having directly ripped off Gibson's work, that is to say plagiarized, without even a statement of his influence, while Gibson has stated his dislike of the inclusion of fantasy elements. Nevertheless, Shadowrun has introduced many to the genre, and still remains popular among gamers.
The trans-genre RPG Torg (published by West End Games) also included a variant cyberpunk setting (or "cosm") called the Cyberpapacy. This setting was originally a medieval religious dystopia which underwent a sudden Tech Surge. Instead of corporations or corrupt governments, the Cyberpapacy was dominated by the "False Papacy of Avignon". Instead of an Internet, hackers roamed the "GodNet", a computer network rife with overtly religious symbolism, home to angels, demons, and other biblical figures. Another "cosm" setting that was part of the Torg gameworld was Nippon Tech, which incorporated other aspects of cyberpunk, such as dominant corporations with professional assassins. It did not, however, deal with computer networks as a major part of the setting.
Computer games have frequently used cyberpunk as a source of inspiration. Some of them, like Blade Runner and The Matrix games, are based upon genre movies, while many others like Deus Ex, Iconoclast, System Shock, Fear Effect, Syndicate, Snatcher, Policenauts and the Metal Gear series are original works.
Cyberpunk has also been used in computer adventure games, most notably the now freeware Beneath a Steel Sky (published by Revolution Software), Neuromancer (published by Interplay in 1988), Rise of the Dragon (published by Dynamix now Vivendi Universal in 1992), the Tex Murphy games published by Access Software, The Longest Journey (one half was the cyberpunk Stark, while the other one was the magical-styled Arcadia), Uplink (published by Introversion), Bloodnet (published by Microprose 1993) , Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller (this game happens to be a great game for kids, at the Midwest Gaming Classic it was marked as such) (Gametek 1994) and Tokyo War (published by Weapon Studios in 2002). The popular Half-Life 2 modification Dystopia exclusively relies on cyber punk themes. The action adventure game Neuromancer is based directly on the novel's main theme including Chiba City, some of the characters, hacking of databases and cyberspace decks. Flashback: The Quest for Identity and Team17's Nightlong: Union City Conspiracy are also cyberpunk games. The city-builder game SimCity Societies offers also the possibility to create cyberpunk cities.
Cyberpunk has also inspired several tabletop, miniature and board games. Most notably, the now defunct company - FASA - which produced Shadowrun. Games Workshop’s game Necromunda which is a branch of their Warhammer 40k line of games, is also worth noting. However there are several other examples, such as Dark Future and Etherscope, while Warmachine is a miniature game that incorporates some elements of steampunk. These games allow artists to not only work out new story lines for their cyberpunk universes but also to give their audiences a chance to design and designate groups of cyberpunk warriors.
Netrunner is a collectible card game introduced in 1996, based on the Cyberpunk 2020 role-playing game; it launched with a popular online alternate reality game called Webrunner, which let players hack into an evil futuristic corporation's mainframe.
Iconoclast is a Pen and Paper RPG based on a MUD of the same name. The MUD though still active, only has a few players.
|The external links in this article may not
comply with Wikipedia's content
Please improve this article by removing excessive or inappropriate external links.
|Media||Anime and Manga · Comics · Magazines · Novels (List) · Films (List) · Television (Info) · Video games|
|Creators||Artists · Authors · Editors|
|Studies||Definitions · Journals · Awards · History|
|Subgenres and related genres||Hard · Soft · Military · Apocalyptic · Comedic · Fantasy (Science fantasy) · Horror · Speculative|
|Themes||Aliens · Androids · Planets · Sexuality · Space colonies · Time travel · Utopia/Dystopia|
|Subculture||Fandom · Conventions (List) · Organizations · by Country|
|Literary sci-fi punk genres|
|Cyberpunk — Postcyberpunk — Steampunk — Biopunk|
|Retro-futurism — Cyberprep — Transrealism|