Although cyberpunk is by now not even a cliche as far as dress and lifestyle go, I think that cyberpunk is still an important body of literature. However, since it deals with so many themes and issues that are common to most of modern literature and thinking, it is hard to cut out exactly what is cyberpunk and what is not. I myself have read only the two most famous books in the cyberpunk canon, but there are certainly many other books that are thematically and stylistically cyberpunk, even if they do not embrace the exact terminology of Neuromancer.
Originally, I intended to write this node as a joke, something along the lines of "Top Ten Cyberpunk Cliches". And while there will be a few of the more blatant ones listed, I want to explore all of the cliches common to dystopian literature. This includes such classic literary works as 1984 and Brave New World, all the way up to anime and video games that are cyberpunk derived.
- Historical Consciousness
From 1984's opening page, the place and time of cyberpunk novels is usually specifically set down, and often related to current events. Magical realism could not be used in a cyberpunk setting.
Although it uses historical cosciousness, this genre uses the present honestly and imaginativly, to explore the future, not as a means of pure propaganda to affect the present.
- Social Consciousness
Along with historical consciousness, most works deal with social systems and politics, more than they deal with individual people. Sense most modern works that focus on an individial focus on internal thought processes, and thus use stream of consciousness and magical realist techniques, focusing on an individual would disrupt the realistic worldview that is being portrayed.
In both literary and popular forms of this genre, this is often used as an excuse to have bad character development. For example, I find it hard to remember any of the characterization in Brave New World, but I remember the world system fairly well. In The Matrix, we never learn about Neo's personal life or feelings, we merely see him as a figure to destroy the Matrix.
- Domination by an elite
It could be argued that this is not so much a part of cyberpunk as it is part of the human history. However, in cyberpunk, the means, tools and processes of domination are often explored in great detail. This elite is almost always portrayed as evil, although in many ways the heroes of the story are equally, if not more technically skilled then the dominating elite. Most cyberpunk celebrates skill at manipulating both people and objects, perhaps because it is partakes in so much wish fulfillment and perhaps because those are what have made humans what we are.
Almost all cyberpunk has references to computers and genetics, probably because those are the two things that (even in my short lifespan) have developed from being virtually non existent to controlling all aspects of life.
This may be perhaps the greatest hallmark of the cyberpunk story, and the thing that makes the cyberpunk truly cyberpunk instead of merely dystopian. There is always a conspiracy in a cyberpunk tale, and it is always multilayered, insidious and uncomprehensible. Knowledge of this conspiracy always comes as a shock, and is never uncovered totally until the end.
The reasons for this conspiracy are two fold. First, it is used as a literary device to make things more interesting (and in RPGs often breaks up what would be wandering around for the entire game, levelling up until you finally battle the evil demon.)
On a higher level, conspiracy is often used because their is often a question into the deeper levels of reality in cyberpunk, and a political conspiracy is often used to convey this. This brings us to point number
Most Cyberpunk engages in mystical themes. The presence of mystical (and sometimes merely magical) themes is another thing that parts cyberpunk from dystopian literature. As with most things in this genre, half of the reason for mysticism is it looks cool and sounds cool.
Another reason behind it is that cyberpunk explores the problem of historical development, and why in a present or futuristic setting, technology has not worked to provide a utopia. The answer, perhaps, is that we are being dominated by a force beyond techonology (as in The Matrix) or need to dominate it Deltron 3030, or both Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Another answer to the reason for mysticism is that, as with mysticism anywhere, it can only be understood on its own terms. And that goes beyond the scope of this essay.
- A Figure With Messianic Overtones
Fits in because it makes a good action-adventure RPG, and because it fulfills adolescent male power fantasies.
There is usually a figure (Hiro Protagonist, Case, Neo, Ikari Shinji) that has a miraculous ability to blend in with technology and use it against the evil system that invented it.
While taking this to messianic extremes is perhaps childish or blasphemous, it does relate to a very prevalent social reality in our modern day. I am writing this, and you are reading this, using a system designed by the military industrial complex as part of a post nuclear scenario. Using the technology that the system of elites have created is very much a part of our day to day life, and it may be, indeed, the only way that any of us will be able to save ourselves in the future.
Found in the works of writers with more humor, absurdism should be a natural result of a world where technological possibilities are almost endless but human nature hasn't progressed. Neal Stephenson did this the best of anyone in Snowcrash, where the dissolving of national boundaries and the growth of corporations had led to a landscape of Franchulates where every fast food restaraunt was an independent nation.
Trying to add these together, especially since not all of them are present in every cyberpunk text, is dificult, especially when we remind ourself what self-proclaimed Cyberpunk Deltron said: "All Paths Are Intersections", all of these strands of thought are not being gathered together, but are merely launching pads into other tangents. However, be that as it may, these narrative threads have probably colored so much of our thinking, that they should be recognized.
A Bibliography, of sorts
Brave New World
, The Illuminatus!
, Foucault's Pendulum
, The Matrix
, Neon Genesis Evangelion
, Deltron 3030